Pisac wasn’t quite the “Andean Shangri-La” that Lonely Planet painted it out to be, but is definitely worth a visit! After the hustle and bustle of Cusco, I wanted to escape for a while. My hostel ‘Hospedaje Chaska Pisac’ promised great things, it had a gym, meditation room and only 2 beds in the 3 bedroom dorm room I had booked, so I had high expectations of my visit. The town is easily reached from Cusco by colectivo, people carrier style mini buses that run from Calle Puputi, around a 20 minute walk from Plaza de Armas.
The road is quite windy, and the colectivo drivers whizz around the roads at breakneck speed. You are rewarded with some great views though, as you wind around the mountainside & descend into the Peru’s Sacred Valley where Pisac lies.
What to do in Pisac: The Market
The market at Pisac is renowned for bargains, although as I strolled around the maze of stalls I found they sold similar items that you can find in Cusco. There is some debate over which is cheaper, Pisac or Cusco, but general advice is if you want it, just buy it wherever you are, and haggle to get a good price. I bought a silver ring with a turquoise coca leaf motif for 40 soles (about £8) – I think I might have paid too much for it but I loved it and I was happy.
I was trying not to buy souvenirs as I can’t fit anything else in my overflowing rucksack, but small items of jewellery are acceptable. Unfortunately I have since lost the ring, so need an excuse to return and buy another one! I later saw similar rings in Lima for double the price, so make sure you get your souvenirs before you reach Lima.
Pisac is not a large town, and after my purchase I lost interest in the market and wandered around the streets. Watch out for the drainage channels in the middle of the road, I’m sure many a tourist has fallen foul of them.
Hippy Expats in Pisac
My Lonely Planet book from a couple of years ago explained there were a lot of expats here, who had come in search of a spiritual home in Peru. True enough there were a lot of ‘hippy’ type establishments offering yoga, reiki, shaman supplies and the like. I had also read about Ulrike’s café having great internet, so skipping the hippy stuff I collected my laptop & headed there.
I had an ok dinner there, veggie lasagne & Kahlua cheesecake (not very Peruvian I admit). I stayed there until 9pm when apparently everything in the town closes down, and made my way back to the hostel for a lack of other options. The common area there also closed at 9pm, so I was confined to my bedroom as it was too chilly to sit in the garden courtyard. I had booked a room in a 3 bed dorm, which actually only had 2 beds in it – I was told my room-mate was a guy called Adam, but he wasn’t there when I arrived, nor when I returned from dinner. I must admit I had some trepidation about settling down for the night without having met this mystery man, but I was tired so got ready for bed.
I had just settled down to sleep when the hostel doorbell rang. Although the reception closed at 9pm there was supposed to be someone around in case of emergency, but the door went unanswered. I know that because whoever was outside kept buzzing every few minutes, for the best part of an hour. Every time I thought it had stopped and was just dozing off, it buzzed again. I started to worry that it was my missing room-mate who had forgotten his key, so I spent a while debating whether to get up and check it out. Eventually I decided against that, as in all other circumstances if it wasn’t the mysterious Adam I would be vulnerable, and unable to help the person anyway. I eventually fell into a fitful sleep, waiting for the strange man to come into my bedroom. I wouldn’t normally mind sharing a dorm, but with just two beds, an absent landlady and an unknown man I felt uneasy.
After all that I didn’t sleep very well, and was woken early by the sound of trucks crossing the nearby bridge into town, and the colectivo bus drivers shouting “Cusco, Cusco!” to round up passengers. When I woke, my mysterious room-mate still hadn’t arrived so my fitful night was for nothing! When I later mentioned his absence to the landlady she said “oh yes, I forgot to tell you he wasn’t coming back”. Marvellous. Despite all that, I did like the hostel, just take earplugs and don’t worry about absent room-mates!
People Watching in Pisac
To recover from my sleepless night I headed back to the main square to the Blue Llama Café for a tasty breakfast of pancakes and juice. While I was there I witnessed two incidents which really made me wonder about Peru’s sanity. The first involves the country’s obsession with car alarms, and ignoring them. Every car seems to have the same alarm, which drones on tunelessly for what seems like forever. But no-one ever comes to see if the car is being stolen or not, they just ignore it. In this case, there was a car parked in the square, and someone was busy cleaning it. However, every time he touched the car, the alarm sounded. Instead of switching off the alarm, or asking the owner to switch it off, he continued about his business to the near constant drone of the alarm.
The other incident involved two ladies in traditional dress who were sitting on the square. They were holding a lamb and a baby llama between them, and a little girl was playing nearby in modern clothes; jeans and a t-shirt. While I munched my pancakes a couple of bus-loads of tourists pulled into the square. One of the women called over the child, quickly pulled her into a traditional outfit, and sent her off to sell trinkets to the tourists. The women too scampered over to where the tourists were disembarking, and brandished their fluffy animals like weapons, practically demanding that the tourists take pictures with them. There is nothing more pleasing to me than learning more about a country’s culture and history, but this was more like a pantomime. Once again I was struck by Peruvian’s canny business women, but felt sad that this has become a show instead of an authentic experience. It is hard to draw a line sometimes between tourism and culture, preservation and demonstration, but I was getting tired of the show, especially after the circus of Cusco.
What to do in Pisac: Inca Ruins
Nonetheless, Pisac is worth a visit while you are in the Sacred Valley. The Inca ruins built high on the hillside are impressive. It is possible to hike up the mountain & back, but I chose to take a taxi, one of the licensed ones pointed out by my hostel. It is not recommended to take a moto taxi (the tuk tuk style ones) as they can be unstable on the windy roads. My taxi driver insisted I should also take a (aka his) taxi back down again, but I thought I would investigate while I was there, and then decide. He warned that the way down was very quiet and may not be safe for me alone, but in the end I found my way down quite happily.
To access the archaeological site you’ll need to buy the Boleto Turistico or Cusco Tourist Ticket, which you can get at the site, or at a number of places in Cusco. To make sure you get the right ticket for you, check out this post which has all the details.
The ruins are laid out so you can follow a route from the highest point, descending gradually along the terraces, through a tiny tunnel in the mountainside to the rest of the ruins and beyond, where the wardens can point you towards the path back to Pisac. The path down was quiet, I’ll give the taxi driver that, but I followed a Spanish family, and we met a few people coming up the other way so I wasn’t worried. The path finally brought us out behind the market in Pisac’s main square, and the descent was probably quicker than returning from the last part of the ruins to the taxi rank & driving down. So I was pleased with my choice.
I picked my rucksack up from the hostel and went on the hunt for a colectivo back to Cusco. I heard the familiar “Cusco, Cusco” shout from the drivers, and hopped aboard. As usual, we waited for the minibus to fill up and off we went, winding up out of the valley to return to Cusco. I had already arranged my onward transport from Cusco to Arequipa, my next stop, and was ready for my first night bus experience!
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