One of the most common packaged day trip tours from Cusco takes in the ruins at Pisac, Ollantaytambo, and in theory also Chinchero. In theory because it appears that many of the tour companies may routinely sell you on a three-stop tour but then only include Pisac and Ollantaytambo for those who have an afternoon or next day train to catch.
As a first stop, it’s also when you find out if your tour guide speaks English. Alas, though there were English-speaking guides aplenty at the tour bus staging area, for some unfathomable reason the tour service we enlisted sent a guide with marginal English skills and perhaps little to offer about the sites per se. Though this was annoying at the price point of US$32, it seemed to be absolutely enraging to those in our group who had paid more than US$600 to a US-headquartered tour service.
Pisac Speaks for Itself
If you find yourself in a similar pickle, you will nonetheless be able to take in a LOT at Pisac, the tour’s first stop. These ruins are a vast complex that give you your first gander of how labor intensive building these Inca engineering marvels must have been. At the summit you find the remnants of the temples, fortresses and behind them—but not accessible by foot paths, or rather not permitted for approach—the graves of the Inca elites, long ago pillaged of the gold etc. that the ruling class took with them to the next life.
If you are still contending with altitude sickness this hike to the summit will give you a good bellwether of how much you have or have not acclimated to the elevation. From the top you get a very good view of the amazing terraces below, which you can read in some places are NOT for agriculture, water management or similar. Rather, this is how the Incas gave their summit temples and abodes a sort of curb appeal. Other sources say that these are precisely for agriculture and water control.
This writer is hard pressed to figure how one cannot be anything but amazed by this vast Incan complex—with or without an English speaking guide or reliable tome as reference.
Pisac town is also said to have a new age scene not unlike Sedona, and a thriving market too.
Ah, the tour bus is already leaving…