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Located between Cusco and the Sacred Valley, Chinceros is a pretty town high in the mountains. Standing high at an elevation of 3,700m, the town was an important strategic stop-off from traders travelling from the sacred valley to the Incan capital. Nowadays, the town is visited primarily by tourists on the day long Sacred Valley tour from Cusco. It is possible to see some excellent examples of how colonial architecture was built on top of Incan construction, with original walls of Incan brick-laying to be seen on many buildings.
Other than the architecture, the main draw to the town is its heritage as the weaving centre of the area. Textiles and handicrafts are woven, by hand, using traditional techniques by the women in the village. Spindles and looms are used to craft the al paca wool into beautiful and intricate designs.
If you are lucky enough to visit an handicraft centre, the ladies will demonstrate traditional weaving methods, as well as the dyeing process giving the ladies a whole rainbow of coloured yarns to work with.
Unlike many of the handicraft centres on tourist trails around the world, the workshops visited by the smaller tours take you to family run businesseswhere there is little pressure to buy. After the demonstration you are free to wander around the stalls, but there is little obligation, with the ladies preferring to chat amongst themselves rather than harangue travellers, giving the place a very laid back feel.
Dating back to the start of the 15th Century, the impressive Ollantaytambo is home to the ruins of an unfinished Sun Temple. The building was interrupted suddenly by the Spanish conquest, meaning that the man-made terraces and massive foundations were left half-built. Whilst most of the buildings in the town were converted by the Spanish into churches and living accommodation, the remains of the temple and terracing have been well-preserved. With no written word inherited from the Inca Culture, it has been left to historians and archaeologists to work out the meaning of the place and to piece together the fragments of the buildings to devise a plausible history.
The site offers impressive views of the Sacred Valley and also gives good indication into Incan building techniques. They were not permitted to use wheels as the circular shape was felt to be too close to the image of the sun that they worshipped. Instead, rollers were used to move the enormous granite rocks from a mountain on the other side of the valley to the chosen site. The sheer scale of the build is awe-inspiring, not to mention when you discover that the terraces here were for decoration only, with no agricultural purpose.
The complex also give an interesting insight into Incan Culture, highlighting the importance of the sun and sunlight in their mythology. The triangles seen in nature from the mountains and valleys are replicated in the building design and the East facing temple is positioned to make the most of the winter solstice and to capture the earliest dawn light. On the mountain opposite the ruins are more terraces and, if you squint a little and look to the left of them, it is said that you can see the face of one of the gods looking at you.
Ollantaytambo lies at about 2,800m altitude so is comfortable. That said, to make the most of your visit here, you will need to climb up some of the terraces, so expect some light exertion.
The Incan ruins at Pisac often get missed off the Sacred Valley itinerary, as tourists spend too much time shopping at the market. However, to miss out on these ruins would be to miss out on some of the best examples of Incan terracing around, and some amazing views to boot. At an elevation of 3,300m the ruins are reached by driving up a winding road and then walking a short distance. The views of both the ruins and the surrounding valleys are well worth the journey.
The remarkably well-preserved ruins are an excellent example of how the Incas used irrigated agricultural terraces for their farming. Cultivating seeds in the terraces, the Incans used them as we might use greenhouses, nurturing seedlings at different altitudes on the mountain-sides, seeing what could grow where. Looking around the valley and beyond, it is possible to see how the Incan farming techniques are still put to practice.
Above the terraces are further ruins, of farming cottages and also a sacred area where the higher classes were mummified and buried in preparation for the after life.
Holes in the side of the adjacent mountain reveal the location of the graves, although the tombs have been long since plundered.
Pisac Market, a stop off on the Sacred Valley tour, is in a pretty town at just under 3,000m elevation. Contrary to what the guide books say, there is a market to visit every day of the week, although Tuesdays, Thursdays and Sundays remain the busiest. The market is made up of colourful rows of stalls selling products from ponchos to sweaters to bags and toys. Nearly everything in the market is made from Al Paca wool. Vendors are not too pushy, so you can browse with not too much pressure to buy. That said, you will find it hard not to resist the the smiles of the stall-holders and the beautiful bright colours of the handicrafts.
