Back to Peru trip posts! We also took a day trip from Cusco to visit Pisac and hiked the ruins north of Pisac. After catching a local colectivo from Cusco to Pisac (which I wouldn’t recommend: see my transportation tips in the Peru post), we briefly wandered the open-air market and tried some empanadas de queso from el Horno Colonial San Francisco before catching a taxi to the highest drop-off point for the ruins.
When we arrived at the ruins, we were surrounded by tour buses. Our taxi driver told us that most people visit the ruins via tour bus and thus only see 20-30% of the sights, but that we would see everything since we were hiking from there back to Pisac. You could see some pretty amazing sights at this point, so we didn’t quite get his comment until later.
As it turned out, when we reached the citadel ruins we saw two paths marked, neither of which seemed to clearly relate to the citadel or Pisac, so we just picked the left path (labeled A – TO INTIWATANA). After a few minutes it was clear that the right path (labeled A – TO KALLAQASA) must have gone to the citadel. However, since neither trail had sounded like the trail to Pisac and we saw a steady stream of people hiking the opposite direction from us on the path, we still thought this path might be a side trail to some nearby ruins and that we’d just check it out and hike back.
When the stream of people trickled off and we’d been hiking for a while, we began to wonder if this might actually be the the trail to Pisac since it was heading in that general direction. We debated whether to turn around since we’d already hiked quite a bit and didn’t want to backtrack twice if it was the trail to Pisac. We ultimately decided to continue. Our bet paid off, as a while later we saw a sign that indicated we were on the trail to Pisac. Yay!
The trail signage generally got better from there, with the exception of this somewhat ambiguous set of arrows.
Continuing on, we saw some amazing ruins uncluttered by tourists and finally understood what the taxi driver had told us.
The trail first passed through the upper of the two ruins, shown on the right in the previous photo. Most of these buildings used very precisely cut and fitted stones.
If there had still been any doubt in our minds after seeing the A – TO PISAQA trail sign, we confirmed we were on the right track when we caught our first glimpse of Pisac from the lookout point just past the upper ruins.
We also had a nice view of the upper ruins from that lookout point.
We then continued on the trail to the lower ruins (the ruins on the left in the earlier mentioned photo). These were a bit less preserved and used rougher, less precisely cut stones. They were also a bit more extensive and had far fewer areas closed off to exploring.
I was thrilled to see plants that looked related to our Texas bluebonnets back at home. I’ve now seen plants from this family on three continents, as we also saw something similar in Portugal.
Shortly after we moved on, we saw some impressive-looking ruins high above the trail. I think another trail must have led up there, as we could see one or two people wandering through them.
Corwin also laughed at me because I must have stopped twenty times on each hike to photograph interesting plants. :)
And finally, we arrived at the terraces. For the last long stretch of the hike, we walked along the terraces that overlook Pisac.
We even saw someone selling souvenirs on one of the terraces about an hour before we arrived in Pisac. That’s a long (and steep) way to hike to catch travelers’ attention!
We couldn’t stop saying, “wow,” the entire hike, especially once we were on the terraces. Every time we turned the corner, there was an amazing sight or landscape.
Finally, we walked across a small bridge to walk along the terraces on an opposing slope to hike into Pisac.
From here, you could see a few collapsing stretches of terrace held up by wooden braces.
It was also around this point when I first noticed angled rows of rocks sticking out of the terraces at regular intervals.
My theory that these might be steps between the terraces was confirmed when we saw a set of steps up close. How awesome!
And finally, we arrived back in Pisac. I’m definitely glad we did the downhill version of that hike to Pisac and not the reverse! Really, it was just net, downhill, as I can remember several steep uphill stretches, especially at the beginning of the hike. Be prepared to be refreshingly exhausted at the end of this hike, especially if you’re not used to hiking at high altitudes.
After our hike, we stopped at Inti Killa for juice, empanadas, and pizza before heading back to Cusco.
Altogether an excellent day, and definitely one of the highlights of our trip!
Tips for your visit:
- Logistics: Catch a taxi to the citadel (the highest drop off point for the Pisac ruins) and hike down to Pisac from there. It’s much more enjoyable than the steep hike up from Pisac.
- Where to Find the Best Views and Ruins: Don’t skip the hike back to Pisac. The majority of the amazing views and amazing ruins we saw were along this hike and well beyond the point you’d have time to reach if you took a tour bus to see the ruins.
- Finding the Trail to Pisac: You’ll see a fork in the start of the path at the citadel ruins at the top. Neither is labeled Pisac, but the right path goes up to explore the citadel and the left path goes to Pisac. If you want to explore the citadel, take the right path first. Alternatively, since you’ll see more ruins with far fewer tourists on the hike to Pisac, it might be worth saving your energy and skipping the right path, just as we inadvertently did.
- Making Sure You’re on the Trail to Pisac: On the hike to Pisac, if you have any doubt about whether you’re on the right trail, watch for signs that look like this:
A – TO
This is how we finally figured out we were on the trail to Pisac, as the other people we encountered along the early parts of the trail didn’t seem to know, either.
- Maps: Most of the maps of the Pisac ruins that I’ve found since our trip weren’t that great, but this blog has an excellent description of the route (and a video!) and also gives some insight into what we missed at the citadel.