Peru is home to an infinity of archaeological sites to explore and learn about the ancient history of the country. And among all its wonderful destinations, Cusco offers us a great variety of Inca complexes and sites to discover. And when we talk about Cusco, we are also referring to the nearby Sacred Valley of the Incas. Within this beautiful valley, you will find a series of very important places, among which is Ollantaytambo. The ancient Inca temple and fortress located in the northwest of the Valley is known for being the last Inca bastion in the Andes, and, today, it also includes a town located not far from the archaeological site with the same name. And together with the Machu Travel Peru team, we have prepared a small article about this remarkable archaeological complex.
Everything you need to know about Ollantaytambo
- What is Ollantaytambo
- History of Ollantaytambo
- Ollantaytambo location
- What to visit in Ollantaytambo
- How to get to Ollantaytambo
- How to get from Ollantaytambo to Machu Picchu
- Best time to visit it
- How to buy an Ollantaytambo entrance
- Best Ollantaytambo restaurants
- Hotels in Ollantaytambo
- Is it worth visiting Ollantaytambo?
- Acclimate yourself
What is Ollantaytambo
Ollantaytambo was a very important agricultural, military, and religious center during the time of the Inca Empire. Today, the site continues to amaze with its wonderful examples of masonry and imposing buildings in the Peruvian Andes. It is believed that it was the last refuge for the Inca nobility during his escape from the Spaniards to the jungle. As well as other architectural wonders of the Incas, it was built with huge and colossal well-carved rocks. Today, you can see the different majestic terraces that make up the Fortress, also known as Temple Hill.
History of Ollantaytambo
This wonderful archaeological site already existed before the Incas. And many academics believe that the complex had its origin in the Aymara culture which extended to the northwest zone of Cusco. Later, during the expansion of Cusco in the early 1400s, the Aymaras sought to build a series of checkpoints to protect this town against the Incas. However, a new, warrior and determinate sovereign Inca called Pachacutec reached the conquest of Aymaras and Ollantaytambo, and he was the one who ordered strengthening the fortress complex with new buildings and watchtowers that we know today. With the death of Pachacutec, the town passed to the domain of its Panaka (family of Inca sovereign that included wives, uncles, brothers, and numerous sons)
During the Spanish conquest, the Inca town was used as a fortress for Manco Inca Yupanqui (Inca’s king who was pushed, bit by bit, from Cusco until the jungle’s deep by the Spanish in 1537) Losing Cusco, he took refuge in Ollantaytambo which came to be a fortress of refuge against the frequent Spanish invasions. But, the Inca fortress destination would be resolved in one great battle between the Incas and the Spanish.
B. The last battle
This Inca fortress was one of the few places where the Incas won a battle against the Spaniards, stopping their progress. It was from the top of the fortress terraces that they were able to avoid the invaders as they flooded the plain with soldiers and cavalry. But the war was not won yet, the Incas knew that the Spanish would return with many more soldiers at their side. So, after the Inca victory, Manco Inca Yupanqui withdrew to Vilcabamba (jungle inside) abandoning the Inca fortress. After Manco Inca’s departure, it was Pizarro and his men who occupied it. In the same year 1540, Pizarro delegated the governance of the town to his brother Hernando Pizarro.
C. Name meaning
Ollantaytambo, the original word comes from the Aymara language as the first culture that inhabited the site, “Ullanwtawi” (Due to its location over a mountain of the same name). This word can be translated to “Viewpoint” or “Place to Look Down”. After the expansion of the Inca culture, the Quechua language predominated in the area and the name changed to “Ullantay”.
Years later, the term Tambo was added to the existing Ullantay to result in the name we know today. Tambo is the result of a derivation of the Spanish language from the Quechua word known as Tampu. While Tampu can be translated to “city that offers food and accommodation”. This term was added when a Tambo or Lodging was built in the esplanade of the place (According to orders of Viracocha Inca). And from the construction, the name Ullantay Tampu was adopted. These terms later began to derive into the only term we know today, one of the most visited tourist sites in Peru, Ollantaytambo.
