Rural Tourism In Peru – Visiting the Indigenous Towns of Pisac and Chinchero

Peru’s Sacred Valley is an offbeat traveller’s nightmare. Everywhere you look it is aimed at tourism, and often overrun by tourists and expats. In fact, there are few places in Peru untouched by the tourist footprint. Deep in the Peruvian Amazon there still exist indigenous communities that live like they have done for thousands of years, without having seen a trace of Western civilisation, albeit only a couple.

Then there are villages like Pisac and Chinchero in the Sacred Valley that, although they are havens for tourists and expats wanting to create a life in Peru, they are also places where you can experience traditional Peruvian life and culture.

For the traveller wanting to get away from the mass-tourism market, these places provide an opportunity to better connect with local indigenous communities that maintain their traditional ways of life.

It’s a tricky balance. Tourism to rural areas can either help or hinder the local communities there. If it’s managed right, it can help lift the local economy, which in turn provides fund for much needed basic infrastructure, improving quality of life for many. If it is managed irresponsibly (i.e. in masses), it can bring problems such as pollution, increase prices of basics like food and housing and dilute the local culture.

For us, travel to Peru is less about seeing the sites and more about getting acquainted with the culture and the communities, and better understanding how our visit can impact natural and cultural heritage.

Both our visits to Pisac and Chinchero were brief. First we headed to Pisac for a half-day trip from Cusco. We took the 1-hour local bus (2 soles) ride from the hole in the wall station on Avenida Tulumayo.

Pisac is situated right along the Urubamba River and is said to have been built as a fortress town to protect Cusco and the southern entrance to the Sacred Valley from the Anti People.  The citadel Inca Pisac, perched high above the modern city, was destroyed by Spanish conquistador, Pizzaro in the 1530’s.

Once in Pisac we only roamed the streets, speaking to local children playing in the street, and visiting the artesanal market, apparently the largest (note: the most touristic) in the Sacred Valley. Most visitors to the village come for this market then head uphill 4km to the Inca ruins, Inca Pisac. Having only freshly stepped off the Inca Trail, with aching legs we decided to skip the steep and painful hike and absorb the local village life instead.

The following day we headed to Chinchero. Originally we had wanted to participate in one of Peru Treks local homestays, where you stay with a local family and pay them for the accommodation directly. Unfortunately, while we were there the senor that coordinates the homestays in the village was away for a few weeks.

Nonetheless our mission was to discover how the local people sustain their communities, culture and way of life. One of their most colourful contributions to cultural heritage is the age-old tradition of textile weaving.

Back in Ushuaia we had seen a documentary about a weaving cooperative and I was mesmerised by the colours and their handicraft skills. We were so impressed with their determination to keep this cultural activity alive that we decided to get in contact with the cooperative’s founder Nilda Callanaupa. Nilda had very kindly welcomed us to visit her project Centro de Textilos Tradicionales de Cusco (Awai Riccharichiq in Quechua).

First we went to visit the open-air market in the village centre where the day was starting with a procession to church for the Sunday oration. Cholitas were roaming in traditional costume buying from other cholitas, while the smell of fresh fruit and vegetables and local drink chica wafts through the air. This is probably the most genuine artesanal market in the Sacred Valley.

In the handicraft aisle a woman busily weaving her goods for trade called me over to come and sit with her and learn the ‘basic’ art of weaving. We sat and chatted and after a good while watching her fingers dart around the wooden receptacle at lighting speed I resigned to the fact that I wasn’t going to learn anything in a brief sitting.

Over at the Textile Centre Nilda welcomed us with a warm greeting and a hot mate. We were early for our appointment and they were in the middle of elections for a new partnership with the centre.

While we waited we wandered the centre and admire all the amazing handiwork these lovely ladies create.

Nilda created the centre in 1966 to revive this ancient art and maintain its cultural value. The centre works with communities from around the Sacred and Mapacho Valleys. Each piece of handcrafted excellence is tagged with the name, age, origin and brief bio of the person that made it.

Nilda took us on a tour of the centre where some of the women there demonstrated different weaving practices and we learnt about the process of dying, spinning, weaving the wool and applying the final details. Every aspect of the weaving is based on a respect for nature. No synthetic materials are used and the intense colours are drawn from various native plants, as well as the conchinilla insect (which provides a rich red colour).

She explained that with the appearance of tourism in the region this art was becoming endangered by production to cater to the masses. Tourists were lured by the cheap prices, which necessitates synthetic materials, cheap labour and a lack of quality.

In ancient times, textile making was an important part of society. The various textile pieces differentiated by colour and patterns divided the social classes signifying different degrees of power and wealth.

Today these colourful textiles are symbolic souvenirs for most travellers to Peru (and Bolivia, though the craft and significance is different), albeit in mass. Thanks to women like Nilda, the art will hopefully maintain its cultural importance.

We are glad to have discovered these rural Quechuan communities, and to have learned more about their traditions and the ancient art of weaving.


2 Responses to “Rural Tourism In Peru – Visiting the Indigenous Towns of Pisac and Chinchero”
  1. WOW. One of my dreams is to visit Peru, but I did not know that there is a rural tourism there:) This is one more reason to visit this exotic country:)

Check out what others are saying...
  1. […] that aim, we visited various projects and organisations such as the Centro de Textilos Tradicionales del Cusco and met so many inspiring and talented individuals that live in relative poverty, relying upon the […]

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