Pisac  is one of Cusco ’s few great Inca ruins that feature all types of architecture—agricultural, hydraulic, military, residential, and religious. It probably began as a military garrison to guard against incursion from the Anti Indians, who occupied the easternmost corner of the empire known as Antisuyo (present-day Paucartambo and the Manu jungle ).
There are several ways to see the Pisac Ruins (7 a.m.–3 p.m., admission with Cusco ruins ticket), but the best is to take a US$3–4 taxi up the eight-kilometer highway to the ruins. Instead of going to the main entrance, tell your taxi to go right on the switchback and head farther up to the Pisac ruins of Qanchisracay. From here a trail leads along a ridge, through a tunnel, and down into the Intihuatana, or the main sun temple. The walk is steep and exposed to heights, but safe.
Or arrive at the Intihuatana via the main path from the main entrance. Allow for one or two hours for walking around the ruins (return to town via taxi) and another two hours for walking downhill all the way to town.
Qanchisracay is one of three residential areas in Pisac. It is composed of rough stone buildings, walls with niches, and small squares. These were probably military garrisons and, in the style of a medieval castle, shelter for villagers in times of war. An easier residential area to visit, below the Intihuatana, is named after the Andean partridge p’isaqa—the namesake of Pisac itself.
From Qanchisracay an Inca trail traverses the hillside, arrives at a small pass, then heads up and over a rocky summit to the sun temple, behind and out of sight. At the pass, four purification baths flow with water brought down from a lake at 4,500 meters. Below are five agricultural terraces, once planted with potatoes and olluco, the Andean tuber.
On the opposing cliff wall, thousands of holes left by grave robbers are all that is left of what was once the Inca’s largest cemetery. On the other side of the pass to the left, a 10-minute detour around the corner reveals Inca buttresses, which were once spanned by a hanging bridge made of plant fibers. This is an alternative trail to the Intihuatana and passes a series of fine irrigation canals.
The main path from the pass crosses through a military wall with a perfect trapezoidal door, known as the Door of the Serpent. Above is the second residential area, Hanam P’isaq (upper Pisac). The path now climbs up steep staircases and niches carved out of the rock itself, alongside a cliff and through the Q’alla Q’asa (Split Rock) tunnel. Faced with a vertical rock face, Inca engineers decided to enlarge a rock fissure and bore through the entire cliff—how they did this, with no iron or steel implements, boggles the mind.
The best view of the Intihuatana is from above. Like the sun temple at Machu Picchu , the Intihuatana is an oval building of perfect masonry encasing a votive rock. The pillar atop the rock was used to track the sun’s movements. (Most of the finely carved pillar was recently chopped off by thieves—not long before the one in Machu Picchu was chipped during the filming of a beer commercial.) The walls of five other temples surround the temple, including one that was probably devoted to the moon. To the right is a series of restored baths that flow into an underground canal. In front of the Intihuatana is a sacred chacana symbol.
Off the easier trail back to the main entrance of the ruins is P’isaqa, the third and finest residential area, with its own ritual bath. These were probably homes for the elite, as opposed to the military garrisons closer to the pass. Most people head back at this point to the main entrance, though there are two trails from here that make for pleasant two-hour walks back to Pisac . One descends directly to the Río Quitamayo, with spectacular views, while the other drops through the lookout towers of Coriwayrachina and an area of steep terracing. Both trails merge on the other side of the river for the final descent into town.