In addition, the name has another possible origin proposed by Victor Angles, a recognized Cusquenean historian, he assures that the word Ollanta was the name of an ancient Inca captain. This name was engraved in the memory of the ancient inhabitants. The captain’s story was told as part of an oral tradition. Much later, the history was written as a theatrical drama by the author Antonio Valdez (1857)
D. Ollantay drama
A powerful general named Ollantay was the military governor of the Ollantaytambo fortress. This general fell in love with Cusi Qoyllor, daughter of Pachacutec Inca. The problem? He came from a humble origin, she was noble, and the King, Pachacutec, did not approve of their union. Knowing this decision, Ollantay was enraged and rioted in the Inca fortress for years. Meanwhile, Pachacutec bored by the pleas of Cusi Qoyllor for approving her union, decided to confine her in the Acllawasi (A training center for noble Inca women). In this form, during the first months of boarding school, Cusi Qoyllor gave birth to the daughter of Ollantay, Imaq Sumaq.
Years later, the son of Pachacutec, the new king Tupac Inca Yupanqui decided to recover the Inca fortress and set a trap for Ollantay. He send to Rumiñahui general to the complex, this general had to pretend to flee from Cusco and ask for refuge from Ollantay, and the rebel fell into the trap. During dinner, while all were asleep, Rumiñahui opened the doors of the fortress, allowing the entrance of the Inca army. In this form, Ollantay was captured and brought to Cusco.
All thought that Ollantay was going to the gallow. However, Imaq Sumaq appeared in the scene asking forgiveness for the life of his father, telling the true story to Tupac Inca Yupanqui. The king moved, spared Ollantay’s life, and freed his sister, allowing the union of the family.
The small ancestral city is located in the wonderful Sacred Valley, 90 kilometers from northwest Cusco (the ancient capital of the Inca Empire), in the province of Urubamba. The town is located over the river coast of Patacancha (a Tributary of the Urubamba River). Also, near the archaeological park is located a little town that is one of the few places in Peru where its residents continue to live in Inca buildings without any type of modification, between intact Inca streets, and trails built during the times of the Empire. Therefore, visiting this Inca fortress is one of the best things to do in Sacred Valley.
Otherwise, the archeological rest is a fortress that is located at the north end of Inca’s Sacred Valley (2792 m.a.s.l). The ancient Inca culture named this zone “Sacred Valley” of the fertility of their lands. Products like a variety of potatoes, corn, quinoa, and even Kiwicha were grown there. The fortress seems to protect the valley from the northern part.
What to visit in Ollantaytambo
1. The Sun Real House
This zone is formed by 17 large Andean terraces that overlook the esplanade at the base of the hill. It’s believed that the Andean terraces had two functions, the first one contained the slopes on which the Inca fortress was built. The second one was being suitable zones to cultivate Andean grains and take advantage of the rough but nutrient-rich soil.
2. The Solid Chocana
This was an administrative center, checkpoint, and little fortress located 2 kilometers from Ollantaytambo. Its name means “where you knock down or throw”. Its construction possibly dates back to pre-Inca times, from the Aymara era. Let us remember that the Aymaras considered it as one of its more important constructions.
3. The Kuychipunku
It is also called Plaza Mañay Rakay (Square of Petitions). It is a little esplanade located over the right bank of the Patacancha river, parallel to the entrance of the archaeological site. Its walls conserve small openings that are believed to have been doors or entrances to the enclosure.
4. The Sun Temple
Once you reach the top after having climbed the 200 steps, you will be able to appreciate an unparalleled view of the Sacred Valley from the Temple of the Sun. This temple is made up of six colossal stone blocks of rectangular shape. These are located at the top of the site and appear as if they had been an unfinished construction. The largest monolith is over two meters wide and about four meters high.
5. Main gate and the temple of 10 niches
This part is one of the most famous in the entire complex, it appears in postcards and representative images of the archaeological site. It is located at the top of the Andean terraces group and is made up of a giant stone portal that leads to a wall with 10 niches perfect and well-carved. During the great battle of the Incas against the Spanish, this sector suffered the greatest possible damage.
6. Ñusta bathtub
This was a beautiful water font, and which interior was stocked with three water outlets. This font water was considered liturgical and religious. And these kinds of fonts were common in Incas buildings.
7. Cachicata Stone quarry
Cachicata is the name of the stone quarry that provided giant blocks to the Inca complex. The quarries are located on the opposite coast of the Vilcanota River, west side of the Inca fortress, 5 kilometers from its main square. The route pass over a slope that begins at 2750 meters above sea level until 3200 m.a.s.l.
