What is there to see in Ollantaytambo?
This traditional Inca town is the best place to stop on your way to or from Machu Picchu. It is the gateway between the Sacred Valley and the famous UNESCO World Heritage site.
The quaint town of Ollantaytambo is the travel hub for people taking the train toward Machu Picchu, starting their four-day Inca Trail hike, and a handful considering a walk beside the tracks to Aguas Calientes. This brings a lot of people passing through the town, but if you take an extra day or two, you will see below the surface that many people barely scratch.
Ollantaytambo is a unique place not only for its strategic location on the way to Machu Picchu, but also for the town itself. Here you will see the most intact Inca village, continuously inhabited since the 13th century. The narrow streets, canals and many houses are unchanged since Inca times.
The history is also fascinating, especially as the only place in Peru where the Spanish army suffered a resounding defeat. When you visit the archeological site in Ollantaytambo, look up before you start climbing the stairs and picture Manco Inca riding a stolen Spanish horse as he led his people to victory. Of course, we all know that the Spanish won the war, but Ollantaytambo proudly remembers being the place that the Inca won an important battle.
In the present day, Ollantaytambo is also much more than the gateway to Machu Picchu. The restaurants and archeological sites make it a wonderful place to spend a day or two. It’s also a great base for discovering the secrets of the wider Sacred Valley From Ollantaytambo, Urubamba, Moray and Maras are all a short drive. Pisac and Chinchero are a little farther afield, but the drive through the Sacred Valley is so beautiful, you’ll wish they were even farther away.
HOW TO GET FROM CUSCO TO OLLANTAYTAMBO
The Veronica View has several fantastic taxi options which also include stops along the way at the highlights of the Sacred Valley. Click on the link below to see four of your options, which you can choose with or without guide.
For more information about taxi and transportation, read here!
HERE ARE THE TOP PLACES TO SEE IN OLLANTAYTAMBO
1.- VISIT THE OLLANTAYTAMBO RUINS AND TERRACES
This spectacular site is an absolute must-see for anybody visiting the Sacred Valley. However, it’s important to try and get to them in the early morning or later the in the afternoon as it can be incredibly crowded once the large tourist buses turn up. The town is at an altitude of 2,792 m, so don’t be surprised if you’re a wee bit out of breath making your way to the top. Give yourself 1-2 hours to explore the site at your own pace. Guides are also available at the entrance.
Entry to the ruins is only possible with the Cusco Boleto Turistico – a multisite ticket which covers many of the best Sacred Valley ruins. It is not possible to buy a single entry ticket to Ollantaytambo. The Boleto Turistico can only be bought at the archeological sites. You can choose the partial ticket, which is good for only one day and only for the Sacred Valley. The full ticket is good for ten days and gives you access to 16 sites.
2.- EXPLORE THE OLD TOWN STREETS
Follow the sound of water to the most traditional streets in Ollantaytambo. The ancient canals sparkle and burble as they flow past the doors of the ancient houses. The town’s unique and incredibly well preserved Incan open-draining system runs straight through the center of many of its pretty cobblestone streets. Walking the town’s narrow back streets feels like stepping back in time, where you can admire the perfectly engineered Inca architecture. Ollantaytambo is so compact, you’ll never really get lost. Just look up to the Inca site towering above you to get your bearings.
3.- BROWSE THE SOUVENIR MARKET
If you don’t want to deal with the busy markets in Cusco, then you’ll enjoy spending some time exploring this small but well-stocked open-air souvenir market.
This market is right at the entrance to the archeological site, so you can’t miss it! You will find all the usual fare one would expect to see in a Peruvian tourist spot – but spend a little time here and you’ll find plenty of gems. If you enjoy negotiating prices, this is the place for you! However, you don’t have to bargain for a lower price, if the initial asking price seems reasonable to you.
TIP: There’s a cute little side street branching off from the tourist market where there are small shops selling similar wares.
4.- STOP BY THE LOCAL MERCADO
Near the central plaza, this local’s market is still delightfully authentic. Get an insight into day-to-day life here as you join the locals doing their daily shopping. Ollantaytambo is popular enough that you’ll see other tourists, but that doesn’t make the market any less genuine. It’s also the best place to stock up on snacks for your Inca Trail hike.
