Machu Picchu has long been one of the top tourist sites in South America and certainly the top in Peru. In recent years, the annual visitor count has risen to over one million people. Those visitors who have a bit more time for their trip are starting to explore more and more of the ruins and towns of the Sacred Valley, which extends from Cusco to Machu Picchu. We had a total of 10 days in Peru, so we decided to spend a few nights in Ollantaytambo before heading to see Machu Picchu. What a great decision that turned out to be.
Ollantaytambo is about a two hour drive from Cusco, including a couple of stops for pictures and a quick lunch. We set up our transfer ahead of time with taxidatum.com and they were waiting at the airport with a sign when our flight arrived. Our driver didn’t speak more than a few words of English, but his son was there to make sure we were on our way with no problems. It gave me a great chance to get to work on improving my Spanish right away.
As we pulled in to the town of Ollantaytambo, we knew right away that it would be a great place to explore. Stone walls, narrow walkways, and ruins on the mountainsides was just what we were looking for. Over the next few days, we would learn that in addition to being a great place to base yourself for day trips to other Sacred Valley sights, the town of Ollantaytambo itself was worth a few days to enjoy.
Ollantaytambo – The Town
This is the view from the center of the main square in Ollantaytambo. Up on the hillside, you can see the lesser visited Pinkuylluna Ruins. If you look in the opposite direction from this spot, you can see the main Ollantaytambo Ruins. As we wandered through this town, there were literally Incan Ruins everywhere we looked.
Ollantaytambo is made up of a few main streets, and main square, and lots of smaller stone walkways, many of them with water flowing in channels along the side. This set up, with stone walls on both sides of narrow walkways, reminded us a little bit of Venice. The main difference being that it was much easier to find your way without getting lost. The building on the left is a good example of what the walls would have looked like during Inca times. The lower stones were laid out with much more care and precision, and the upper section of the wall was plastered over and painted with various colors.
As we wandered around town the first evening, the boys couldn’t resist testing the climb-ability of some of the street walls. Note the Pinkuylluna Ruins peeking out on the hillside far above them.
For those who don’t like getting too far away from the comforts of home, there was a Kwik-E-Mart just down the street from hour hostel. Simpsons fans will recognize this logo and name, but sadly, the man working the counter was not named Apu. Interestingly, that name would have been quite appropriate for the region, since the mountain spirits are referred to as Apus.
In Ollantaytambo, we spent three nights at the Mama Simona Hostel. From the rushing river that helped us fall asleep, to the hammocks in the garden of beautiful flowers, this was the perfect place to relax after a hard day of climbing around ruins. We stayed in a 4 person dorm with a private bathroom and it was perfect for our family. A continental breakfast was included and you could add on omelettes, warm sandwiches, or waffles for very reasonable charges. If you are heading to Ollantaytambo, I would highly recommend picking the Mama Simona Hostel as your place to stay.
The Mama Simona Hostel is located just outside of the main part of Ollantaytambo. A 700 meter walk between the hostel and town along the river was how we started and ended most days. Cole, always the gymnast, took the opportunity to work on his balance skills. The flowers were gorgeous throughout Ollantaytambo, and they made for a lovely walk to and from town.
The Ruins at Ollantaytambo was our first opportunity the see the marvel that is Incan stone work. There is no mortar between these stones. They were just shaped and set so perfectly that their construction has lasted hundreds of years. No matter how many ruins we visited, it was still amazing to see this stonework up close.
Once you enter the Ollantaytambo Ruins, your first task is to climb a long staircase up to the main part of the ruins. This doesn’t seem like too tough of a task until you factor in that we came from approximately 0 feet above sea level and Ollantaytambo sits at around 9100 feet. This picture is from one of my much needed breaks as we climbed the stairs. It shows most of the ruins as they stretch across the side of the mountain.
One of many selfies on this trip. Here you can see that we are a bit damp from the light rain that was with us through most of our first morning. Being wet definitely makes the stones a bit more slippery, but it also gave us a chance to see the Incan drainage systems in action and they are beyond amazing. Behind us is the town of Ollantaytambo, as seen from the ruins.
After we visited the official Ollantaytambo Ruins, we did a couple of day trips out to see other ruins in the Sacred Valley. The boys kept asking if we could climb up to the ruins we could see on the other side of the valley, and we finally had a chance to do that on our last morning before catching our train to Aguas Calientes and Machu Picchu. The Pinkuylluna Ruins are free to visit and a wonderful way to see a less maintained version of Incan stone work.
No matter where we went in the Sacred Valley, the views were outstanding, and the climb up to the Pinkuylluna Ruins did not disappoint. You can see that this path is not exactly handicapped accessible, as was the case with most of the ruins we visited, but the boys absolutely loved finding their way up the mountain.
On our last day in town, we realized that the best view actually is found at the lesser visited and free Pinkuylluna Ruins. Here you can see the town of Ollantaytambo in the foreground and the Ollantaytambo Ruins in the background. Such a beautiful day and amazing surroundings.
The granaries of Incan Pinkuylluna. This was one of the last places we visited on this trip up the mountain. We went much higher than this and visited some other ruins and a burial cave, literally slid our way down part of the mountain, and eventually found ourselves here before heading back to town. The boys loved this area of ruins because most of the time, we were the only people there. It was like we were in our own little private part of history.
The Perfect Ending
If Machu Picchu is on your list, make sure to plan enough time to explore some of the rest of the Sacred Valley too. You have a few options for where to stay, but I would definitely recommend spending a couple of nights in Ollantaytambo. The people are friendly, the food is delicious, and the sights are amazing.
Peru’s famous Pisco Sour. This was one of the better examples that I had, and believe me, I tried quite a few of them. No better way to end the day than with a delicious Pisco Sour. It did worry me a bit that Ryan liked the taste so much, but I was comforted with the fact that he asked if there was a non-alcoholic version of the drink. I will have to look for one of those. I’m also on a quest for a delicious Pisco Sour in the DC metro area, so if you know of one, let me know.