Throughout the route, the visitor can see semi-carved stones abandoned halfway (It is presumed that these were abandoned by their sculptors due to the attacks of the Spaniards in the area). In the same quarry, other giant semi-carved stones can be appreciated. The Incas moved them to the Inca fortress with ingenious techniques of movement, like rolling them on reeds of logs and pushing them with thick ropes.
8. Qolqas of Pinkuylluna
Pinkuylluna is a series of Qolcas (Quechua word meaning food and grain stores) built on top of the hill of the same name, northeast of the current town. The Incas built Qolqas in the upper parts of the hills to take advantage of the cold and strong gusts of wind to preserve their food such as corn, wheat, and jerky, among others. The hiking to this place lasts 1 hour and the descent another hour, from there you will have other views of the beautiful Inca fortress.
9. Quellorakay park
Quellorakay is a beautiful archaeological zone next to the Urubamba river and very close to the Inca cemetery of the Inca complex. This area includes a series of enclosures and courts through which the visitor can walk. In it, you can see the distribution that the Inca complexes used to have. Also, this is another of the places affected after the battle of the Incas against the Spanish in 1540.
10. San Pedro market
A famous Peruvian writer said once: “To know very well a city, the visitor should visit its stadium, main square, and market” In this sense, the traditional market of San Pedro in the current town is the perfect place to know the lifestyle of the locals. Happily, this remained unchanged since the Republican era and, now, you can find fresh fruits, meats, milk products among others in their first level. On the second floor, the visitor will find delicious local and national dishes, too!
11. Get lost in its streets
As we mentioned before, the particularity of Ollantaytambo’s current town is the inhabitants kept the original Inca structure of each house of the town, besides the streets and their disposition. In this form, nowadays the visitor can enjoy the charming narrow cobbled streets with boulders, Inca walls, and a little water channel in the middle of the streets where the water of an ancient spring runs until it reaches the Urubamba river itself.
12. Souvenir market
Very close to the archaeological park entrance, where is situated the control booth to buy the Cusco General Ticket and enter the complex, is located a long esplanade. On this point, diverse handicraft stands offer charming and various Andean crafts for all tastes. From clothes with Alpaca fabrics to quartz pieces of jewelry. Also, the prices are competitive and in line with other artisan markets in Cusco.
How to get to Ollantaytambo
This wonderful Inca fortress is located approximately 60 kilometers from Cusco. In general, to get there, you can take a bus from the city. Although, there are also private transports that may be included in the tours offered by travel agencies, even by train. But to get there. You will have three main routes.
A. Through Pisac
The first route goes through Pisac and this is usually the busiest of all. If you are looking to take a bus, you need to know that many small companies offer transportation services passing by this town. But in the city, you can choose to head to Puputi street. Here you will find numerous buses waiting to be boarded. This route goes through Pisac and Calca and the trip can last between two hours or less.
B. Through Chinchero
The other land route goes through Chinchero. If you are planning a trip to Peru, especially to visit the charms of the sacred valley, this is your best option. To take this bus, you will have to go to Pavitos street. The buses can drop you off at the town square in about 2 hours. Like the other route, this one has an intermediate stop in Urubamba. It is one of the most direct routes to get to the site. It is impossible to get lost, and going there is usually very easy.
C. Through Huarocondo
The last route goes through Huarocondo. This route is the least frequented due to its cost (it is developed by train). The visitor has to take a train (Peru Rail and Inca Rail are the two local train companies) from Poroy Train Station (a town located 30 minutes outside of Cusco) or from San Pedro Train Station (Inside the city) towards Machu Picchu. The train to Machu Picchu route will pass by Ollantaytambo (2 hours the trip later). The interesting of this route is the landscapes that you will pass, quaint towns like Huarocondo or Moray will be waiting for you.
