Ollantaytambo in Sacred Valley – A Beautiful Stop Before Machu Picchu

Just 90 minutes northwest of the city of Cusco, this was a perfect base upon our arrival. Much lower than in altitude, we were able to acclimatize better while also learning and appreciating the rich Incan civilization. Quickly overshadowed by the more famous site in Peru, Ollantaytambo, located in the Sacred Valley of the Incas, is home to the most significant Incan ruins site which is built way before the Machu Picchu.

Ollantaytambo in Sacred Valley

The Sacred Valley of the Incas is believed to mirror the Milky Way. We met a traveler over breakfast in our B&B and he recommended a tour in Cusco which he regretted not having gone to. It’s about Incan constellations which defined their way of life. Running through the valley is the Vilcanota River which made agriculture exceptional that you can grow just about anything here; hence, it’s called sacred for the amount of food it produced for the Incans.

Ollantaytambo is also known as “the last living Inka Village”. So this was like going back in time! They say residents still live according to their traditions and customs. All design and structure (from streets to houses) are original Inca construction.  Just beautiful!

Local scene

Alighting the minivan or Collectivo at the center, we walked to our chosen accommodation in PataCalle street which has a view of The Grand Sanctuary or The Fortress, the main archaeological site of Ollantaytambo. You can stay anywhere here as everything is walking distance. It is a small village after all which makes for a lovely and leisurely walk.

Plaza de Armas (center)
PataCalle Street

Not a jetlag or the altitude has barred us from exploring this village upon our arrival. We even climbed both the Apu Pinkuylluna and The Fortress the same day. We just took our time climbing these two as the altitude was really taking its toll on us. But the views of the valley and village were worth it. We’re able to appreciate the urban design and the view of the Viracochan face imposed on the mountain. This too has a totally different story. Actually, here, there are too many interesting stories, so little room for the brain to grasp haha. You can read more about that here.

View of Ollantaytambo Village from Apu Pinkuylluna
Incan urban design. Everything is original and well-preserved.

Climbing Apu Pinkuylluna is free. We climbed just enough not pushing our body’s limit. If you’re in a better condition than us, you can reach the store houses where they store their agricultural produce back in the day.

Store houses as seen from the village

Entering The Grand Sanctuary comes with a fee (and all other archaeological sites). You can choose between 3-day pass or 10-day pass including archaeological sites in the Sacred Valley and Cusco area (except Machu Picchu). If you’re also visiting Moray, Pisac, Cusco etc. and staying in the span of more than 3 days, so yes, the 10-day pass is for you. The cost is S/.130 per person.

This archaeological site is built before the Machu Picchu and is nothing short of majestic. It took me forever to climb the terraces due to altitude and its magnitude. We went twice, one in the afternoon and one in the morning. Tours pull in after lunch so the best time is morning to enjoy some peace and quiet. The complex is huge!

The main archaeological site in Ollantaytambo
The Grand Sanctuary
The complex
This spot right here gives you a perfect view!

When it comes to food, if you’re not prepared to try cuy, alpaca and cordero meat just like us, pizza is aplenty. I’ve tried their version of pasta (both in Ollantaytambo and Cusco) and I do not recommend haha. But am surprised (and pleased) that there are vegetarian cafes and they serve vegetarian food in all places! Quinoa is a staple and their breakfast is composed of eggs, their version of pandesal served with Sauco or Awaymanto jam and a cup of coca tea mixed with mint and honey (delicious!).

Found this modern cafe/bar near the archaeological site
Iced coca tea. You’ll need a lot of this!

When it comes to shopping, it’s cheaper to shop here (and Cusco) than in Aguas Calientes and especially Lima! Chullo hat, Llama keychain, Alpaca scarf/blanket and table pieces make a great souvenir. And their markets accept credit cards (mostly visa). How convenient! The colors and texture are just a visual treat! I personally enjoyed the shopping. And compared to places mentioned, this place has none of that tourist and noisy vibe but a quiet place where I enjoyed watching the day to day life, marveling at the Incan sites and going around the well-preserved Incan village.

Peruvian women in Quechua clothing
You can enjoy a view of the main archaeological site while dining here

Rusting, charming, quintessential and authentic. That’s Ollantaytambo.

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