It’s Sunday morning at Pisac market. Pots of dye are spread on a table, the colours ranging from daffodil yellow through deep purple to aquamarine. Behind them a plump woman sits with the brim of her traditional hat angled over her face. Copper, black and red striped textiles hang on every available surface down the cavernous alleyway behind her, paintings, stacks of throws, dolls and silver jewellery crowding the tables.
Move through and you’ll come across specialist artisan crafts- expertly thrown ceramics, local leather and sweaters as well as hand sewn wall hangings and handmade musical instruments. Beyond, the food stalls are the place to buy everything from a live chicken or a boiled quail’s egg to a wheel of cheese or a bag of giant kiwi fruits.
As you walk, you will most likely be accosted by extremely cute kids charging one sol for a photograph, some with the added bonus of a llama. Yes, the market is very touristy and so the usual tourist traps come with it. Even if you take a photo of a stall holder, you may well get asked for money
Still, this unique market at the heart of the Sacred Valley, Peru, is a must-see for any Andes bound traveller. Okay, so it attracts a lot of tourists and the prices aren’t as low as they used to be, but the colours and chaos ensure that it’s a completely worthwhile visit, even if you don’t buy anything.
One of Pisac’s most appealing features is that locals go there to buy fresh produce, sell their handicrafts, mingle and have a cheap almuerzo (lunch) in one of the surrounding cafes. You’ll see old ladies haggling for cuts of meat, children playing in the street, and a colourful procession heading to Quechua mass at 11am on Sundays.
For this reason Sunday is the best day to head to the market, but also the busiest. If you can, stay over on Saturday night and visit the market early in the morning whilst stall holders are setting up and the tour bus crowds are yet to arrive. It is then that you get the best sense of day-to-day life in Pisac and what the market is about for locals.
Alternatively, visit on Tuesdays and Thursdays when you’ll miss out on the mass but won’t have to push your way through the crowds. I spent three days there and found that the market had a different atmosphere from day to day.
A huge tree dominates the centre of the square where the market takes place with mazelike streets sprawling around. Behind are mountains where Pisac’s impressive Inca fortress stands. The steep walk up to the fortress is a real experience and highly recommended after you have visited the market. Choose a quiet time during the week and you may find you are the only ones up there.
Unlike many popular tourist spots in the world, Pisac has managed to retain a feeling of authenticity and tradition, and will hopefully continue to do so. It remains one of the most memorable experiences on by year-long South America trip.