categories: south america travel
Ollantaytambo is a small town with a long name and an even longer list of hidden treasures awaiting the visitor who wishes to take a break on the crowded route to Machu Picchu.
The ancient town, continuously inhabited since the 13th century, lies in a secluded corner of the Sacred Valley, two hours from Cuzco by car and an hour’s train ride from Machu Picchu. It is a walker’s paradise offering little-known ruins in beautiful surroundings and a great spot to enjoy tranquil evenings after the tour buses are long gone.
The best way to start a day in Ollantaytambo is to head to the second floor of the produce market for a fresh juice to-go and make the quick climb to the ruins of Pinkuylluna to watch the sun wash over the valley. These ruins take about 15-30 minutes to ascend and are separate from the main fortress complex which you must pay to enter. Find the steep but short access trail right in town by walking 3 blocks up Lari Calle, the first cobblestone street on the right as you enter town from Cuzco.
Later, an afternoon picnic in an Inca palace along the Urubamba River is in order. To reach Qellorakay, a second set of free ruins, leave from the produce market and walk straight ahead down a short road. You will be forced to make a left turn as a large field comes into view. Cutting through this field is an unmarked trail that continues away through agricultural fields. A flat, 10-minute stroll ends at ruins nestled among terraced fields with a captivating view of the glacier on Mt. Veronica.
For visitors wishing to explore further afield, the area surrounding Ollanta is rich with rewarding day hikes. Across the river from town, a moderate 4-5 hour round-trip hike leads you to ancient quarries, Las Canteras, where the massive stones to build the town were excavated. Heading up the Patacancha valley behind Ollantaytambo, an easy 3 hour round-trip hike will take you past steep terraces at Media Luna and the wind-swept ruins at Pumamarca.
Confident hikers can easily navigate these walks on their own; ask around town for advice and the latest directions. A local hiking guidebook is available at some prominent stores and hotels around town. And if you’d like to leave the navigation to someone else, most hotels can arrange for a local guide to accompany you with little notice.
Ollantaytambo is an obligatory stop-off for most trips to Machu Picchu. The difference is in how you visit. Rather than force your stay into a whistle-stop tour of the Sacred Valley while en route to Machu Picchu, consider spending a night in the town instead.
This gives you a chance to explore the place in its natural state, away from the crowds of day tripper tourists. The real benefit to staying in the town though is that you can catch the first train direct to Machu Picchu and avoid spending a night in Aguas Calientes, the chaotic town at the foot of Machu Picchu that is usually considered a necessary evil for those who want to visit the world famous citadel.
This article was written by Yampu Tours, who offer trips to Machu Picchu.
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