One of my biggest dilemmas in Cusco was how much to shell out for their tourist ticket. With various packages at varying prices, they cater to travelers on any schedule and budget. However, as a budget backpacker, seeing the 130 Soles ($40 USD) price tag on the all-inclusive ticket was still a bit off-putting to think about. Even though the 70 Soles option was far inferior, it always seemed a bit more appealing to shell less money out now and then worry about it later.
Eventually, I decided to get the 10-day, 16-site ticket and try to get the most value out of it. Oh yeah, if you are a student, you can get the 10-day ticket for a significantly lower price. It drops from 130 soles to 70 soles, which makes it a no-brainer to get. Even at full price, it is still arguably worth it if you have the time and energy to spare to see as much of it as possible. However, most short-term travelers don’t have ten days to spend in Cusco, and they definitely have other priorities besides obscure archaeological sites that they have never heard of.
Regardless, it is possible to get your money’s worth. Let’s break it down so that you can get the most bang for your buck. Or soles in this case.
Cusco’s Boleto Turistico:
Tier 1: Which Sites Are Absolutely Worth Visiting?
You have to pay 150 soles to visit Machu Picchu. And you are told you only get four hours for your visit. Don’t get me wrong, Machu Picchu is iconic. It has the prestigious title of a world wonder for a reason. But for 130 soles to visit 16 sites, you’ll already feel like you’ve gotten your money’s worth just by visiting these four sites.
The archaeological site of Pisac are among the few that can maybe hold a candle to Machu Picchu. I actually visited these ruins twice because they were that good. Hiking up from the town of Pisac, you aren’t entirely sure what you’re going to get. Despite your tired and achy legs, keep pushing through. First you’ll run into some storehouses, then some scattered ruins before you make it to the top of the first hill and see the majesty of Intihuatana, the Sun Temple. Keep hiking beyond Intihuatana and you’ll enter a completely different world, with terraces and temples and other incredible structures. Pisac is an incredible value for your money, and one of the main priorities to check off on your boleto turistico.
Along with Pisac and Machu Picchu, Ollantaytambo sits comfortably in my top three favorite Inca archaeological sites that I have visited. This fortress is absolutely impressive, and the views of the Sacred Valley from here are unbeatable. I spent hours exploring these ruins, nestling in a gorgeous spot to watch the sunset as people trickled out of the site. Unfortunately, they do close around 5 PM, so my golden hour adventures were short-lived but still unforgettable. Make sure to hike all the way up the mountain to Inka Watana for some of the best views of the Sacred Valley.
Lesser visited than some of the other ruins in the area are those of Chinchero. Along with the cute little village of Chinchero, these are definitely worth the visit. Only a 30 minute ride from Cusco, you can catch a colectivo for 6 soles and get dropped off in the village of Chinchero. The ruins of Chinchero are much smaller than Pisac and Ollantaytambo but the Inca trail that extends beyond the ruins is the real draw. For the adventurous souls, the hike from Chinchero to Urquillos is an incredible day hike that few international travelers know about.
Just above the city of Cusco are the ruins of Saqsayhuaman. You can hike up to here from Cusco, so it doesn’t require any long bus rides or rushed visits. This fortress overlooking the city is one of the most magnificent Inca sites you will see. The stones are big as hell. It is seriously impressive.
Unlike the other sites included in Cusco’s boleto turistico, Pikillaqta is not an Inca site. Pikillaqta is home to the ruins of the Wari civilization that inhabited this region from 550-1100 AD, several centuries before the Inca came to power. While not the most visually impressive ruins near Cusco, they are much more unique than the others thanks to their different style and the different era that they were built in.
Tier 2: Sites Worth Visiting Because You’re Already Close By
These are the sites that I wouldn’t recommend prioritizing, but are in relatively close proximity to some of the more impressive sites. For example, Qenqo is just a 5 minute walk down the road from Saqsayhuaman, so why not? You catch my drift?
Of the four Sacred Valley sites, Moray was the least impressive to me. However, since it’s already on your ticket, it is still worth paying a visit to. You can access Moray from the town of Urubamba or take a guided tour that is usually combined with the town of Chinchero and the Salineras de Maras. Moray was the first of the Sacred Valley sites that I visited, and it actually put me off exploring the rest of the Sacred Valley. On its own, it is okay, but when compared to sites like Pisac or Ollantaytambo, it is quite underwhelming.
