Midway between Cusco, Peru, the capital of the Inca Empire, and Machu Picchu lies Ollantaytambo.
For most tourists traveling through the Sacred Valley, it’s no more than a short train stop. Which is unfortunate, because this small, historic village makes a delightful destination and base for exploring the area. And fortunately for visitors, the tongue-twisting name has been shortened to the more gringo-friendly “Ollanta,” (pronounced Oh-yohn-tuh).
Ollanta dates from the 15th Century, and is unique because it’s one of the only towns in Peru which has its original Inca walls and street grid. Also, many of its homes are some of the oldest continuously inhabited dwellings in South America. Narrow cobblestone streets are lined with ancient stone walls which once surrounded homes and communal courtyards. Modern residents still live within these walls, and come and go through precisely-carved 500 year-old gates.
During the Inca Empire, Ollantaytambo was the royal estate of Emperor Pachacuti, who built the town and a ceremonial center on the hillside overlooking the village.
Consequently, most of the stonework here is particularly high quality.
For our visit to Machu Picchu, we opted not to stay in Aguas Calientes, the launch point for Machu Picchu tours. Instead, we spent a few nights in Ollanta in a very pleasant B&B, El Albergue, right above the train station (that’s our room just above the cafe).
This choice might sound like a rookie mistake, but it was deliberate, and we couldn’t have been happier. Immediately across the Patakancha River, we had a nice view of the terraced mountains, and with the arrival of each train, local artisans lined the track to hawk their colorful wares.
And the rear view, overlooking a beautifully landscaped garden was equally as nice.
This quaint village has a colorful tourist market, extensive hillside ruins, and a very scenic stream rushes through the middle of town.
For us, it was the perfect place to wander aimlessly, and relax in the creekside eateries.
If a crack-of-dawn arrival at the Machu Picchu ruins is most important to you, then a hotel in Aguas Calientes is the best option. However, if a more relaxed, less touristy ambience, and another opportunity to experience Inca ruins sounds more appealing, then a stop in Ollantaytambo is the way to go.
James & Terri
Last updated January 5, 2020
Photo Credits: 1, 2, 3, 4. Stevage 5. Janikorpi