Tag Archive: Pisac Peru

Street scene in Pisac, Peru

Street scene in Pisac, Peru

It’s only a few blocks drive along Pisac’s narrow streets before the central plaza appears.  Only one side of the plaza is visible on this Thursday morning, and scattered among its handicraft shops are a café with wi-fi, a pizzeria, and an ATM.

Artisans' market lane, Pisac, Peru

Artisans’ market lane, Pisac, Peru

The other sides are hidden by the sea of market stalls which covers the plaza, sheltered by a canopy of plastic tarps connected overhead one to the other and billowing in the occasional breeze. Pisac has the looks of a place able to house no more than a couple of thousand souls, but today is a market day and the stalls spill into narrow side-streets.

Jewelry vendor at the artisan market, Pisac, Peru

Jewelry vendor at the artisan market, Pisac, Peru

The quality and originality of the work offered here blurs the distinction between artisanship and art. The unquestioned centerpiece of this market is an awe-inspiring array of hand-woven textiles in brilliant natural dyes that employ both traditional and original designs. Here these fabrics can be found fashioned into everything from alpaca sweaters and scarves to sturdy backpacks.

Native artisan weaving on a simple belt loom

Native artisan weaving on a simple belt loom

There’s also plenty of visually arresting work in wood, leather, and stone – including acres of jewelry – and artisans can sometimes be seen working on a new piece while tending shop. A knowledgeable collector with deep enough pockets can find great values here, but no small number of the more moderately priced items turn out to be available at artisan markets across Perú.

Artisan bakery at the market, Pisac, Peru

Artisan bakery at the market, Pisac, Peru

The smell of freshly baked bread drifts from a brick oven, and there’s no way to resist sampling a still-warm loaf before departing.  A dozen guinea pigs –  soon to be  bound for the dinner table – graze in a nearby pen.

The Spanish built the present-day town of Pisac along the Urubamba River half a century after the Conquest, but the surviving terraces of its predecessor, Inca Pisac, are still draped across the mountains above less than three miles drive away.

View from terrace of the Pisac ruins

View from terrace of the Pisac ruins

The signature terraces – stacked 40 high –  are visible throughout much of the switch-backed drive from the market.  Their design takes advantage of mountain runoff by channeling it through the fields on its way to the river below.

The terraces also served to prevent erosion and landslides, and contained rich soil hauled from the valley below that enabled Inca farmers to produce crops otherwise unsustainable at these altitudes.

Farmers' homes top the terraces

Farmers’ homes top the terraces

Stonework first visible as no more than a thin line along the terrace crown resolves itself at closer range into the buildings of a village which once housed several hundred inhabitants.

Inca ruins at Pisac, Peru

Inca ruins at Pisac, Peru

The buildings are scattered across nearly two square miles of the slope, and include fortifications, aqueducts, granaries, homes, and ceremonial spaces.

Ramparts above homes and terraces, Pisac, Peru

Ramparts above homes and terraces, Pisac, Peru

The ramparts of the Q’allaqasa – the citadel – contain 20 towers that overlook the site from a perch on the ridge above the terraces.

Ramparts seen from above, ruins at Pisac, Peru

Ramparts seen from above, ruins at Pisac, Peru

At the temple to the sun god,  shadows cast by a rock outcropping known to the Incas as “the hitching post of the sun” are believed to mark the change of seasons.

Inca burial caves, Pisac, Peru

Inca burial caves, Pisac, Peru

What appear to be the mouths of small caves in a nearly inaccessible hillside across a ravine from the settlement are actually the face of an Inca cemetery not yet fully excavated by archeologists.

Incredibly enough, skeletons are still visible in some of the open-air crypts.

Close-up of Inca burial caves, Pisac, Peru

Close-up of Inca burial caves, Pisac, Peru

Two thoughts stay with me on the ride back down the mountain.

The first thought is that while lowlanders’ perspective of mountains is bottom-up, the Inca hung their fields from mountain ridges and villages which anchored them, connected by mountain trails known only to them.