Odds are, this won’t be the first Inca site that you visit. Tipon is impressive and worth visiting, but after you’ve visited places like Machu Picchu, Pisac, and Ollantaytambo, it might be underwhelming. Its location 22 kilometers outside of Cusco also makes it a bit of a journey to get to. If you are visiting Pikillaqta, the ruins of the much older Wari civilization, then Tipon is only a hop away.
Museo Historico Regional
Although small, this museum proved to be quite interesting. It only has a few rooms but the topics range widely. From prehistoric flora and fauna to the various cultures that have inhabited Cusco throughout the millennia, you can learn quite a bit about the city from this museum. Its central location about a block from the Plaza de Armas also makes it a quick activity on an off day between more rigorous adventures.
Just down the road from Saqsayhuaman is the site of Q’enqo. The views here are stunning but the site itself is quite underwhelming. It is small and can be visited in less than ten minutes. Just prior to Q’enqo is Q’enqo Chico, a free-to-enter site that is equally as enjoyable. A lot of locals come here to hang out, have picnics, or play some football or volleyball. Hanging out here was much more fun than Q’enqo, but if you’ve already paid for your ticket, you might as well stop by here, as well.
Along the same road where you will find Saqsayhuamn and Qenqo is the archaeologial site of Tambomachay. Unfortunately, that road is quite long. Although I walked the 3 kilometers from Qenqo all the way to Tambomachay, I understand that most people would prefer not to. You can catch a bus, colectivo, or taxi to and from Tambomachay instead. The bus costs 1 sol and makes Tambomachay much more accessible. It is not as impressive as the other ruins along this road but it is nice to see some different Inca structures, like fountains.
Along the same road that you’ll find Tambomachay is Puka Pukara. It is almost directly opposite from Tambomachay. While small, these ruins in their beautiful location are some of the most photogenic that you’ll find in Cusco. They are well-preserved and during the hours of sunrise or sunset, you’ll find that the stones turn a reddish hue, making them even more beautiful.
Tier 3: Which Sites To Visit If You’re Bored And Have Spare Time
Museo de Arte Contemporaneo
Located just a block from the main square inside a governmental building is Cusco’s Contemporary Art Museum. I enjoyed my visit here, although was left wanting for more. Like most museums included on the tourist ticket, this one is quite small. It consisted of two small galleries and then a plaza with paintings hung up on a couple of its walls.
Monumento El Inca Pachacutec
This monument is pretty far out of the way from the central hub of Cusco. However, it is always good to explore more of Cusco. Some of my best days in Cusco have been spent aimlessly wandering outside of the confines of the touristic city center.
Centro Qosqo de Arte Nativo
Near Qorikancha is the Centro Qosqo de Arte Nativo where you can find cultural and traditional performances throughout the day. If you have successfully been underwhelmed by the Museum of Qorikancha, then maybe a visit to Centro Qosqo de Arte Nativo might cheer you up. No guarantees, though.
Tier 4: Meh
These are the sites that seem like nothing more than filler. You probably wouldn’t pay to visit these places if they weren’t on your tourist ticket. These are the sites at the bottom of the barrel.
Museo de Qorikancha
With how incredible my visit to Qorikancha was, I was expecting a bit more out of its museum. It was underwhelming, and its slightly underground location was musky and poorly lit. And those floors… so squeaky. I couldn’t get out of that museum fast enough. It exits through to the wide open grassy field outside of Qorikancha. I thought it might be nice to relax there for a while but the security guard literally would whistle at me every time I sat down for more than two minutes. Like seriously, the place is empty and there’s plenty of space. Who knows, man.
Museo de Arte Popular
This museum was like a block away from my hostel so I decided to pay it a visit since I had a bit of time to kill. It took me about 20 minutes to go through the whole thing. The most interesting part of this museum was the photo gallery that gave a glimpse into the history of Cusco. However, you don’t really need to go to a museum to look up old pictures of Cusco. It’s proximity to the Plaza de Armas makes it worthy of a quick stop, but definitely not worth going out of your way for.
