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Located in the Sacred Valley, Pisac is a colonial village at the base of an Inca fortress about 45 minutes away from Cusco, and is the perfect starting point for a trip outside of Cusco into the Sacred Valley.
Because the ruins aren’t in Cusco itself, there are fewer tourists and you’ll have more time and freedom to survey the site. The site is an impressive Inca fortress that sits stoutly atop a hill overlooking Pisac. You can hike from Pisac to the top (it will take you about two hours) or take a short taxi ride. The site has agricultural terraces that wrap around the south and east sides of the mountain, which make for beautiful pictures and are also a perfect place to take a break and eat lunch.
You may well have heard about Pisac, but it probably wasn’t for its ruins. Pisac boasts the largest tourist market in all of the Sacred Valley, offering you everything you can get in Cusco, but for a better price. The craziest day to head to Pisac is definitely on a Sunday, when hundreds of tourists arrive looking for good bargains for souvenirs to take home.
Pisac is a great place to take San Pedro, a psychedelic cactus that is native to the Andes, or to participate in yoga and meditation retreats for some rest and relaxation.
The village of Ollantaytambo is the best example of Inca city planning still intact today, with narrow little cobblestone streets that have been used since around the 13th century. It is used a lot of the time as a stop-off between Cusco and the jungle, or between Cusco and Machu Picchu, but deserves your time in itself and offers plenty of places to explore.
From the little village you can spend a day exploring the nearby ruins, but you’ll need a boleto turistico (a ticket giving you entry to a number of archeological and cultural sites), which you purchase in Cusco. The ruins rise above the little town, so it won’t be hard to miss. The terraced Inca fortifications cling to the cliffside, and if you climb to the top, you’ll reach an Incan temple with beautiful views of the village. This is also the site of one of the only battles the Spanish lost.
Opposite the temple, the Inca granaries also offer beautiful views of the town, and quite a strenuous hike to the top. There’s no entry charge, so if you don’t have the boleto turistico, this is a good option.
The name may not ring a bell, but it is the closest area to Machu Picchu, which means that its the main hub for those visiting those most famous of ruins. While it is most famous for its proximity to the famous citadel in the sky, it also has hot springs that are worth spending some time at.
The thermals are a great place to rest and relax before you head on some hikes or to Machu Picchu early the next morning. If you don’t have a towel, no problem: you can rent one at the baths.
Only a couple hours’ hike away from Machu Picchu, Aguas Calientes offers the cheapest routes to see the ruins. You can either take a bus to the ruins, or hike a couple hours to the top; either way, these are the cheapest ways to get there.