5.- ENJOY THE VIEW FROM THE PINKUYLLUNA STORAGE STRUCTURES
This is the most beautiful free hike from Ollantaytambo. Enjoy the best view over Ollantaytambo and its imposing mountains from these old storehouses. Constructed during the Inca Empire, they are carefully engineered to take advantage of the cold air that rushed through the canyon, naturally preserving food in a wind-powered refrigerator. If you hike up in the evening, you’ll catch the last warm rays when the main archeological site across from you is already in shadow. They’re also much less visited than the Terraces and Ruins directly across from you, so they offer the opportunity to escape the crowds and work up a sweat too.
To find the trail, simply go down Lares Street and you will see a set of the stairs and sign on your right to take you on the trail; the start point is also clearly pinpointed on Google maps if you type in ‘Pinkuylluna’ . The walk up takes 30-45 minutes, and be careful on the way down!
6.- A SACRED VALLEY SPACE
The Sacred Valley is not only popular for the Inca archeological sites. It is a beautifully pastoral valley where you can escape the stress of cities and connect with nature. The surrounding glacial peaks, beautiful river frame the fields of crops still farmed by the local Quechua people, following the same practices as their Inca ancestors. Besides the beautiful valley itself, the quiet town of Ollantaytambo is truly relaxing. Evening is the best time to sit back and admire the intact Inca town, after the tourists have left for the day.
7.- WHERE TO STAY IN OLLANTAYTAMBO
Veronica View Hotel; Arriving at the hotel, you will be greeted amid gardens of native flowers and orchids. Take in the stunning sight of the Veronica Mountain, covered with glaciers year-round. After you settle into your room, walk through the gardens to the pool and restaurant area. There is a steam sauna, dry sauna, spa, heated swimming pool and restaurant at your feet more information here.
8.- HOW TO GET FROM OLLANTAYTAMBO TO MACHU PICCHU
The small town of Aguas Calientes is actually the access point to Machu Picchu, and people can walk to the site from there or take the shuttle bus for 25 minutes to the entrance. The best option to travel to Aguas Calientes is take the train from Ollantaytambo (it’s only 32 kms away) rather than going straight from Cusco. The start point for the Inca Trail can also only be accessed via Ollantaytambo.
This is why so many tourist groups and independent travellers spend at least one night in town.
Here’s a breakdown of the two main ways to get from Ollantaytambo to Machu Picchu (in the next section we’ve shared how to get from Cusco to Ollantaytambo with public transport):
TAKE THE TRAIN
There are regular daily departures to Aguas Calientes from Ollantaytambo train station with both Peru Rail and Inca Rail – this is the Machu Picchu train which you’ve probably already heard a lot about.
It’s highly recommended to buy your tickets in advance online or in person to get the best price and departure times for your trip. It is also possible to buy them last minute at the train station in Ollantaytambo but choice will be very limited in high season and most tickets left will be for the most expensive services.
Where is the train station? The train station is easily found at the end of Av. Ferrocarril (go left just before the small bridge which takes you to the tourist market and terraces). It’s a 10-minute walk downhill from the plaza, so make sure you leave with plenty time to catch your train.
How much are the tickets? It varies depending on company, departure time, and train service chosen as they have different levels and train types available (i.e. the Vistadome). Prices start from £56 one-way but can cost a lot more.
What are the schedules? The train from Ollantaytambo to Aguas Calientes takes 1h 20m to 1h 40 mins (it covers the distance slowly intentionally).
TOP: Peru Rail does have three morning departures from Cusco to Aguas Calientes, but it actually leaves from a station at Poroy, a 20-minute taxi ride outside of the Cusco. That’s why Ollantaytambo is the most popular option and it’s a nicer travel experience to have a chilled out day and night in Ollantaytambo and then take the train to Machu Picchu the next morning.
WALK THE INCA TRAIL OR ANY ALTERNATIVE TREK
The start point for the Inca Trail is actually by the train tracks at Kilometre 82, about half an hour’s driving outside of Ollantaytambo. However, it’s only possible to do the Inca Trail with an official tour group. (One operator that Veronica View Hotel works with is SAM Travel who has a great reputation and Inca Trail online reviews), and you have to book your place months in advance. Most Inca Trail tours will include your transport to Ollantaytambo from Cusco.
For all the information you need to prepare for the Inca Trail, read what to pack, which tour operator to take, when to book here!
WHERE TO EAT?
Arround three sides of the plaza and on the road leading towards the terraces and souvenir market, you’ll find no shortage of tourist-focussed places selling pizza, pasta, burgers, plus alpaca steaks and traditional Peruvian dishes. They are all much and such to be honest, so just pick one that you like the look of. Many of them also offer a negotiable happy hour cocktail rate too!