The beautiful valley of the Urubamba River – popularly known as the Sacred Valley – is just 30 kilometers out of Cusco. This Inca heartland holds the citadels of Pisac and Ollantaytambo.
The colonial town of Pisac in the heart of the Sacred Valley combines old culture with new: just outside Peru’s most colorful food market, impressive Incan terraces cover the mountain side.
I take a bus to Pisac to discover a bit more of the ancient history of this land. The winding road and harsh curves throw any unsecured baggage from side to side as we drive along. Beside me, a stout woman of many years uses strong, weathered hands to try to close a bag full of vegetables that attempt to escape every time the driver turns the steering wheel.
Pisac houses the country’s most colorful market, divided into two parts. One part is where all kinds of fruit, vegetables and farm products from the far corners of Peru are bought and sold. Another area specializes in regional crafts, such as handmade carpets, clothes and musical instruments.
People in the traditional costumes of the mountains come here to trade, as their ancestors did centuries ago. I am amazed to see that some vendors do not use money but barter what raw produce they have for the goods they need. And there are more children, red-cheeked from the cold, many lambs to market on their backs.
The colonial town of Pisac stands below the former Inca town, which was destroyed by the Spanish. Some dramatic ruins remain, covering the mountainside with stone walls and split into districts that housed people of obviously different social classes. Some homes were rough and ready, while others must have been luxurious, complete with baths. The oval Intihuatana is another temple dedicated to the sun, with a solar calendar made from carved rocks and a dramatic view over the valley below.
Perhaps more impressive again are the agricultural terraces that circle the slopes, some 500 in total. Corn was grown on the lower terraces and quinoa on the higher ones, with potatoes in the middle. Corn grows below 3,000 meters and potatoes above that height but the Incas developed more than 2,000 varieties of potato, fine-tuning them to various altitudes. The whole system maximized the use of water and made steep hillsides into fertile fields.