How to get from Ollantaytambo to Machu Picchu
This mythical Inca town is starting point of three important ways to get from Ollantaytambo to Aguas Calientes town (remember that Aguas Calientes is the closest town to Machu Picchu and hosts the nearest train station to the citadel) Also, the distance between Ollantaytambo and Machu Picchu is 26 km, so depending of the transportation type that you are going to take, your trip can last from 2 hours to 4 days to Aguas Calientes. After, the traveler will have to get a CONSETTUR Buses from Aguas Calientes to the Inca citadel (the bus trip lasts 45 min)
A. By train
The train is the most common, faster, and old way to get to Machu Picchu (reality, to its modern town named Aguas Calientes), the train to Aguas Calientes is a day trip that lasts 01:50 hrs approx, and happily, the two Cusco train companies like Peru Rail and Inca Rail offer competitive prices, many frequencies per day, and good quality of service on board. The prices can vary depending on the class of train that the tourist take; Expedition, Vistadome, and the luxury Hiram Bingham (In the case of Peru Rail), and the Voyager, the 360º and the Luxury First Class (In the case o of Inca Rail). However, the price in the case of the most basic class of service is around $70, one way.
B. The Inca Trail
The Inca Trail to visit Machu Picchu is an unparalleled experience because is the same footpath that the Incas used centuries ago to get to the famous Incas citadel. In this sense, if you tour it, you will feel the same sensation of pace, calm, and beauty that the ancient Inca people felt. Of course, this route is reserved for those adventurous tourists who want to strive them before getting their reward (getting to Machu Picchu), the trekking lasts 03 nights and 04 days. The advantage of doing it is that, during the route, you will find other unique Inca archaeological remains, amazing flora and fauna, and adventure. The disadvantage is that you cannot do it alone, you must always hire a travel agency authorized by the Peruvian government.
C. By bus and train
This way to get to Machu pìcchu is the most recent and consists in take a bus from the town main square heading to Santa Teresa, 142 km northwest of Ollantaytambo, the road is not paved and the bus trip lasts around 03:30 hrs. Once in Santa Teresa, the visitor will have to another bus to the Hydroelectric train station (30 minutes of the trip) where finally, he will have to take the local train (not tourist class service) and head to Machu Picchu (30 minutes more of the trip)
Best time to visit it
The Sacred Valley, which hosts the Inca fortress, has a hot and dry climate, with frequent solar presence most of the year, clear skies, and warm breezes (Dry season. April – November)
Otherwise, the rainy season begins in December and finishes in March. Rains are frequent, with cold breezes and cloudy skies. If you like to walk in the rain, this is your time.
Our recommendation? The Dry Season is the perfect time to visit this amazing Inca fortress.
How to buy an Ollantaytambo entrance
The entrance to the Inca fortress is not sold separately. On the contrary, it is included in the General Tourist Ticket and the Partial Tourist Ticket. Both are managed and sold by the Municipality of Cusco. The General Tourist Ticket is useful to visit almost all Incas attractions, museums, a local theater, and the Sacred Valley archaeological parks among other attractions. Otherwise, the Partial Tourist Ticket is useful only to visit a unique determinate zone like only Sacred Valley, or only South Valley. In this form, the tourist ticket is divided into two:
- General CTT: With it, you can visit museums in Cusco, Sacred Valley, beside viewpoints and Incas archaeological parks located in Cusco, the south valley of Cusco, and the Sacred Valley (Ollantaytambo included)
- Partial CTT: There are two types, the City CTT partial which is useful to visit museums in Cusco, and the surrounding archaeological park called Sacsayhuaman. The second one is called Sacred Valley and is useful to visit archaeological parks located there like Pisac, Ollantaytambo, Moray, and Chinchero.
Both tickets can be purchased at the central office of the municipality of Cusco (Av. El Sol 103) or at the Checkpoint of every Archaeological site. The counter only accepts cash, not credit cards, take it into consideration.
Best Ollantaytambo restaurants
1. El Albergue
The restaurant receives the same name as the hotel. El Albergue restaurant offers an Andean culinary proposal with the most select and fresh ingredients. These are cultivated in the same garden of the hotel. Luxury and taste you’ll find in this restaurant, located very close to the local train station. (3 meters of distance!) This is the best place to eat in Ollantaytambo.
Address: Ferrocarril avenue w/n, train station.
2. Apu Veronica
This restaurant is known for its delicious food and its large windows overlooking the Apu Veronica. The menu is a delicate balance of international, Peruvian, and vegetarian dishes, made up of fresh ingredients brought from the same local market. The taste of the dishes is recognized even nationally. The owner is a local woman with a taste for good service.
Address: Ventidero street w/n.
