The Ultimate Backpacker’s Guide to Pisac, Peru

After spending weeks in Cusco, I felt like I needed a change of scenery. Not that I’m not absolutely in love with Cusco but sometimes, the hustle and bustle of the city can get a bit tiring. I heard amazing things about the Sacred Valley of the Incas, especially the small town of Pisac. That hearsay proved to be true. As I hopped off of the colectivo, I could immediately tell that I was going to love Pisac.

Lush, green mountains surrounded the little village on every side. The main part of town was extremely walkable with not a square inch of space wasted. Every nook and cranny was home to a beautiful cafe, a shop selling gorgeous crafts, or just a neat wall to look at. The entire Plaza de Armas of Pisac is one big market that remains the best that I’ve been to in Peru. My only regret was only bringing a small pack with one change of clothes because I initially planned on staying for just two nights. Let’s all be grateful that there was a laundry service right across from my hostel.

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Table of Contents

How To Get To Pisac from Cusco

I checked out of my hostel in Cusco knowing that I was going to Pisac but not having any idea whatsoever how to get there. Worst case scenario, I would pay the 60 soles for a private taxi all the way to Pisac. But hey, the weather was nice and I figured walking around Cusco and asking around wouldn’t be the worst idea. I eventually found out that the colectivos leave from Calle Puputi pretty frequently.

I also walked by a terminal terrestre that passed through Pisac. However, after waiting a few minutes and still being the only one on that bus, I decided to carry on to Calle Puputi. Or Calle Pupi as my gringa friend told me when she tried to text me directions. No wonder I couldn’t find it on the map, hey.

So basically, if you want the cheapest way to get to Pisac, go to Calle Puputi and catch the van to Pisac. It costs 5 soles, or a buck fitty USD. It is only an hour’s ride from Cusco, so whether you’re going for a few days or going just for the day, it won’t break the bank. If you want something a little more comfortable, splitting a taxi with a few people can also be an inexpensive option.

If you are coming from elsewhere besides Cusco, it is still pretty easy to figure out. From Urubamba, you can catch a colectivo to Pisac for 4 soles from their Terminal Terrestre. From Ollantaytambo, you can catch a ride to Urubamba for 2 Soles and then transfer to Pisac from there. Check out my complete guide on the Sacred Valley for more on getting around from town to town.

Day Trip, Guided Tour, Or Spend A Few Days in Pisac?

I’m a slow traveler with no time limits or restrictions, so I opted to spend a few days in Pisac. However, its proximity to Cusco makes it a popular day trip for travelers a little more strapped on time. For those looking to hit the highlights of Pisac and get out, guided tours to the Sacred Valley are a convenient option.

However, I highly recommend staying at least one or two nights in Pisac. Most people who end up in Pisac find themselves unable to leave. Like I said earlier, I extended my stay multiple times. It wouldn’t have been a problem except for the fact that I only brought enough clothes for two days. A lot of people take tours from Cusco just to see the ruins of Pisac. I can’t imagine that a guided tour gives you even close to enough time to see them in their entirety. You could spend a whole day in those ruins, which I basically did, twice.

My personal verdict is that you should stay in Pisac for at least two nights. Even if you are in a rush, I recommend at least staying one night. Colectivos to Cusco run pretty frequently, so you could spend most of the day in Pisac and then head back to Cusco for the night. I ended up spending eight days in Pisac total between my three trips there and was very glad I gave myself some time to kick back and take it slow.

The Best Things To Do in Pisac

Visit Pisac Archaeological Site

This is without the doubt the main reason travelers come to Pisac. Rivaling even Machu Picchu in beauty and in scale, Pisac Archaeological Site is one of my favorite complexes that I have been to during my travels. Although Machu Picchu is undeniably more iconic and more beautiful, my experience in Pisac was just as good, if not better, as my experience at Machu Picchu.

The great thing about Pisac is that it is spread out over a wide area and is relatively unknown, especially compared to its World Wonder brother over by Aguas Calientes. I roamed around the ruins for hours, exploring every nook and cranny and only rarely bumping into other tourists. It is a much more peaceful, serene, and potentially spiritual experience than when you find yourself competing with thousands of other tourists at Machu Picchu. I mean, obviously, visiting Machu Picchu is a no-brainer, but if you want something impressive while also a bit more idyllic, Pisac might be your spot.

