Which Cusco ruins are really worth seeing

Which Cusco ruins are really worth seeing

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The Cusco Peru ruins are often the main factor in deciding on a trip to this region. Here we’ll break down how to buy the Cusco Tourist Ticket, which Cusco ruins are most worth seeing, and tips to make the most of your trip to the Cusco Inca ruins. 

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Seeing the ruins around Cusco and nearby Sacred Valley is one of the best ways to experience the rich culture in the Peruvian Andes. For 300 years the Incan Empire ruled South America from Peru to modern-day Colombia, with the city of Cusco encompasing some of their most important and powerful sites.

Tour the Incan ruins Cusco to learn more about this fascinating group of people. How they built, farmed, worshipped, and ruled is currently being uncovered by archaelogists and scholars!

Tips for seeing the Cusco Ruins

-You don’t need to weigh down your day pack with food items (unless you want to.) Most ruins will have small snack stands for chips, candy, and drinks at the entrance to the ruins, as well as periodic trash cans and benches around the ruins. The snacks here will cost you more than at tiendas in Cusco, but the convenience is worth the extra money!
-Consider hiring a private car or tour group to take you around the Sacred Valley. Chinchero, Moray, and Ollantaytambo can be accomplished in one day, and will run around 100 soles/ person to cover by bus and individual (necessary) taxis. For this price you may as well hire a taxi from Cusco or at your first stop off the bus in the Sacred Valley. They will get you around more conveniently and comfortably than waiting for local busses!
-Most sites will have tour guides hanging around the entrances ready to give you a private tour. Tour guides will be bilingual in Spanish and English, and charge varying amounts for their services. While their information is valuable, we always chose to forego their help and read Wikipedia articles, instead. There is a wealth of free information available out there!
-We recommend you bring the following supplies with you when hiking the ruins of Cusco:
  • Rain jacket or poncho (it will start raining with no warning at least half the year!) 
  • Sunscreen (The sun feels very harsh in the altitude of Cusco) 
  • Camera (for obvious reasons. Our photos from the Cusco ruins have been some of our most popular on Instagram!) 
  • Water (You can find water bottles and other drinks at the snack stands near the entrance of each hike, but unless you immediately purchase one you could be stuck on your visit during a sever bout of thirst. Remeber, the sun is really strong here so you need to stay hydrated!) 
  • Cash (The snack stands and personal drivers will all require cash. Come with at least 20-50 soles over the cost of admission so you can cover an emergency meal, bus, or taxi.) 
  • Pack of tissues (Very few public restrooms will have toilet paper, so be prepared with your own. You don’t want to be out on an all-day ruins tour and not be able to relieve yourself!) 
  • Sunglasses and/ or hat (Because, for the third time, the sun is really harsh here!) 
Cusco Ruins

 

All about the best ruins in Cusco and the Sacred Valley

All of the following Inca ruins Cusco are included in the full Cusco tourist ticket, so that’s the ticket we assume you bought.

You may not have time to visit every stop available with the ticket, however, so we break down what makes each major historical site special, how to get there, and how much time you’ll need. This will help you decide which ruins near Cusco are worth visiting on your trip!

What makes a trip to each set of Incan ruins in Cusco and the Sacred Valley even more worth it is the fact that nearly all are in areas which boast other specialties. A trip to a set of ruins can become an all-day affair as you explore what unique thing makes it’s town special, too! You’ll finish your trip to Cusco with a deeper understanding of not just the local landscape and Incan architecture, but also of modern culture.

1. Pisac 

Pisac Ruins Cusco ruins
How to get to Pisac Ruins from Cusco: Catch a colectivo from Puputi road at the Estacion de Buses Urubamba y Calca. Once on Puputi road you can flag down any small bus with a sign for “Pisac” on it. (You can also get on the bus for Moray as described in our section on Chinchero, as it goes in a circle around the major ruins, but it will take longer.)
The bus to Pisan cost 5 soles and takes around 1 hr.
Once you are dropped off in the town of Pisac you can choose to hike up the mountain for 3.5 hours, or take a taxi for 20 minutes up dirt roads to get to the top of the mountain for 30 soles. The taxi will offer to stay for 1 hour as you explore the upper ruins and then drive you back for another 30 soles, or you can choose to hike down back to town for around 1.5 hours.
What’s special about Pisac: The Pisac ruins are built on top of a narrow mountain overshadowing the small town. The ruins begin at the mountain peak, but continue downward as you reach the bottom. The ruins from the top include stunning farming terraces and views of the valley as well as living quarters and views of pre-Incan architecture.
The ruins you see while hiking up or down the mountain include a tunnel in the rock, remains of a temple dedicated to the Sun God, and more. Additionally, the hike offers stunning views of the surrounding landscape intertwined with historic ruins.
We chose to pay for a taxi to take us up the mountain and to hike the 1.5 hours down on our own. This was an excellent use of time, as we avoided the more strenuous act of hiking up while still being able to enjoy the sites and views along the way. The ruins and landscape are beautiful and interesting, and the path is easy to follow on your own or with children. We consider the hike around Pisac ruins one of our favorite family hikes and one of the top things to do in Cusco!
Time needed: 30-60 minutes for top ruins, 1.5-2 hours to hike down and see other ruins
Pisac Craft Market Cusco Ruins
Bonus:  The Pisac craft market, just below the hike’s exit into town, is considered one of the best, most authentic craft markets around Cusco. Plan your visit to Pisac around opening hours of the market to look at or shop some of the best handicrafts of the region!
Read more about Pisac ruins here if you plan on taking a self-guided tour!