If El Albergue is focused on Andean cuisine, the Chuncho is destined to offer the most delicious Local (Cusco) dishes with an artistic touch. The owners are the same as El Albergue, so the quality service, the good taste, and the tradition of local cuisine are guaranteed. We encourage you to try it!
Address: Ferrocarril avenue w/n, train station.
Amanto is the best new restaurant in Ollantaytambo. The restaurant is specialized in International, Peruvian, and Novo Andean Cuisine. The last one means a mix of local ingredients combined with technics of international cuisines. In this form, the visitor will find delicious and highly elaborate dishes. Definitely the best of the new proposal in restaurants.
Address: Corner of the main street with the main square.
Hotels in Ollantaytambo
1. El Albergue – Luxury
The Albergue hotel is the oldest in the town. Since 1929 El Albergue developed a quality service in hospitality with well-decorated and comfortable rooms with balconies to a large garden and courtyard. Its 16 rooms are located inside a train station, which makes it perfect for those travelers who have trains that leave very early in the morning. Its restaurant offers gourmet dishes with an open kitchen nationally recognized.
Address: Ferrocarril avenue w/n, train station.
2. Pakaritampu – Luxury
Maybe, Pakaritampu can be the second-best hotel in Ollantaytambo, only after El Albergue. The hotel has 18 rooms in well-equipped, large areas of gardens, and a high-quality restaurant. The common areas and the houses, where are located the rooms, retain this rustic air of Andean houses. It is located on the same Ferrocarril avenue, only 15 meters from the local train station.
Address: Ferrocarril Ave. 852.
3. Apu Lodge Ollantaytambo – Mid-range
This lodge is located over the feet of Pinkuylluna mountain. But, rest assured that the lodge is very close to the main square, with a distance of only 250 meters. The hotel offers extra services that almost no hotel in town offers like luggage storage service, pick-up service from Cusco airport, and Machu Picchu tours among others. Despite to have with only 8 rooms, these are very comfortable, for both short and long stays.
Address: Lariscalle street w/n.
4. Be free Ollantaytambo – Budget
This is the best economical option for those who want to spend nights in the current town, without experiencing other types of services. The owners are very friendly, and the rooms are comfortable with all you need, spacious garden and common areas and abundant breakfast are included. Quality and price in a single lodging.
Address: Calle del Horno 618.
Is it worth visiting Ollantaytambo?
We do not doubt that this is one of the most magical and charming places to visit in any list of tourism in Peru. It is one of the few Inca towns where residents live in buildings dating back hundreds of years. You will be able to know intact examples of Inca architecture. In addition, the town is usually a busy point because it has its train station. It is one of the places to take the train to Machu Picchu. From there many travelers can choose to leave for Aguas Calientes and from there to Machu Picchu. Therefore, today, Ollantaytambo is considered one of the most essential places to visit in South America. Especially if you are looking to investigate the history of the first cultures that inhabited Peru, the Incas.
A good idea is to be able to acclimatize before leaving for the Inca fortress. Since you will find yourself quite high compared to other places around (2,790 m.a.s.l.) And even if you are in excellent physical condition, you may feel some symptoms of altitude sickness. No matter where you come from, it will most likely be a much lower altitude site than the Cusco region.
And if you plan to travel to Cusco and the Sacred Valley, it is a good idea to acclimatize. The effects of altitude sickness can range from shortness of breath to nausea, dizziness, and headache. It’s a good idea to take the symptoms easy for the first few days, drink plenty of fluids, and eat lightly. Despite this, many of us are affected by altitude sickness differently. Some feel absolutely nothing, while others may have serious conditions. Just in case, a visit to Peru without knowing the wonders of the Sacred Valley map would be incomplete!
“IF YOU ARE DELIGHTED TO BE IN ANCIENT RUINS, YOU ARE EITHER A CURIOUS HISTORIAN OR A ROMANTIC PERSON!”
As you can see, the wonderful city sheltered by the fortress is a must-see. Ollantaytambo will be one of those destinations that will live forever in your memory. We hope together with the Machu Travel Peru team to have been helpful. We seek to tell you the main aspects of this incredible historical destination. And if you are looking to learn a little more about the Inca culture, you cannot miss visiting its ruins and terraces. If you want to know more about our tours to this awesome Inca fortress, you can check out our different travel packages. Or you can also consult with our team of qualified advisers. They will be happy to help you organize the trip of your dreams.