Less than an hour from Cusco, the charming town of Pisac and its colourful market is a popular option for travellers looking to escape the crowds and get a little closer to the indigenous community.
Pisac market is the most famous in the Sacred Valley of the Incas, drawing many visitors to its lively Sunday market when the local quechua communities head to the main square to sell their produce and stock up on supplies for the week.
Peasants from the surrounding highlands set up a barter market, or mercado de trueque, which is an ancient custom and an interesting example of the informal economies. Dressed in their colourful clothing, they sit behind huge piles of very fresh food, raw materials, herbs, tomatoes, peppers, potatoes and other vegetables.
Alpaca goods, musical instruments and rugs of all kinds can also be found at Pisac market dominated by a large pisonay tree. After a bit of bargaining, prices can be reasonable, although the good stuff is found in the homes of the craftsmen themselves or in upscale city galleries.
For lunch, avoid the touristy restaurants and look for one of the many clay ovens spread in the cobbled streets of the market. The ovens are used for making castillos de cuyes (literally, miniature castles for guinea pigs) as well as for baking empanadas, which make a great snack to keep you going while wandering from stall to stall. You will find one right in the corner of the main square.
If you can’t visit on Sunday, then a scaled down version of Pisac Market does run throughout the week, being Tuesday and Thursday official market days (though less grand than Sundays).
Connections between Pisac and Cusco are frequent and easy to find, with a journey time of 45 minutes. We recommend you avoid the bus on the route from Cusco to Pisac and instead take the Colectivo (a mini-bus service) which is safer, quicker and more comfortable. Fares approx. S/.4 one way from the top of Puputi Street in Cusco.
Although affected by tourism, the Peruvian town of Pisac has a remarkably deeper side that is rooted in its colonial past and has proven resilient to mass. It’s definitely worth a visit but be warned this is a tourist hot spot so be prepared for big groups of people, tour buses and savvy vendors.