Walking in Inca footsteps in Peru's Sacred Valley
Back in Urubamba, popular restaurants include El Huacatay, which serves inventive Andean and Italian plates, such as gnocchi made from coca flour. A few kilometres outside town, La Alhambra offers a buffet with classic Peruvian dishes such as aji de gallina, a nutty, creamy and slightly spicy chicken dish. Hotel Las Chullpas, an eco lodge nestled about 3km above town, offers serene cottage lodging with private fireplaces and outdoor hammocks. Most of the produce served is grown onsite.
Similarly to Ollantaytambo, Pisac – located about 40km southeast of Urubamba – encompasses both a historic town and a striking Inca archaeological site, with a series of steep agricultural terraces and hilltop fortresses visible from the town’s centre plaza. Travellers can make the steep but scenic 4km hike to the terraces’ main entry point or hire a taxi. Trails lead over and through the terraces, tunnels, temples, tombs and ceremonial centre – all engineered by the Incas for farming, worshipping and bathing. The Sun Gate, included in many of the Inca’s lofted towns, perfectly frames the setting sun during biannual solstices, as it has and will continue to do for centuries. The splendid views down and across the Urubamba Valley rival those of Machu Picchu, and unlike the iconic site, visitors often have hushed Pisac almost entirely to themselves.
In downtown Pisac, one of the Sacred Valley’s largest fairs takes place daily, with Tuesdays, Thursdays and Sundays being the busiest. Vendors peddle handmade goods such as colourful, woven knits and traditional Peruvian treats including grilled corn coated with cheese.
Ringing the central plaza are several inviting inns and eateries. Situated right off the plaza, Pisac Inn is rustic yet stylish, with a leafy courtyard and indigenous art displayed throughout the lobby and restaurant. The onsite Cuchara de Palo Restaurante fuses traditional Peruvian dishes with the country’s trendy Novoandino cuisine, creating dishes such as passion fruit-glazed trout. Staff at Horno Típico de Santa Lucía, located on Manuel Prado, pull fluffy empanadas out of large clay ovens, while guinea pigs – which are a common protein in the region – scurry around small pens designed to resemble castles, unaware that they likely will make their way onto the menu; look out for the word cuy.