Trip Date 01/17/2018
Posted On 09/18/2018 17:37:53
Destinations | Peru | Ollantaytambo | Aguas Calientes | Sacred Valley | Urubamba Valley | Machu Picchu | Hotel in Ollantaytambo | Pinkuylluna | Fortaleza de Ollantaytambo | Ollantaytambo Ruins
Nearly everyone visiting Machu Picchu comes into contact with Ollantaytambo as both the train and the 4 day Inca Trail begin from the town. After spending the better part of the day seeing the sights as we traveled through the Sacred Valley, we only had about 18 hours in Ollantaytambo - and that included our desire to get a good night of sleep!
When planning a trip to visit Machu Picchu, you may wonder if a partial day visit to Ollantaytambo is worth it. The answer is a definite yes as even a few waking hours are an excellent way to see a bit more of Peru. This post will provide you with some ideas on how to make the most of your limited time in Ollantaytambo for only the cost of meals and a place to sleep!
Planning a Quick Visit in Ollantaytambo
For those attempting to see a lot in a limited amount of time (as we were), a one night stay might be just your ticket to a full night of sleep before either a long hike or train ride followed by an early morning wake-up to visit Machu Picchu. With that in mind, you have multiple options for your stay in the town depending on how much energy you have and how many hours you want to devote to sleep versus sightseeing:
- Those who enjoy seeing the architecture of a city but are less interested in ruins may enjoy spending time in Plaza de Armas and walking along the town's cobblestone streets.
- If you are in possession of either a valid 10-day Cusco Tourist Ticket or Boleto Parcial - Circuito III, you already have all that you need to enter Fortaleza de Ollantaytambo (Ollantaytambo Ruins).
- For experienced hikers ready for a challenge, consider venturing out on the free uphill hike to Pinkuylluna, the ancient Inca storehouses.
- Shoppers may want to spend their time either wandering through the various shops or up and down the aisles of the market.
- Finally, if you feel like you have already had a long day, you may want to just check in to your hotel and find a bite to eat before calling it a day.
Exploring the Architecture of Ollantaytambo
Surrounded by mountains and situated in the Urubamba Valley, wandering through the cobblestone streets of the quaint ancient city can be an enjoyable way to spend some time. The Plaza de Armas, located in the middle of town, is a short walk from most hotels and can be fun to see either by day or night. If you can find one, grab a seat on an available park bench where you can soak in the architecture of the square as well as the buildings on all four sides, and maybe even do some people watching.
From the main square, you can decide which direction you'd like to go, and how you'd like to get there. You may want to spend time in the square getting a closer look at the restaurants and shops to see what they have available, or you may want to branch out a little further away. You can take off by foot in any direction to explore more of the cobblestone streets that have been traveled upon since the 13th century. Another option is to hire one of the tuk-tuks for a ride to the Ollantaytambo Ruins or nearby market.
Wherever you choose to stroll, make sure to see some of the canals in this ancient town. The relaxing sound of the water flowing can be found near the Ollantaytambo market, along the walk to the train station or in other remote areas that are off the beaten path. You may even get lucky and see some cows grazing nearby!
Fortaleza de Ollantaytambo
On the morning following our late afternoon arrival into Ollantaytambo, we put our Boleto Parcial - Circuito III to use again. Fortaleza de Ollantaytambo (Ollantaytambo Ruins), the Inca creation located at the northwestern end of the Sacred Valley, can be toured on your on or with guides available for hire at the entrance. As we had only an hour to hike up the stone steps and along the gravel paths, we chose to see as much of the ruins as we could on our own before boarding our train to Aguas Calientes.
We began our mostly uphill hike after entering the site through the Manya Raqui square. The agricultural terraces are quite tall - with each requiring more than ten uneven stair steps of varying heights to move from one to the next.
Considered a masterpiece of Inca architecture, Ollantaytambo was an administrative, agricultural, military and religious complex.
Although at this point in our hiking, we weren't sure how high we would be able to climb in our limited time, we did enjoy seeing parts of the path way over our heads as well as some of the ancient structures high up on the mountainside.
The view becomes even more impressive as you continue on the uphill climb. If you look closely, you can even see the stone "face" and ancient Inca storehouses on Pinkuylluna.
The size of some of the stones is more apparent with Scott, at just over six feet tall, standing nearby.
We were grateful for our tour in Cusco several days earlier as our learnings helped us to appreciate the building precision of the Incas. I continued to ponder how they could have moved these huge stones from several miles away. It was interesting to see the small protrusions used to prevent ropes from slipping when moving the stones. Once in the desired location, they were then placed high up on a hillside each perfectly fitted into place ... and, without the tools and technology available today.
Just after passing through the archway, you are treated to a view of the town of Ollantaytambo along with the open air market at the entrance to the ruins. The tour bus is a reminder of why visiting early in the day can be more enjoyable!
While we didn't have enough time to climb all of the way to the top of the ruins, we did make it up to the impressive Templo del Sol where six massive pieces of stone stood tall and perfectly fitted together.
From the gravel viewing platform at the Temple of the Sun you have a view of the valley on the back side of the ruins.
Peering down from the opposite side of the Temple of the Sun vantage point, you'll get a view of the agricultural terraces from a different angle, as well as being able to see the distance which you have climbed.
Continuing our hike along the pathway above the upper terrace, we were forced to begin our descent in order to guarantee that we wouldn't miss our train. Before our exit, we walked along the waterway used for irrigation of the agricultural terraces both then and now.
Although one hour is not nearly enough to visit the entire site, it does provide enough time to see some of the most well- known areas of the complex and still make it back to your hotel with a little time to spare before heading for a mid- morning train.