2. Saqsahuman

Saqsayhuman ruins cusco ruins 
How to get to Saqsayhuman ruins from Cusco:  Saqsayhuman is the easiest set of ruins to access directly from Cusco. It includes a walk of many stairs from the historic city center, past residential houses built into the mountainside, up the rest of the mountain to a flat mountain road. Continue left along this road until you pass signs for Cristo Blanco and Saqsahuaman.
Hike takes around 30 minutes.
Alternately, you can catch a colective in town with signs for “Saqsayhuman”. 
What’s special about Saqsayhuman: This huge set of ruins was specifically placed in this location to appear as the head of Cusco’s Puma shape. It is dedicated to the Inkan gods Puma, Hawk, and Serpent, and includes a zig zag section resembling puma teeth and a large, slick section of rock called the “Inka Slide” visitors can use.
You’ll also find indigenous women offering pictures with their alpacas, some of the best views of Cusco, and examples of both Inkan rock engineering and pre-Incan architecture.
We loved the variety of engineering and things to do and see at these ruins, as well as their proximity to Central Cusco. Visiting here offers so much value that it’s really a no-brainer! If you aren’t interested in a long commitment to see ruins, this is the one for you!
Time needed: 2 hours to see the entire grounds
Cristo Blanco Cusco Ruins
Bonus: Near the Saqsahuman ruins is Cristo Blanco, a giant Christus statue with open arms overlooking Cusco. The statue is free to visit, is a beautiful sight, offers more great views of the city, and features craft stalls during the day. You will pass it on your walk back and forth to Cusco.
Read more about Saqsayhuman here if you want to go on a self-guided tour!

3. Moray

Moray Ruins Cusco Ruins

 
How to get to Moray from Cusco: Use the buses at the Estacion de Colectivos para Urubamba y Ollantaytambo (as you do for Chinchero). You could plan to hit both (or all 3 major Sacred Valley ruins including Ollantaytambo) in one day as they are on the same bus route.
Bus to Moray costs 5 soles/ person.
The bus will let you out in the town of Maras. Take a taxi from Moras to Moray, about 7 km away on a dirt road full of tourist buses. You don’t want to walk this!
 
What’s special about Moray: This is the featured ruins site on advertisements for the Sacred valley. The circular terraces were originally designed as an agricultral experiment. Incas brought different types of dirt and fertilizer to each layer and grew different crops on each, experimenting with what grew best in different climates.
While you aren’t allowed to walking into the terrace circles, a walk around the outskirts leads to interesting views of the ruins. Take note of the temperature differential as you walk. It’s around 10 degrees cooler at the bottom as it is on the top!
Time needed: 30-45 minutes to walk both circular ruin sets.
Maras Salt Pans Cusco Ruins
Bonus: In the neighboring town of Maras you’ll find the Maras Salt Pans, a collection of individually-owned salt flats harvesting the salt from the canyon. These salt pools have been used and harvested since the Incan period! Your driver to Moray can take you to Maras Salt Pans for an extra fee, which doesn’t include the 10 soles entrance to the park. Visitors can walk around the entrance to the salt pans and access a viewing area, but are no longer allowed to walk into the individual salt pools.
Read more about Moray here if you want to go on a self-guided tour!

4. Ollantaytambo

Ollantaytambo Ruins Cusco Ruins

How to get to Ollantaytambo ruins from Cusco: Find a colectivo bus on Calle Grau with a sign for “Ollantaytambo”. The ride will take around 90 minutes – 2 hours, so arrive early to get a good seat!

The bus to Ollantaytambo costs 10 soles/ person.

The bus will drop you off near the plaza in the town center. You will then follow the crowds to walk an additional 5 minutes past restaurants and shops in town to the entrance of the ruins.

Note: When returning to Cusco from Ollantaytambo ask for a bus to Cusco in the main plaza. Many will be waiting for extra passengers, so you shouldn’t have to wait long. The bus back to Cusco does not stop to pick up extra passengers, costs 10 soles/ person, and drops you off in San Fransisco Plaza (beside Plaza de Armas). 

What’s special about Ollantaytambo: Ollantaytambo was an administrative center for the Incas, as well as a strong military fortress for the Incas against the Spanish Invasion.

