There is an unmistakable calm air that surrounds Chinchero. The small market area, church, and grassy plain that make up much of the town seem raised up amidst a circle of tall mountains, such as the snowy peak of Salkantay. It feels secure and a bit mystical. It doesn’t have any large hotels or fancy restaurants. It has retained its simple Andean character better than other towns on the Sacred Valley tourist circuit near Cuzco. It is my favorite of the small valley ruins for these reasons. At 3762 meters (almost 12,500 feet) it sits a bit higher than the rest of the valley, so maybe it’s a good idea not come here your first day.
From the parking lot you walk up the hundreds of stone steps until they become too jumbled to climb. At that point you can make a left down another stone path, passing a few shops and homes and walk through he stone archway. There you will find the main square. The square has several terraces, most of which are showing off Incan masonry skills. One particular wall has 10 trapezoidal niches. If you continue walking to the edge of the plain, there are several hiking trails that branch off in different directions. To the right is the small but attractive 17th century colonial adobe church was constructed over top of an Incan palace of Tupac Yupanqui. It was recently restored and if you are quiet you can walk inside. There are a few frescoes that adorn the walls and ceiling that are worth checking out. There church is open during the same hours as the site. There is a small archeology museum opposite the church that holds some basic Inca relics. The view here is breathtaking. The Incas considered Chinchero the birthplace of the rainbow. If you are lucky enough, you might just find that pot o’gold. Chinchero’s site is open 9am-5pm. You must show your Boleto Turistico to enter the center.
Chinchero’s Sunday Market begins at around 8am on the main square. It is much less flashy and more traditional than say, the Pisac market. The selection is much smaller, however, prices are better. Another thing is that, here, the villagers and vendors seem to dress in their traditional clothes because that is what they wear. It doesn’t feel so much like they are doing it to make a sale or for photos like other places. On any day of the week, there are a handful Indians laying out a blanket full of woven items like hats, gloves, scarves, and ponchos.
Getting To Chinchero
Most buses between Urubamba and Cuzco will stop here, as do most tourist buses on tours of the valley.
Writer and photographer Nicholas Gill is the editor/publisher of New World Review. He lives in Lima, Peru and Brooklyn, New York. His work has appeared in publications such as the New York Times, Los Angeles Times, CondeNast Traveler, National Geographic Traveler, Afar, and Penthouse. Visit his personal website (nicholas-gill.com) for more information.