A day trip north of Cuzco, through the mountains and to the ruins of Pisac.
Max elevation: 11371 ft
Min elevation: 9764 ft
Total climbing: 2448 ft
Reymundo was right on time. Yesterday Adriana at the front desk of the Amaru II set up a driver to take us to the ruins of Pisac. At the time, we had no idea what a treat we were in for when Reymundo was assigned as our driver. He arrived not long after we finished our breakfast in the hotel. We piled into his white Toyota Success, Arturo in the front to facilitate his role as trip interpreter and the rest of us in the back seat.
Instead of making a straight shot to Pisac, Reymundo doubled his duty as both driver and tour guide. First we stopped near the Cristo Blanco statue on the hill above Cuzco near Sacsayhuaman. From there we could see the city spread out in front of us, a sea of orange tiled roofs punctuated by the bell towers of churches, many whose walls held stones that originally formed structures in Sacsayhuaman and other nearby Inca ruins.
From the northern hills of Cuzco, we continued north along the highway to Pisac. Reymundo made another stop along the way at a lookout point where we could see the valley stretch out below, the river winding its way at the base of mountains. There, as with many areas that we visited, there were a few dogs, and a couple young women dressed in traditional Quechua garb with their llamas and alpacas ready to pose for “una foto señores? Un sol, por favor.”
The road wound its way through the mountains, slowly losing altitude. Reymundo asked if we wanted to stop at a local animal sanctuary and before long, we were pulling off the road at Santuario Animal de Ccochahuasi. As their website states, the sanctuary is “dedicated to the protection and care of the animals of the Peruvian Andes.” Their modest facilities provide care to many animals that have been injured or rescued from the clutches of illegal capture for export, domestication, or other nefarious ends. When we visited, the sanctuary was caring for several alpacas, llamas, turtles, bears, wild cats, and several species of birds including eagles and condors. Our guide invited us into the condor enclosure to get up close and personal with three of their residents.
After leaving the sanctuary, Reymundo navigated into the town of Pisac, stopping first at an overlook above the town where on the opposite hillside we could see the terraces of the Inca ruins descending down into the valley where the town center finds itself on the banks of the Urubamba. Reymundo negotiated the one-lane, temporary bridge that serves as the only way to cross the river into the town while the permanent bridge, which had been washed out and destroyed, is replaced. From there, we drove through town and up the opposite hillside to the entrance to Pisac. As the INC staffer punched our boletos turisticos, Reymundo told us he would meet us in the Pisac market at the base of the trail leading down from the ruins. A light rain started as we entered the upper levels of the Pisac Ruins.
There were several levels of agricultural terraces stretching down toward the valley, but most of the structures were hidden from us at this vantage point. The steep hillside to the west was riddled with small holes that were intended to be the final resting place of many of the area’s former residents. We made our way across a terrace and continued along a trail bordered on one side by the hill and on the other by a several thousand foot drop to the Sacred Valley below. The trail wound along the hill and through a small cave. Upon emerging from the cave and making our way further around the hillside, we were treated to our first view of the Pisac structures. Intricately laid stonework formed the buildings and temples. We could clearly see the Intiwatana, or hitching post for the sun, a large stone sundial used to tie the sun in a knot.
We explored the ruins and took in the breathtaking views in every direction. Continuing on, we passed by the guard houses, small structures positioned to offer viewpoints down the Urubamba snaking its way through the valley below. The path then lead down an incredibly long and steep stone staircase upon which we passed one brave fellow making the opposite trek from the town up to the ruins. He’d just finished hiking the Inca Trail the day before. At the base of the staircase the trail crossed a small bridge to the terraces on an opposing hillside where several cows grazed the ancient farmland. From there, we continued down some switchbacks, the final few feet of our nearly 2,000 foot descent, and finally onto a cobble road leading directly into the Pisac Market.
We’d already overshot our two hour estimate for meeting with Reymundo, but not wanting to waste the opportunity to get our hands on some of the beautiful, hand knit alpaca wool items, we allowed a few minutes to peruse a few of the stalls. Emerging from the market into a town square, we found our driver and started the trek back to Cuzco.
But once more, Reymundo had more in store for us than we assumed! He brought us to a couple more Incan sites on our way back to Cuzco. What a great guy!