Visitors to the Ollantaytambo ruins walk across an open field and up many flights of stairs to get views of the military complex built into the side of a mountain. The ruins are lare and interesting, with many different uses and structural techniques. Walk around to get an idea of what it was really like to live in the Incan Empire!

Time Needed: 1-2 hours

Machu Picchu facts for kids

Bonus:  Ollantaytambo is a great town to walk through, and is also a major stop for those traveling to Machu Picchu. If you’re going to Machu Picchu on a day trip from Cusco, plan some extra time to visit Ollantaytambo along the way!

Read more about Ollantaytambo here if you want to go on a self-guided tour!

 

5. Chinchero

Chinchero ruins cusco ruins

How to get to Chinchero Ruins from Cusco:  Take a taxi or walk to the colectivo (small bus) station in Cusco at Estacion de Colectivos para Urubamba y Ollantaytambo (Found on Google Maps.) Costs 5 soles/ seat and will fill up, so get on early!

Note: This bus route takes you to Chinchero, Moray, and Ollantaytambo (a few popular ruins in Sacred Valley), so you can get on this bus to see any of those stops and hop off when you’re ready.

You can walk from the bus drop-off, but to save time and energy you’ll want to hire a car to take you to the ruins entrance. A line of cars will be waiting at the bus drop-off, and you can easily negotiate your rate to around 10 soles for the short drive.

What’s special about Chinchero: Chinchero ruins are small and not as noteworthy as others, but the landscape is beautiful, with the ruins opening up to a steep mountain valley. The ruins are thought to be the resort home of Inca Tupac Yupanqui, son of Pachacutec, and include wide terraces perfect for a long walk.
The site also features a catholic church and small plaza full of local souvenir sales. The church charges an additional entrance fee for visitors. It’s not worth going out of your way just to visit the church, but if you’re already in the area and not pressed for time you may as well stop in to see some beautiful woodwork.
Time needed: 1 hour to walk around the ruins and see the Iglesia on site.
Chinchero textiles cusco ruins
Bonus: Chinchero is known for having the highest quality textiles in the Sacred Valley. Any taxi will probably offer to take you to a textile shop, where local women will offer a demonstration of how they collect different fibers and wash, make threads, dye, and weave them into beautiful pieces.
Prices here will be lower than in Cusco for guaranteed authenticity, so buy up!

6. Tipon

tipon Ruins Cusco ruins
How to get to Tipon Ruins from Cusco : Take a bus (larger than colectivos) in San Fransisco Plaza. Look for Los Liones bus with Tipon on window at the front of the Iglesia San Fransisco.
Costs 2 soles/ person. And takes around 45 minutes (But does not pick up extra people along the way, so you can enjoy the direct trip!) 
The bus to Tipon drops you off in the small town of Tipon, not near the ruins. If you tell the bus attendant “Tipon ruins” he will offer to call a taxi to meet the bus which will take you to the ruins for and extra 10 soles.
Note: The taxi driver will offer to stay for one hour and bring you back to town for an additional 10 soles. This is a good deal, as the road back to town is boring and long, and you aren’t gauranteed to find another taxi. 
What’s special about Tipon: Tipon is an agricultural site Inca used for farming. An underground spring was accessed for running water throughout the well-manicured farming terraces to carry water to their various crops. The engineering of running water was revolutionary for the time, and their waterways are very impressive!
We loved seeing the unique running water features which highlight their engineering capabilities, but the view was also incredible. The Tipon ruins are small and accessable, with open, sweeping views of the mountains and town uncharistic for the other dense and complicated ruins of the area.
Time needed: 1 hour to completely walk around the two different sections
Tipon Cuy Cusco Ruins
Bonus: Ask your taxi driver to take you to a cuyeria– small restaurant which cooks cuy (Guinea Pig) in a stone oven. Cuy (pronounced coo-ie) is a staple food in this region, and Tipon is known for having the freshest meat. If you’re interested in the authentic experience of eating guinea pig, it should be in Tipon!
Our driver insisted Cuyeria Yuli was the best, although I can’t imagine what differentiates one cuy BBQ from another. We split one large cuy between two adults for 40 soles, which they split onto two plates each with huge helpings of cheesy pasta, potatoes, and chili relleno with 1 liter Inka Cola for a total of 55 soles.
Cuy tasted like dark meat chicken or turkey, which was fine, but finding the meat around the Guinea pig’s extremities was unsettling. We’re glad we tried it, but one to share was more than enough!
Read more about Tipon ruins here if you plan on doing a self-guided tour!
While these are our favorite ruins near Cusco and Sacred Valley, other smaller sites exist in between and around them. We didn’t mention all of the ruins we visited with our Cusco tourist pass, because, honestly, not all are really worth your time. These 6 are very different and unique to each other and will offer you great insight into the life of the historic Incans!

Planning a trip to Cusco? Pin this article on the top Cusco ruins to read for later!