There are a couple of different ways to enter the ruins of Pisac. You can hike up from town. This is a challenging climb up Incan stairways that takes about an hour depending on your fitness level. Another option is to take a taxi to the main entrance. This option is easier but will cost about 20-30 soles depending on your haggling skills. It takes away a huge part of the incline and if you wanted to continue onwards to town after the ruins, it is mostly downhill. A third option is to take the secret route that bypasses the entry gates, meaning that you don’t have to pay the 70-130 soles ($20-$40) to get in if you don’t already have a ticket. I don’t know where this secret path is but you can ask around and some helpful local might give you the down low.

I recommend planning on spending at least 4 hours at the archaeological complex, including the hike back up and down. I took it real slow while I was here. I wasn’t stingy at all with the water breaks and self-timer photoshoots since I was alone. This place is impressive, and if you’ve got the time to kill, there are plenty of incredible viewpoints where you can just plop down and take it all in for a while.

Here’s my complete guide to Pisac Archaeological Site.

Go Hiking At Laguna Kinsa Cocha, Pisac’s Three Lakes

Less than an hour away from Pisac is the trailhead to a loop around Laguna Kinsa Cocha. These are known as the three lakes, because Kinsa Cocha literally means Three Lakes in the Quechua language. This off-the-beaten-path adventure requires a pricy taxi, since it isn’t on the tourist trail quite yet. However, if you get a big enough group of you going, then it won’t be too expensive.

laguna kinsa cocha pisac peru

The hike takes you through some remote and incredibly lush mountain landscapes. It felt like we had somehow teleported away from Peru and found ourselves in the harsh mountains of Iceland or the rolling green hills of Scotland. The hike was surreal. Aside from the hundreds of alpacas roaming freely, we were the only ones on the trail.

Here’s my complete guide to hiking Laguna Kinsa Cocha.

Shop At The Artisanal Markets

As far as Peruvian markets go, Pisac has the best that I’ve encountered. It is vast, colorful, and affordable. They sell everything here. Literally anything you can imagine. I’m traveling indefinitely and have no extra room for anything in my backpacks, yet even I was tempted to just splurge and buy everything in sight. Incredible paintings, stunning weaving, and knickknacks galore can be found throughout the seemingly infinite market. The entire Plaza de Armas of Pisac is taken up by the market every day of the week.

It’s even bigger on Sundays, somehow. A lot of the local and indigenous people come selling fruits, vegetables, plants, and line the outer rim of the Plaza de Armas with fruit and juice stands. Even if you don’t plan on buying anything, the sensory overload of colors and activity made for one of my favorite days of shooting in all of my time in Cusco.

Do A Medicinal Ceremony

Medicine, drugs, whatever you want to call it, they have it here in Pisac. This small village in the mountains is renowned for a number of reasons. I mean, it is the Sacred Valley after all. Many people come here for spiritual reasons, often searching for answers from higher beings or answers from within. Ayahuasca and Huachuma (San Pedro) ceremonies are among the most popular to do here, although others include Kambo, Huilca, Rapé, and more.

I haven’t done it myself, although I can see why a setting and environment like this would be an ideal one. Being in a peaceful, outdoorsy, and beautiful environment can only augment ones psychedelic or spiritual experience.

Pisac is also home to a number of medicinal and organic stores where you can purchase some stuff and try yourself. Although I would recommend doing ceremonies with shamans, it is available also for recreational use.

Eat At The Incredible Vegan and Vegetarian Restaurants

So, I wasn’t vegan when I got to Peru. However, the food scene once I arrived in Lima only kept getting better and better. Lima, Arequipa, and Cusco all had some of the most incredible vegan food and vegan restaurants I have ever been to. Pisac outdid all of them. For such a small town, you’d assume there wouldn’t be too much variety. However, there are a dozen or more vegan and vegetarian restaurants to choose from. I tried as many of them as I could and I loved them all. I don’t know why the food scene here is so good but it is. I was tempted to stay here forever just for the food. From the fancy restaurants to the 5 soles vegetarian omelettes I’d get from the market, it was all delicious.