Suggested Two-Day Cusco Partial Ticket Itinerary
So I haven’t entirely convinced you to ball out and treat yourself to the complete tourist ticket? That’s fair. If you don’t have enough time to do it all, then the two-day partial ticket is the option for you. The partial tickets are split up into a few different options.
The Sacred Valley Partial Ticket: Suggested Itinerary
In my honest and most humble opinion, I believe that this partial ticket is the only one truly worth getting. It gives you access to four of the largest and most beautiful archaeological sites in the area. Pisac, Ollantaytambo, Chinchero, and to a lesser degree, Moray, are among my favorite archaeological sites that I have visited throughout all of my travels.
You could spend hours at each one, which is much more than you could say for anything else on the other partial tickets. With that being said, it also makes it the most difficult to accomplish in the two days you are given. Pisac and Ollantaytambo are over two hours away from each other, and visiting Moray and Chinchero would require a detour along the way that sucks up even more time. However, it is possible to do all four of these in two days. Here’s how.
I recommend spending the night in Ollantaytambo or Pisac beforehand so that you can get a bright and early start. Let’s assume you start with Pisac, although you can start at Ollantaytambo and just do the reverse of this suggested itinerary. The morning of your first day, pay a visit to the ruins of Pisac. Allot yourself at least four hours to explore this vast and impressive archaeological site. In the early afternoon, catch a colectivo towards Urubamba and from there, catch a taxi or colectivo to Moray. These ruins are significantly smaller and will take up much less time than any of the others on this ticket.
Once you finish up at Moray, catch a colectivo down towards Chinchero and spend the night there. Bright and early again, visit the archaeological site of Chinchero. It shouldn’t take more than an hour to see the ruins but wait, there’s more! You can hike the Inca trail from Chinchero all the way to Urquillos. You can finish this in about 3 or 4 hours. If you start at around 8 or 9 AM, you should be finished up with this by the early afternoon.
You’ll end up back on the highway between Pisac and Urubamba. Catch a colectivo to Urubamba for 1 sol and then from the bus terminal, catch another colectivo to Ollantaytambo for 2 soles. You’ll see the ruins as soon as you step out of the van. Cross off the final thing on your partial ticket and end it with a bang. You could spend hours at Ollantaytambo. If you have time, make sure to hike all the way to the top of the mountain to Inka Watana for the best views of the Sacred Valley. That’s how you end your two-day adventure with a bang.
Saqsayhuaman and Company Partial Ticket: Suggested Itinerary
Saqsayhuaman is incredible. With that being said, I’d recommend taking a bus to Tambomachay for 1 sol and then working your way back towards Cusco and Saqsayhuaman. That might be the only way that the other attractions included on this ticket won’t underwhelm you. Following a several-hour-long walk from Cusco all the way to Tambomachay, I was relatively unimpressed. Puka Pukara was beautiful, but paled in comparison to Saqsayhuaman. Qenqo, at first glance, just seems to be a big pile of rocks.
Saqsayhuaman is truly the only thing on this partial ticket option that makes it worth it. Save the best for last and end it with some killer views of Cusco from Saqsayhuaman and the Cristo Blanco.
Tipon, Pikillaqta, and the Museums Partial Ticket: Suggested Itinerary
This is the least appealing of the partial tickets, as the vast majority of the options here are underwhelming filler attractions. Tipon and Pikillaqta are worth visiting, but the museums and monuments are nothing more than ticket filler. This option may seem like one of the better tickets because it has 8 attractions as opposed to just 4. But nope. Quantity is not quality in this case. If you only have two days in Cusco, don’t even consider this ticket.
In short, if you had to choose one, then choose the Sacred Valley option. Ollantaytambo, Pisac, and Chinchero on their own are worthy of warranting a 70 soles entrance fee each. And you can get all of them for one price. However, if you have more than just two days to spare, I still highly recommend leaning towards the 130 soles complete boleto turistico. Prioritize the Sacred Valley and throw in a visit to Saqsayhuaman, Tipon, and Pikillaqta and you have definitely made much better use of your time in Cusco than 99% of other travelers.