Peru
August 03, 2010

By: Nick Stanziano

A Day at the Pisaq Market

Secondary Categories: The Essentials

The long steps that lead down from the impressive Inca citadel take you right into Pisaq’s central plaza and into the hustle and bustle of the market. Pisaq itself was one of the Inca Empire’s most important fortresses located a day’s march (1 hour by car) from the ancient capital at Cuzco. As the Inca Royalty retreated from Cuzco after the Spanish invasion, Pisaq was a critical outpost where much of the Empire’s top brass found refuge and planned their next steps on how to save the dying Empire.

Today Pisaq is a thriving Andean town that has retained much of its traditional way of life. Women are dressed in hand woven shawls colored in radiant yellows and reds.  Their heads are adorned with the traditional flattened square hat that is bestowed upon young girls at the early age of 3 in a ceremony dating back to Pre-Colombian times. The variety of vegetables, fruit and local spices complement the vibrant colors of the clothing. Bright greens and deep oranges from the ground local dried pepper called aji are sold alongside Amazonian fruits. The market is not only a place to purchase your week’s sustenance, but a community gathering and an open air buffet. Vendors sell steamed choclo (Andean corn) accompanied with fresh local farm cheese. Locally crafted barbeques grill anticuchos, skewered cow hearts spiced with local aji and sold for S/.1 (30 cents).

Woolen dolls - Miguel Vera Leon

Beyond the gastronomic brilliance of the market, on the other side of the square lies endless rows of vendors selling brightly colored local textiles, antiques, locally made trinkets and the occasional Inca artifacts tucked away and available only upon inquiry from a prospective buyer. In this section of the market everything is negotiable.

As I meandered through the maze I keep a lookout for a hidden gem.  On this visit I negotiated a price with local women for a small collection of 17th century Spanish silver coins. This kind of find took a bit of extra effort but was well worth it.

Ethnic coaster - Miguel Vera Leon

Pisaq like many indigenous Andean towns are in a period of transition to modernity. Ever present is the proud history of this town and its people although with the increasing inclination for financial resources and modern comforts. Rubber sandals are giving way to closed shoes and cell phones are occasionally tucked into the handmade dresses of local women. Pisaq has for the moment gracefully straddled both worlds of Pre-Columbian America and modernity.                   

Keen to see Pisaq for yourself? Check out our Peru itineraries here or speak to one of our Destination Experts about crafting the bespoke vacation of your dreams.

Thanks to Roger Canals for the title image of this blog.

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