Hiking to Pinkuylluna
Although the stone "face" can easily be spotted high up on the hill, the hike up to the Inca ruins of Pinkuylluna is much more difficult, and therefore not nearly as popular as a visit to Ollantaytambo Ruins. If you are an avid hiker and are interested in a challenging uphill hike, a visit to the ancient Inca storehouses might be a perfect fit for you. The cost is right (free), you'll get some excellent exercise and most importantly have the opportunity to get a close-up view of the ancient three-tiered Inca built structures used to store and preserve food crops harvested from the terraces.
The first step for those wishing to attempt the uphill climb on the steep stone staircase is to locate the hard to find gated entrance. Once you find the trailhead, it doesn't get any easier as the path up is not well maintained. I can only imagine how cool it would be to get up close to the rarely seen storehouses, plus having an aerial view of the town below would be amazing as well. Unfortunately, we didn't have the time nor the stamina for the uphill climb, but if you have an interest, read Exploring Pinkuylluna for more helpful information.
Shopping in Ollantaytambo
Although the town of Ollantaytambo is small, if you are interested in shopping, there are a number of options. If your preference is bargain shopping in a market type atmosphere, head to the market located just outside the entrance to the Ollantaytambo Ruins, the town's main tourist attraction. With several long rows of stalls, you can walk up and down the cobblestone streets of the market to search for your favorite items, compare prices among the many vendors and test your skills at bargaining.
For a town of this size, you'll also find plenty of smaller retail shops offering a variety of hand-crafted items. In addition to the market and the shops, you will certainly encounter some of the locals (both very young, very old and somewhere in between) peddling their wares in the streets.
Dining in Ollantaytambo
Depending on your arrival and departure times into and out of Ollantaytambo, you may just want to grab a bite to eat and relax for the evening - especially if a hike to Machu Picchu is next on your agenda. There are a number of restaurants and cafes both in the town square as well as lining the streets both to the train station and to the ruins. You can't miss the eating establishments in the town square as many have a staff member positioned outside urging you to look at their menu and join them for a meal. (As we had a very filling late afternoon meal, we chose to just have some dessert at Coffee Tree after exploring the town. The total cost for Scott's brownie with ice cream and my crepe with orange sauce and ice cream was $9.00, and Visa credit cards were accepted for our purchase.)
Need a Hotel in Ollantaytambo?
If you plan to stay overnight in Ollantaytambo, the rooms at Sol Natura Hotel are very spacious. At just under $80.00 per night, the price is fair and the hotel is only a 10 minute walk to the PeruRail ticket windows and 15 minutes from the boarding platform. The Ollantaytambo Ruins as well as the Town Square are also within walking distance in the opposite direction.
The grounds surrounding the hotel are well manicured and there is a large central open courtyard. Although we spent very limited time in the hotel, the view from the window in our room was excellent and the hotel had all that we needed including one of the best complimentary breakfasts that we had in all of South America. Breakfast was served buffet style, except for cooked to order eggs which were ordered at and served to the table. The only downside to the hotel was a subtle odor in our room - but it did not prevent us from getting a great nights rest.
Tips for a Visit to Ollantaytambo
After our pre-trip research and 18 hours in the city, here's a few tips to help you plan for and enjoy your time in Ollantaytambo:
- Prepare yourself for the high altitudes in the area. We felt very lucky as we spent a day in Cusco, a day traveling through the Sacred Valley and 3/4 of a day in Ollantaytambo with no ill effects. We did hear about others who were not so lucky, so we traveled with prescription medicine just in case.
- Whatever you plan to do in Ollantaytambo, wear comfortable walking shoes - you will be glad that you did as you must walk on cobblestone streets to get anywhere in the town. If you plan to hike up Pinkuylluna or visit the Ollantaytambo Ruins, good hiking shoes are a must.
- If you plan to stay overnight in Ollantaytambo followed by a morning train ride to Aguas Calientes, consider walking the route before turning in for the evening. This will ensure that you know where it is and how long it will take to get there. For the same reasons, it is also helpful to take a late afternoon or early evening walk to the ruins if you plan to visit them before your morning train ride.
- The easily recognizable PeruRail location located on the left (and across the street from Inca Rail) as you walk from the center of town is home to the ticket windows only. Since we had picked up our tickets at the Lima Airport, we didn't even need to stop there, but didn't realize it as it looks like a boarding platform. Boarding actually takes place about two blocks further down the road.
- If your stay in Ollantaytambo comes the day before you head to Aguas Calientes by train for an early morning visit to Machu Picchu, make sure to get a good night of sleep. A morning visit to Machu Picchu will require a wake-up call in the neighborhood of 3:00 AM.
- To make the most of a short visit in Ollantaytambo, do your shopping on the day that you arrive. Plan for an early morning breakfast on the day of your train ride to Aguas Calientes so that you can get a short visit to the Ollantaytambo Ruins in before making your way to the boarding platform for your train. (With breakfast included in the price of our hotel, we planned for a 7:15 AM breakfast rendezvous so we could get to the ruins no later than 8:00 AM ... before the bus loads of people arrived.)
- If you decide to hire a guide for your visit to Ollantaytambo Ruins, make sure that you agree to both a price and the maximum amount of time that you have available for your tour. (As you negotiate a price, set aside some additional tip money for your guide assuming he / she provides a great experience.)
Train to Machu Picchu
Although a little tricky, you can definitely reserve your seats for round trip travel by train from Ollantaytambo to Aguas Calientes before you even leave home. If you are a "do it yourselfer", take a look at our post titled Round-trip Travel on PeruRail's Vistadome Train for step by step instructions on booking your reservations plus an overview of our experience on the journey.
Best Off the Beaten Path Sites in Ollantaytambo
If you have previously visited the town of Ollantaytambo, we'd appreciate your suggestions for any additional off the beaten path sites that you would recommend to others planning their visit.
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