Perhaps this is unsurprising, since the Inca migrated to the Sacred Valley from higher altitudes to the south, but it reflects a valuation of geography that’s fundamentally different from that of the Spanish conquerors.

The second thought is sheer amazement that the Inca society – without benefit of the wheel, the arch, or the horse – managed to produce such monumental architecture in the space of about only 100 years.   It begs the question of what contribution the Inca might have made to human development if not for the Conquest.

Tomorrow is reserved for even more spectacular ruins and charming village of Ollantaytambo, where urban Inca construction can be seen in homes still in use today.

01 Leaving Cusco

Leaving Cusco

The drive from Lima to Cusco takes 13 hours, but the flight takes little more than an hour, and the view of the Andes from the air is nothing short of breathtaking.

02 Sacred Valley mapCusco sits at an ear-popping altitude of 11,152 feet, so it’s not a complete surprise that dried coca leaves – the age-old Andean cure for altitude sickness – sit in a bushel basket at the airport gift shop, free for the taking.  The leaf – chewed like tobacco – has a bitter taste, and many prefer the widely available coca tea instead.  Try using it in combination with muña oil, another native botanical remedy, for even better effect.

04 Steet scene near Poroy

Street scene near Poroy

Many visitors to the Sacred Valley first spend a few days seeing the Cusco sites before moving on, but there are a couple of good reasons to save Cusco for last.

One is that that the Valley is 2,000 feet lower than Cusco, so the traveler can breathe a bit easier.

Another is that observing daily life in the Valley’s farms and villages provides valuable context for the monumental, ceremonial sites in Cusco and at Machu Picchu.

03 Mountains near Chinchero IMG_6949

Mountains near Chinchero

Homes and businesses thin out quickly beyond Poroy as the road climbs another 1,000 feet to Chinchero before beginning its descent into the Valley.

05 Andes seen from near Chinchero IMG_6948

Andes seen from near Chichero

Scenic lookouts along the route offer stunning panoramic views, and from this vantage point snow-capped Andes are clearly visible in the distance.

06 Farms and mountains near Chinchero IMG_6950

Farms and mountains near Chinchero

As the road drops down into the valley it passes through small villages surrounded by checker-boarded farmlands.

Alpaca, goats, and cattle graze in meadows, and the first of the Inca agriculture terraces begin to appear.

07 Drying the corn harvest for winter

Women drying the corn harvest for winter storage

Cusco sits 13 degrees of latitude below the equator, and on this trip in May it’s just weeks away from the winter solstice.

The harvest season is nearly ended, and farmers have laid their corn and potatoes out to cure under the sun in cool, dry mountain air, just as their Inca ancestors did.


People here live a life of back-breaking labor, and although they live simply, everyone appears well-fed and sheltered.

There’s an air of hope, and improvements to roads and bridges, along with additions to homes and small businesses, are common sights in even the smallest villages.


08 Quinoa drying in the sun

Stalks of quinoa drying in the sun

Potatoes and quinoa are both native to the Andes, and both are dietary staples.  The quinoa crop has also just been harvested and stalks dry in the sun.

09 Stand of eucalyptus trees

Stand of eucalytus trees

Timber is scarce at high altitudes, and eucalyptus trees were imported from Australia to Peru in the mid-1800’s in an effort to develop a ready and renewable source.  The tree is now today so ubiquitous in the Valley that concerns have been raised there and elsewhere about its invasiveness.

10 Motorcyle taxi near Urubamba

Motorcyle taxi near Urubamba

Even though many families own no car, there is schedule train service and bus service between many of the villages, but the most common form of public transportation is a sort of three-wheeled rickshaw, powered sometimes by a bicycle and at others powered by a motorcycle.

The ride from Cusco to Urubamba, including photo ops, has taken well under two hours, and from there it’s a short and scenic drive along the river to Pisac’s artisan market and Inca ruins.