Roam Through The Fields Surrounding Town

My favorite thing to do in rural areas like Pisac is to just wander aimlessly. The people are often very welcoming, friendly, and more than happy to talk to you. I sought out the first patch of open land I could find and walked as far as I could to really immerse myself in the incredible nature and scenery of this valley. There are plenty of places to wander and get lost in in Pisac. I have my spots, and I have no doubt you’ll find a few of your own favorites.

Where To Stay in Pisac

Pisac has a number of hostels in town but most of those are quite barebones and cheap. While in Pisac, I stayed at Wolf Totem at the glowing recommendation of a friend who was already staying there. I looked it up online and wow. I built up extremely high expectations due to how stunning the location and property looked. When I arrived, it exceeded those already lofty expectations.

First of all, there was a dog. If you know me, you know I’d be content to sleep in a bathtub as long as there was a dog in the vicinity. Thankfully, Wolf Totem was much more than a backpacker could ask for. I’ve stayed at a lot of incredible places in South America, and Wolf Totem ranks up there with the best of them.

The view from the hostel is absolutely incredible. Although it is about a 15 minute walk from Pisac’s town center, it is worth it to be in such a beautiful and secluded location. It costs 2 soles to get to and from town with a tuk-tuk or 1 sol via colectivo. That’s practically nothing considering just how much more value you get by staying here.

Dorms start at less than $15 a night. That is ridiculously affordable for how nice Wolf Totem is. Each bed has curtains, warm blankets, wall sockets and a lamp. The fiber optic Wi-Fi reaches every corner of the property. As a digital nomad looking to take it slow for a few days, this place was a dream. Ivan, the owner, is a super rad and laid-back guy with some crazy life stories to tell. Oh yeah, and did I mention the dogs? Jefe, Beasty, and Wolfy are the fluffy attractions of Wolf Totem. You will fall in love immediately.

Other Recommendations For Pisac

Where To Eat in Pisac

  • Capos Lounge
    • Some of the best pizza I’ve ever had. Reasonably priced, too. 10 soles for a small, 20 for a medium, 30 for a large.
  • El Tomillo
    • This was my SPOT. I came here almost every day, whether for a cup of tea or for a fat meal. Amazing food and really cheap prices. Good variety, from Middle Eastern to Thai to Western to vegan.
  • Cultura Viviente
    • Another vegan and organic place that was very reasonably priced. 15 soles for salad bowls, 20 soles for big platters.
  • Lily of the Valley
    • Heard a lot of good things about this place, but I didn’t actually go.
  • Antica Osteria
    • Another amazing pizza spot.
  • Brigitte
    • Really cheap food. Good for lunch on a budget.
  • Mercado de Abastos
    • The place to get fruits, nuts, and other food. However, the highlights are the juice spot and the small restaurant at the back left corner (walking in from the main street). You can feed yourself for the whole day for less than 10 soles here. 5 soles for a huge vegetarian omelette. 6 soles for a huge vegan pancake. Sandwiches starting at 1.50 soles.

Is There Nightlife in Pisac?

  • Not really.
  • Maybe a spot of live music here and there.
  • But not much else.
  • There’s your answer.
  • Did I need bullet points for this?
  • Nope but here we are.

Any Safety Concerns About Pisac?

Nope. Pisac has to be one of the safest places I’ve ever visited. The only dangerous thing about Pisac are its cobblestone roads. I nearly twist my ankle at least once every two steps it felt like. Other than that, the people of Pisac are among the friendliest and most welcoming people I’ve met. Despite there being hundreds of salesmen and vendors, they all respect your space and never get too pushy, either. A lot of them genuinely enjoy just being there and talking to people, and we’d often just roam around the markets and joke around and have a laugh with them.

Seriously, come to Pisac. If you don’t, you are missing out.

And before you go, make sure you have good travel insurance handy while you’re off adventuring across the world. I use SafetyWing to keep me covered throughout my travels for as low as $40 a month.

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