top of page

Ollantaytambo, Peru

Too many travellers to Peru head straight to Cusco and on to Macchu Pichu and, unless hiking the Inca Trail, they miss many of the small towns with incredible ruins in the rest of the Sacred Valley. Ollantaytambo (oh-YAHN-tay-tambo), a quaint little village nestled in the Urubamba Valley, is home to some of the most impressive Incan Ruins outside of Machu Picchu, and a destination well worth your time. I recommend at least 3 days.

Getting to Ollantaytambo (about 70km from Cusco) is pretty straight forward. There is a choice to go by road or by train. A taxi or private transfer will cost about 45 soles (about $15 CAD). Budget travellers can easily catch a bus or collectivo ($3.50 CAD) from Cusco. I took a tour from Cusco that visited Chincero, a women's textile center, Moray, and the Maras Salt Mines before its last stop in Ollantaytambo. I had made plans to leave the tour in Ollantaytambo where I planned to spend 3 days.

The word Ollantaytambo comes from the Quechua word Ulla-nta-wi, meaning "Place to see down". It was an important Incan city in its time and was the royal estate of the Incan Emperor Patchacuti. Today the town has some of the oldest continuously-occupied buildings in South American. It is known as a stronghold of Inca resistance to the Spanish colonizers and is remarkably well-preserved.

Locals refer to the town as simply "Ollanta" (oh-YAHN-tah) and were quick to correct me if I called any of the ancient sites "ruins" because these sites are still very much sacred to the locals. They prefer to call them parques arqueològicos (archaeological parks). The town is very focused on tourism with many day visitors to the sacred site or overnight guests heading out on the Inca Trail or other Inca trails in the Valley.

The town is very small and most guesthouses and small hotels are very close to Plaza de Armas. I easily found my guesthouse, Q'ori Anka BnB, on a side street just off the plaza. I had a stunning view of the sacred site from my balcony.

The room was spacious, clean, nicely-appointed, and the hosts were personable and very helpful. Breakfast each morning included your choice of eggs, fruit, bread, avocados, coffee, and the best fresh-squeezed orange juice I have ever tasted before or since.

Pinkuylluna The town is surrounded by two massive sites: the main site of Ollantaytambo which costs about 70 soles ($25 CAD) and Pinkuylluna (pink-ah-YUN-ah), which is free. The entrance gate to Pinkuylluna, on the opposite side of the valley from the main site, is a little tricky to find with access to the site hidden away within the maze of cobblestone streets. Once through the gate, a small stone staircase starts with a very steep climb behind the traditional stone houses.

This hike is more challenging due to poor maintenance and some very steep climbs. In parts, it can be difficult to see the trail. It is not a trail but a hike. You will need to be in reasonable condition and wear good hiking boots. A large water bottle and hiking poles are strongly recommended.

The path splits in 2 and I decided to do both paths but on separate days. As I climbed, I took a lot of photos.... it was a good excuse to rest. My goal was to make it past the Qollqa (grain storehouses) to get to the very top but I was soon second-guessing this goal. My legs got a good workout as I tried to mountain goat my route up the hill.

These “steps” are fairly typical for Inca trails. They are uneven and of varying heights. Much of the path is right at the edge of the mountain. Where there are handholds, they are simple and rustic. There are many good views across of the valley and the Ollantaytambo site. I needed frequent breaks and used those breaks to take plenty of photos. Even though I was there in high season I only saw one other person on the trail and he was way ahead of me.

Getting closer... but the “path” kept going and going. From the valley floor, there really is no true perspective of how large the Qollqa is. The granaries were built in the 15th century by Incan emperor Pachacuti to store grain produced in the surrounding agricultural terraces.

I spent some time exploring the Qollqa and carried on until I reached the top. Ta daaa! I made it! Not bad for an old broad with a dodgy hip! I was pretty damned proud of myself. The downward hike was still a challenge and the entire hike took me about two and half hours.... the guidebook had suggested it would take half that time.