Map of our walking route of Písac.
Most people know about Cusco and Machu Picchu, but there’s so much more. Stretched between the two is the valley formed by the Urubamba (or Vilcanota) river, the so-called Sacred Valley of the Incas. Inca settlements, temples and monuments are found through the valley and towns such as Písac and Ollantaytambo are home to spectacular ruins. Those who are up for an outdoor experience can even take the Inca trail, the ancient highway to Machu Picchu. Písac is closest to Cusco, about 30km, and there are several ruins on the outskirts of Cusco on the way to Písac. So we opted to come here and work our way back.
We didn’t get much sleep the previous night thanks to the discotheque next to the hotel. Trying to fight off fatigue, we nevertheless managed to be on our way around 9:30. We flagged a taxi in the plaza and agreed on a price (S/.45). As usual, the driver quoted something higher than our target price, and we had to bargain it down to a more reasonable level.
The drive is quite scenic and takes us through rolling hills, farmlands, pine forests and mountain passes between towering peaks. We asked the taxi driver to stop for this view near Písac.
Písac is known for its market, which is the most popular in the Sacred Valley. Stalls fill the entire main square and spill into the surrounding alleys. You can find everything here, particularly woven items, handicrafts and jewelries. We found Kate a cute little hat to help ward off the sun.
We even found this guinea pig condos in a courtyard. Unfortunately, these cute little guys were destined for lunch.
The town is clustered around the river, while the ruins are perched on the peaks above it. To get there, you can either hike up the trail or take a taxi (taxis are found next to the bridge you have to cross to enter town). We decided to take the taxi for S/.25. It turned out our taxi driver was a woman, the only one in Písac according to her and the only one we saw the entire trip.
The taxi dropped us off at the back entrance to a hill-top ruins complex known as Qanchisracay, one of four arrayed along the mountain ridge. Multi-storied stone houses appear to be used for habitation or storage.
The stones are roughly hewn. Ah, so not all Inca stonework are created equal. The largest stones and the highest quality are reserved for religious, royal and other important structures.
Outlooks provide a sweeping view of the valley below.
Across the wide agricultural terraces known as Andenes is the second complex, Q’allaqasa, which is more imposing and looks as if carved out of the mountain side.
Q’allaqasa was intended as a citadel. Q’allaqasa may not seem very large from a distance, but once you’re inside, it feels much more substantial. Rooms are stacked on top of each other and winding, multi-level passageways create the impression of a maze. We later found this experience to be true at Machu Picchu as well.
Here, across the top, we see the trail to the religious complex, Intihuatana. Visible at the lower left is the fourth complex, Pisaqa.
The trail involves some climbing.
This is the trapezoidal doorway considered to be the main entrance, named Amarupunku (amaru = snake, punku = doorway). Later on we’d see a similar one at Machu Picchu.
View from the citadel.
After exploring Q’allaqasa, we were both tired, hungry and running low on water, so we decided to head down to town. In retrospect, we should have forged on to the other ruins, which are much more impressive. The Intihuatana complex in particular includes a sun temple as well as its namesake, the “hitching post of the sun”. Something for next time.
The most direct trail to the town, which terminates right below the citadel, is an attraction in itself. We first passed by some terraces with built-in stone steps.
The trail runs along a rugged canyon.
We passed by rows of what seemed like small houses built into the cliff face high above—an Inca burial site. This is such a remarkable way to to build graves, but by now we didn’t expect any less from the Incas. Unfortunately, their precipitous placement did not deter thieves, and all of the graves have holes in them, an obvious sign that they were broken into by robbers.
We were surrounded by mountains and enthralled by views of the fantastic terraces high above (or below in this case).
This is quite a spectacular hike and worth every céntimo.
Intihuatana is unfortunately obscured just behind this peak.
This guy is hiking around the Torreones (towers).
It’s quite amazing to actually be walking on same path as the Incas did centuries ago.
The terraces are taller than they seem.
Finally we made it down to town. This entrance is just 30 seconds up an alley from the market.
Food and relief came at the first restaurant we saw, which faces the plaza and market. The back and upper floor serve as a hotel, which seems pretty nice. Staying here would give us plenty of time to explore the ruins, something to think about.
After Písac we headed back to Cusco as the locals do, by taking a minibus called a colectivo.