If there is something calling the attention of Cusco, it is contrasts. When you are at the centre of the city, walking by its mischievous and mysterious narrow streets or sitting in the square, it is hard to imagine that the impressive adjoining mountains can shelter such beautiful landscape similar to the one in the Sacred Valley. Few places in the Tahuantinsuyo could compete against the beauty and wealthy of this valley, for this reason it received that name. Its character of “sacred” has survived the pass of the time and that magic continues seducing the visitors. Most of them, surrendered to its enchants, decide to leave everything and settle under the shadow of the eucalyptus, at the bank of the Urubamba.
The Sacred Valley has become one of the most important tourist centers in the country. Apart from the incomparable historic wealth, the area of Urubamba offers infinitive possibilities to enjoy for the tourist: trekking, thermal baths, rafts or kayaks rides, paragliding or hang gliding, horsing, climbing, etc. Lately they have developed participating tourist programmes inviting the visitor, for instance, to work in a terrace or collect salt from the salt pools. The Sacred Valley also holds two of the most important handicraft markets of Cusco: Pisac and Chinchero.
The artisan market at Pisac is now world famous, and although held every day, the largest market is held on Sundays, where the stalls start from the main plaza and spread into the inclined streets – leading to the foot of the mountain. There are literally hundreds of individual vendors, whose market stalls engulf the streets of the town in a blanket of tables, knitted products and plastic tarpaulins. Although many of the vendors sell similar products: knitted scarfs, trinkets, jewellery, alpaca jumpers, clothing and ceramics etc. there are some stalls which sell unique quality products which make excellent gifts or personal purchases.
Just like all the cities in Cusco, Pisac is an important archaeological center that encompasses the mystical Incan constructions, in contrast to the natural richness of the Urubamba Valley.
Although it is very difficult to know the autochthonous names of Cusco’s ancient cities, Pisac is one of the few examples of original names that are known. It derives from the Quechua word “pisaq” or “p’isaqa”, which means partridge (a gallinacean type that abounds in this area). According to the traditional Incan architecture, the cities were built based on figurative designs of animals. Pisac was partridge-shaped, as we can tell from its name.
CALCA – URUBAMBA
The Peruvian province of Urubamba is one of the thirteen that comprise the Department of Cuzco, under the administration of the regional government of Cusco. Bounded on the north and west by the province of La Convención, east with the province of Calca and south with the province of Cusco and the province of Anta.
Considered Paradise Bible the great eighteenth-century naturalist Antonio de Leon Pinelo , the city of Urubamba is now one of the most beautiful cities in the Sacred Valley of the Incas.
The Incas, as connoisseurs of the land, they chose this fertile valley to establish their main settlements, which is why the province of Urubamba consists of the districts where the main architectural monuments of the Incas: Urubamba, Ollantaytambo, Chinchero, Huayllabamba, Machupicchu, Maras and Yucay.
This complex is another national archaeological park located at the traditional district of Ollantaytambo, which belongs to the province of Urubamba, on the western side of the Urubamba Valley at 93 km (50 miles or one and a half hour journey approximately) to the northeast of Cusco through the asphalted road Chinchero – Urubamba.
It is a typical town of Incan origin, and it is located at 76 km of Cusco by road (Chinchero-Urubamba) and at 68 km (42.2 miles) by train.
It is located at a height of 2,700 m.a.s.l. (8,856 feet). Both the design and the foundations of most of its constructions correspond to the Incan times. This set was a strategic military, religious and agricultural center.
The Chinchero market, held on Tuesday, Thursday and especially Sunday, is less touristy than its counterpart in Pisac and well worth a special trip. On Sunday, traditionally dressed locals descend from the hills for the produce market, where the ancient practice of trueco (bartering) still takes place; this is a rare opportunity to observe genuine bartering.
Chinchero is a small Andean Indian village located high up on the windswept plains of Anta at 3762m about 30km from Cusco. There are beautiful views overlooking the Sacred Valley of the Incas, with the Cordillera Vilcabamba and the snow-capped peak of Salkantay dominating the western horizon. Chinchero is believed to be the mythical birthplace of the rainbow. Its major claim to tourism is its colourful Sunday market which is much less tourist-orientated than the market at Pisac.
The village mainly comprises mud brick (adobe) houses, and locals still go about their business in traditional dress.
The village may have been an important town in Inca times. The most striking remnant of this period is the massive stone wall in the main plaza which has ten trapezoidal niches. The construction of the wall and many other ruins and agricultural terraces (which are still in use) are attributed to Inca Tupac Yupanqui who possibly used Chinchero as a kind of country resort. Entrance to the main plaza and ruins requires a ‘boleto turistico’.
In the main plaza an adobe colonial church, dating from the early seventeenth century, has been built upon the foundations of an Inca temple or palace. The ceiling and walls are covered in beautiful floral and religious designs. The church is open on Sundays for mass.