Pisac: an Incan adventure

Pisac: an Incan adventure

This weekend, we visited the town of Pisac, known for a Sunday market (both arts and foods) that predates Incan times, and for nearby Incan ruins.

Craig was treating me to this trip for my birthday, so we were able to spend more on lodging than we normally do. After a little internet research, I chose La Casa del Conde, a country guest house with great reviews.

To get to Pisac, you take a ‘collectivo,’ or group van. You walk to Puputi street just below Recoleta in Cusco, and wait to hear a man yelling out destinations that match yours. That man puts you in a van, and when the van is full, it takes off.  The cost for the one-hour ride to Pisac was  5 soles ($1.80) each. I had been warned to look for an older driver, for safety reasons, but we wound up riding with an impatient teenager who wanted to pass every bus, truck and car on the narrow, winding mountain roads. It was a little harrowing — ok, that’s an understatement, I nearly wet myself a few times — and I vowed to look for some grey hairs on the driver next time.

The collectivo dropped us off on the side of the road in Pisac and we set off to find our hotel. Honestly, I’m not sure whether I would have had the guts six months ago to book a hotel that cars and mototaxis can’t reach. The directions said “At the edge of town, take a right toward the chapel and then take the only dirt road  owards Chihuanco until you find Casa del Conde.”

Found the edge of town! And there’s the chapel, straight ahead.
The dirt road. Can you see the sheep and shepherd in front of me? Right on the other side of them, around the bend, is our hotel.

Walking along that dirt road in the sunshine, in the valley between the mountains, was so freeing. Craig and I couldn’t stop grinning. Soon, we spotted the gate of our hotel and rang the bell. When the door opened, we were rewarded for our minor act of courage.

The courtyard of La Casa Del Conde was a riot of flowers, hummingbirds, and friendly doggies.
A superwide and fluffy bed, with not one but two space heaters in the room, plus water bottles and coffee service, if we wanted them.
Our little private sitting room.

The cost of the room was a super-indulgent $80 a night and included breakfast. But hey, it was my birthday celebration.

We went into town and checked out the Saturday market, which is almost as big as the Sunday one and includes all sorts of handcrafted items. Once upon a time, genuine Incan relics from the ruins above Pisac were sold in this market regularly. Now, the “relics” are just souveniers and knock-offs.

DSC02842 DSC02829 DSC02828 DSC02827 DSC02850We had dinner in town at the Blue Llama, bought a bottle of wine, and walked back to the hotel.

The view from the porch outside our room. We shared a bottle of wine here while we watched the stars come out over the valley.
The breakfast nook where we were served fresh eggs, yogurt, fruit, granola, bread with butter, jam and cheese, fresh-squeezed orange juice and coffee.

Now, for our hike. We had seen the path heading up the mountain. It was daunting, to say the least. Most people get a taxi to the top of the mountain and do a 2-hour hike down, so we decided to try that instead. While looking for a taxi, we got sucked in to a tourist deal and wound up spending at least 5 times what we should have. I knew it was happening, but it was easier than looking for & communicating with a taxi on our own, and since it was still only about $30 (should have been $5) we took it. The car was nice, at least.

We didn’t have any real expectations, but if we had, the hike and ruins would have blown them out of the water. Words cannot describe the the sense of walking around in the sky, or the thrill of rounding a bend and spotting yet another set of ruins in the wild.

There are many Incan ruins at Pisac, including liturgical baths, a military citadel, tombs, worship sites, agricultural and residential sites. The Incans were fond of building on peaks above their terraced farmland (they hauled fertile soil up the mountain for planting so they could live at ridiculous altitudes). The various sites we wanted to see were connected by a dizzying collection of mountain paths, stone stairways, and even an underground tunnel.

