Posted by: Jessie Kwak | January 17, 2010

Bambas, Tambos, Markets and Rocks: KnK explore the Sacred Valley

Part 1.

Most tour agencies in Cusco offer a one-day Sacred Valley Tour, where they hit up three Inca ruins and stop for lunch at a touristic restaurant where people dress up to play panpipes at you. “The Sacred Valley is three sites,” one tour operator told me when I asked him what else there was to see. “Pisac, Ollantaytambo, and Chinchero.” Yes, but what else is there? He sighed, exasperated with me. “The Sacred Valley is three sites.”

Great if you have only one day to spare, but since Rob and I had all the time in the world, we decided to take our time and stretch the one day tour into five.

We have to give props here to the book Exploring Cusco by Peter Frost. The 5th edition is sold in bookstores around the area, and although it’s about 10 years old it’s still a valuable source of information, history and maps of sites around Cusco. Since we weren’t going with a tour guide, this book has been indispensable.

Pisac—Rocks and Handicrafts!

We started in Pisac, a town that got so famous for its Sunday market that it’s now held on Tuesday and Thursday, as well. It’s also famous for the pretty spectacular set of Inca ruins that are perched high above the city.

We arrived on Tuesday and wandered through the market. There were many of the same mass-produced goods that you find in Cusco (and everywhere else, for that matter), but there were also a few gems of local art, such as belts and purses embroidered with flowers in bright yarn, and hand-woven tapestries and blankets.

There are some quality artisans selling their wares in Pisac. We met Julio on our way up to the ruins the next morning: he and his family weave tapestries using only the natural colors that can be found in the mountains. There are 28 different colors that can be found, he told me, pointing out a few in the plants that grew beside the bench I was sitting on.

The ruins above Pisac were some of the most interesting we’ve seen in our last few weeks in Inca Land. We climbed up to them from the town, a 800 meter, very steep climb. It was a good thing that the scenery was so beautiful, as this allowed us to stop, panting, and admire it while we caught our breath.

The ruins are built on the crest of a mountain spur that knifes out over the valley, with the usual Inca masochism in choosing sites that are horrendously challenging to get to. The stonework is lovely, of course, but what is fascinating is how the walls cling to the mountainside, the crumbling towers jutting out of sheer stone cliffs.

As it’s rainy season, the entire site is covered in wildflowers and blooming cactus, and everything is a brilliant green. Unlike some archaeological sites which have been cleaned to death, bromeliads still cling to these lichen-covered walls, making it seem like you’re stumbling upon new ruins around every bend.

Getting to Pisac from Cusco: Pisac is about a 45-minute drive by taxi (S/.35 [US $12.25], though they’ll try to charge you more), or an hour drive by bus (S/.2.40 [US $0.90]). Taxis you can find anywhere, and the bus leaves from Av. Tullumayu, just south of Garcilaso every 20 minutes (final destination is Calca). There are a few hotels/hospedajes scattered around—Pisac is pretty small, so ask around.

Getting to the Ruins: If you want to hike up, the trail leaves from the northwest corner of the Plaza de Armas. It’s super easy to follow—just keep climbing toward those towers. Taxis hang around the bridge (on the main highway) to take you, as well. They charge a set fee of S/.20 (US $7) to the highest parking lot, and S/.15 (US $5.25) to the lower parking lot. You can make the round trip from parking lot to parking lot in about an hour, and you should be able to find taxis waiting to take you down. If you’re planning on driving up and hiking down, choose to take the higher path—it’s spectacular.



  1. […] was the capitol of the Inca Empire, and so is surrounded by literally hundreds of Inca ruins. The Sacred Valley is full of of places to visit, the most traveled-through being Ollantaytambo, a city worth […]

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