Ollantaytambo: Inca Ruins Above One of Peru’s Nicest Small Towns
If you’re visiting Peru then you are probably, at some point, going to make your way to Machu Picchu. Most people pass through Ollantaytambo on the way to the famous Inca ruins, but many don’t realise that this tiny town, with its own impressive ruins and laid-back atmosphere, is a memorable attraction in its own right. It’d be a shame to skip through Ollantaytambo without navigating its narrow lanes and exploring its imposing hillside fortress. You won’t regret spending a night or two in Ollantaytambo; here’s what you’ll see.
The Ollantaytambo Ruins
After seeing the heavy stream of people navigating the ruins the day before, we decided to arrive at the archaeological park before it opened. We were the first people through the gate, and after a bit of early speed walking we opened up a big gap between us and the other groups. It was like we had 600 year old fortress all to ourselves. We climbed up the steep terraces towards the crumbling buildings at the top of the hill. We explored the stone structures and admired the views — the golden, rocky hills surrounding Ollantaytambo couldn’t be more different to the lush scenery surrounding Machu Picchu. From there we walked along a narrow path towards another terraced hill, passing more ruins along the way. The crowds had started to gather behind us but we still had a good lead. Seeing this kind of place without the clutter of bodies and noise makes such a big difference.
After walking to the end of the dirt path we headed back down the hill to explore the remains of the village below. We saw small houses, a temple and a small stream. It was a peaceful end to memorable few hours of sightseeing. Tour buses started to make their presence felt as we were walking back to town; this is definitely one of those places that you want to visit early.
This group of ruins, on another hill overlooking the town, are a lot smaller than the main site. The big draw is the view — it’s the best place to see the main ruins, and the town, from above. The structures of Pinkyulluna were probably used to store food — today they make for a relaxing spot to hang out at, as not many people seem to make the steep ascent.
Ollantaytambo (the town)
Ollantaytambo is one of my favourite small towns in South America. The narrow, cobblestone streets date back to the Incas, as does the irrigation stream that runs through the town. The quiet trickling of water seems to calm people down. While it is pretty touristy, Ollantaytambo retains the laid-back, spiritual (if you’re that way inclined) vibe that could have easily been lost. The main plaza is a great place to grab a coffee or a juice and relax, especially if you choose to sit in one of the upstairs cafes. We chose one with a view of Pinkyulluna, which made up for the hour long wait for a pitcher of lemonade. Aside from the ruins, there aren’t many sights in the town itself, but it is definitely worth spending a night or two.
Ollantaytambo is where we happened to be when last year’s “Super Blood Moon” turned the world’s attention skyward. We went for a walk and were treated to clear skies, which allowed us to get a perfect view of this rare lunar event.
Ollantaytambo is only an hour and a half away from Cusco. You can take a local bus or collectivo for 5-10 soles, which will drop you off in the centre of town. From there you can take the train to Machu Picchu or go for the bus ride/train track walk that is popular with budget travellers. The Inca Trail also starts near Ollantaytambo; make sure you book that well in advance though. To visit the main ruins you’ll need to purchase a Boleta Touristica (tourist ticket). We splashed out on the full ticket, which we used to enter four Inca sites in the Sacred Valley. It costs 115 soles, around $45, which isn’t too bad considering what the ticket allows you to see. I’ve seen people advocating not purchasing the ticket, therefore not visiting Ollantaytambo, Pisac, Moray and Sacsaywhuman. In my opinion that would be a mistake — we really enjoyed all four sites and paying $11 for each one seems fair.
FURTHER READING: Pisac: The Other Must-See Inca Ruins in the Sacred Valley, Peru
Do you think Ollantaytambo is the nicest small town in Peru? What is your favourite Inca site? Let me know in the comments below!