The first site, where the cab dropped us off. See all those people? Most of them came on tour busses and will only see the first couple of ruins. We didn’t realize the hike wasn’t for everyone.
See that tiny, tiny person in the bright green shirt? Yeah, I have to go up there to get to the next site. I am beginning to freak out a little, but I’m determined. (Have I told you how much I am afraid of heights? I can’t even climb a ladder.)
In the lower left corner are the terraced fields, and above them you can see the ruins of the original town of Pisac. On your right is the path… looks like something from a Coyote/Roadrunner cartoon to me.
See that cavern in the middle of the photo? It’s the tunnel we have to pass through. I remember saying “Craig, are you ready for your rebirth experience?” It was not too long, and it was never as dark in there as I feared it might be.
The ruins were spectacular. This site had an Incan sun temple, ritual baths, houses, and more. The stones were cut perfectly and assembled without mortar, yet these walls still stand 500 years later. Amazing.
That’s me at the bottom of the staircase. Getting pretty tired, you can see how much I dread climbing any more. Also note how closely I hug the mountainside. I can’t stand to be near the precipice.
Down that staircase? Suuuuuuure. But below are the ruins of the original Incan town of Pisac!
Looking back at the last part of the path, and the terraced fields and Pisac ruins in the distance. For scale, those dots in the bottom right hand corner are sheep and goats.

Our cab driver met us at the lower parking level and drove our exhausted bodies back to town.  I enjoyed taking photos of the Quechua women in the produce market while we had lunch.

Left: The old way of carrying a baby. Right: The new way. Center: how Quechua women carry everything!
Lots of the women had flowers in their hats for church. This woman was offering to show the tourists how she uses that dangling bobbin in her left hand to spin yarn from the cleaned, raw wool wrapped around her right hand.
Little girls make money for their families by posing for pictures with lambs. Boys usually pose with llamas.
Braids are often tied together at the bottom to keep them behind the women and out of the way.
Bright colors, braided hair, and an innumerable variety of potatoes. That’s Peru!

DSC02815 DSC02813 DSC02744 DSC02739

When it was time to go home, we had to wait an eternity for a collectivo (the first one filled up before we could get on) and then we had to fight and elbow our way in, even though we were first in line. Still, it was a gorgeous, scenic hour-long drive in a comfortable van for less than $2. And this time our driver was a little more solid.

Craig and I both think we’d go back to Pisac in a heartbeat, and this time we’d hike up to the ruins. We did things we didn’t think we could do, over and over on this hike. Why not?


Published by Lauren

I'm a nomadic freelance writer, out enjoying the world!


  • Cookie Shaw

    September 16, 2013 at 11:30 am

    Once again I just took a beautiful trip through yours and Craigs adventures (lol)..everything look so beautiful and scenic .
    I will continue to follow you guys

    Love Ya

  • Lauren

    September 16, 2013 at 11:53 am

    It was an extraordinary weekend. 😀

  • somra elnubia

    September 16, 2013 at 12:09 pm

    I am really enjoying your post’s, and the beautiful pictures
    glad craig is back with you.i am living a dream through u.

    enjoyyyyyyyyy somra

  • Lauren

    September 16, 2013 at 3:35 pm

    It really is like a dream. Thanks, Somra!

  • Holly Parker

    September 17, 2013 at 8:57 am

    Great pictures!

  • Artemisia

    September 20, 2013 at 7:35 am

    Amazing pictures Lauren!

  • Lauren

    September 20, 2013 at 9:36 am

    Thanks, Artemisia!

  • Sara Seematter

    September 21, 2013 at 4:13 pm

    Great pics! You could probably sell some of these to travel companies!
    Love living these adventures through you. I don’t know that I could ever do on my own though b/c I would be too tempted to buy the great crafts you see but I know that one of the secrets to making this work is to having very little material things to pack up before moving on… So if I ever do, I would have to do an abridged version of Lauren’s adventure!!!

  • Lauren

    September 21, 2013 at 8:36 pm

    You nailed it, that’s the hardest part! Luckily we’re heading home for a visit at Christmas, so I CAN pick up some things here in Peru and bring them home to put in storage. I’ve picked up some kitchen ceramics and placemats so far, and Craig and I have our eye on a gorgeous tapestry. It’s nice to be able to shop a bit!

  • […] Here’s my original post about Pisac, and La Casa Del Conde, from last year. It was truly one of my favorite experiences on this Journey. […]

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