The market is aimed at the tourist trade, so can get busy when the bus loads come in. This is a charming place to visit and even if shopping doesn't interest you in the slightest, you will love the colours and the atmosphere of this pretty, engaging town. If you do fancy a spot of shopping, bring local currency with you from Cusco.
This is a guest post by Terence Carter. Terence is one half of the globetrotting writing and photography team behind the wonderful GranTourismo project. Terence is an experienced travel photographer and his work can be seen at TerenceCarterPhotography.com.
After almost 20 years of travelling together, it wasn’t until last year, as part of our HomeAwayUK sponsored grand tour of the world – an experiment in slow and sustainable travel, experiential travel and local travel – that my travel writer-wife and I went on our first safari in Kenya. From our base in a holiday rental in Diani Beach on Kenya’s southern coast, we did two safaris, to the Masai Mara and to Tsavo West – fantastic! I’d photographed wildlife before, mainly for travel books we’d written in Australia, Asia, and, to a lesser extent, the Middle East, but no matter how long you’ve worked as a photographer, there’s nothing that prepares you for shooting the Big Five in Africa.
There are two approaches to take when making photographs on an African safari. Go all out to nab perfectly framed photographs of the Big Five at dawn or dusk or just make some photographs that give you some memories of what is for many a once-in-a-lifetime experience. This is a guide to going all out.
#1 Going all out means having two DSLR cameras and good lenses (not cheap zooms) ranging from 14mm to at least 400mm. And, no, a lens that zooms from 14mm to 400mm is not going to make fantastic photos. A wide angle lens is great to capture the wonderful landscapes you’ll see, and, at the long end, because the (good) safari drivers try to keep a safe distance from the animals, you’ll need a telephoto lens. Anything less than 400mm and that lion will be the size of an ant in the frame. Unless your driver has an unexpected encounter. And that unexpected encounter is why you need a second camera with a wider lens on it.
#2 The cameras have to be great in low light (i.e. be capable of producing quality shots at 3200 ISO) because you’ll be shooting the bulk of your best photographs when you should be sleeping or cracking a beer. Why do you need to use such high ISO settings? It’s not just because of low light at dawn and dusk, when you’re using a long lens you need to shoot at a faster shutter speed because any camera shake is multiplied by having a long lens. And you don’t want a blurry rhino. A commonly recited rule is that your shutter speed should be at least twice that of your lens length – which means that if you’re shooting a 400mm lens your shutter speed should be at faster than 1/800th of a second.
#3 And speaking of speed, you’re going to need cameras that can shoot several frames a second (at least five) to capture that burst of animal action, as well as know how to keep focussed on the action. For this you need to be able to track focus, a mode where the camera constantly refocuses, often called ‘servo’ or continuous focus. If you don’t know the difference between single-servo focus and continuous focus (or know where to change it on your camera), do some reading before you hit the ground or better still, go practice by trying to photograph birds in flight and you’ll soon get the idea of why continuous focus is a good thing.
#4 Finances permitting, try to hire your own guide when you go on safari. A professional guide will be used to working with photographers – both amateur and professional – and will do his best to make the most of every opportunity. Both guides we used knew just where to position the vehicle for the best angle and had such great knowledge of the animals that I captured photos that photographers in other vehicles in the area didn’t get a chance to.
#5 None of this is helpful, however, if you’re bouncing around in a vehicle that is difficult to shoot from, such as a converted delivery van that some guides use. You need a 4WD with an ‘open’ passenger area so that you can easily move from one side of the vehicle to the other to take your photographs and have your gear at hand.
Finally, don’t forget to enjoy yourself. Unless you’re doing this for a living, don’t get too hooked up in the whole Big Five thing, the wildlife photographers stay there for months to get those classic photographs.