Ollantaytambo: A Living City of the Inca

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).

Girls by Door

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.

Bath of the Princess

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.

Inca Ruins

Consequently, most of the stonework here is particularly high quality.

Stone Wall

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).

Front of B & B

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.

Sellers

And the rear view, overlooking a beautifully landscaped garden was equally as nice.

Garden

This quaint village has a colorful tourist market, extensive hillside ruins, and a very scenic stream rushes through the middle of town.

Market

For us, it was the perfect place to wander aimlessly, and relax in the creekside eateries.

Stream

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.

Buen Camino,
James & Terri

Last updated January 5, 2020

Balcony

Photo Credits: 1, 2, 3, 4. Stevage  5. Janikorpi

Author: gallivance.net

We're Terri and James Vance - high school sweethearts who went on to international careers and became world nomads. Today, 65 countries later, we're still traveling ... and still in love. Check out Our Story for more of the backstory at gallivance.net.

30 thoughts

    1. Thanks Rusha. I suspect that most cultures have some innate biological need for colors, particularly in places where bright colors are absent. My first exposure to this idea was the Paleolithic paintings at the Caves of Altamira, in Northern Spain. The colors there were simple, but absolutely beautiful. If you haven’t seen them, check them out.

  1. I am mesmerized by the fit of the stones in the fifth photo. No jackhammers. No mortar. No front loaders to move them around. Who WERE these people?

    1. Tom, I’ve actually looked into this a bit, and as is frequently the case, there’s no clear answer. These photos are impressive, but laying hands on this carved stone is even more impressive. I read the “Chariots of the Gods” by van Danekin (written in the Pleistocene I believe). Maybe the answer is there.

    1. Thanks Paulette. These little bulls are common in Peru. In fact, Terri will be writing a post in a couple of days about Peruvian arts and crafts and their symbolism. The bull was cool, but my biggest complaint was that if they had flattened his head, he would have made a great drink holder. J

    1. Thanks Jade. It’s a bit unusual to talk with folks that have been to Ollanta. Most people zoom right past, which is too bad really. But I see that you’ve visited Ethiopia, so you obviously don’t miss much.

    1. Thanks LuAnn. After seeing Ollanta, I don’t really understand why more people don’t visit. I guess that they’re so charged up to see Machu Picchu, that they just rush by. One of the things that we’ve learned in our travels is the “smell the roses” thing.

  2. I have always wanted to get down to this part of the world. Thanks for the tip. I love to find the off the beaten path, away from the tourist attractions kind of things. This sounds like my kind of place to explore before making it to Machu Picchu. Exploration makes travel all the more interesting and fun.

    1. Thanks Amy. It sounds like we have a similar philosophy on travel. Over the years we’ve developed the habit of traveling in the low or shoulder season, which cuts costs and helps avoid crowds. And since we have more time than money, we can hit the attractions as well as the off-the-track places. Also, definitely put Peru on your list. For a photographer like you, it would be a dream world. James

  3. I’m revisiting this wonderful, informative post, which inspired us to visit Ollanta. I think that’s our hotel on the stream in the second to bottom photo, although it’s white now. Thanks for leading the way!

    1. I remember that area Cathy, and it was neat. Wasn’t the crafts market right on the other side of the river. We loved to wander around the village during siesta. A great little place. It made for more complicated transport, but we’re so glad we stayed here instead of Aguas Calientes ~James

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