Ollantaytambo, located towards the western end of The Sacred Valley, is where the classic 4-day Inca trail to Machu Picchu starts. Families with small children will be relieved to hear that regular trains also run directly to Aguas Calientes (the closest access point to Machu Picchu) – a 1.5 hour journey – making a day trip to Peru’s iconic Inca citadel very doable from here.
Ollantaytambo: 2790m (9,160 ft)
Besides serving as a practical base, it is also home to a spectacular Inca fortress that once served as the royal estate for Emperor Pachacuti. During the Spanish conquest of Peru it became the citadel from which Inca emperor Manco Inca Yupanqui successfully fought off the Spaniards in 1536, marking one of the Incas’ greatest victories of all.
Upon arrival, you are faced with the arduous challenge of climbing over 300 steps of stone terracing that rise up the steep mountainside – even more daunting with grumbling kids in tow. It’s amazing what a few mental games can do though. After telling them I would send a photo of them at the top to their respective teachers, they practically flew up (a round of applause please for Ms Manzanares and Ms Ford!).
The views from the top are, as you might expect, magnificent, and the stone work within the fortress’ walls astounding. As with all the Inca sites, the mind boggles when you question how this was all achieved without the aid of wheels.
Colossal slabs of pink granite towered over our family. Having recently discovered Herge’s Tintin Prisoners of the Sun, the kids were thrilled when they stumbled upon the real, El Templo del Sol (the title of the Spanish edition).
From the top, we followed a little path that hugged the mountainside to one of the ancient storehouses. Built at high altitudes where temperatures are lower meant that food could be preserved for longer. From here we scrambled down the hill and back to the valley floor where we pottered around the market before taking a coffee and hot chocolate in one of Ollantaytambo’s many cafes. What we hadn’t realised until later was that just around the corner was a Choco Museo which other families might benefit from knowing in advance.
The town of Ollantaytambo itself retains its original grid layout and has some of the oldest continuously occupied housing in South America. The water supply system built by the Incas also remains in use today.
One place I would have liked to visit in Ollantaytambo, but sadly ran out of time was Awamaki – a nonprofit social enterprise that trains and supports women artisans within the community. They run cultural tours and half-day workshops such as cooking and woodcarving, and also have a homestay.
Restaurants in Ollantaytambo
We had lunch at Hotel Pakaritampu in Av. Ferrocarril which was within walking distance to the station, our next port of call on our Journey to Machu Picchu. We were also recommended the following restaurants:
Café Mayu which is conveniently positioned next to the train station making it a good spot for those catching a train to Aguas Calientes. It offers pasta, sandwiches, salads and brownies.
Heart’s Cafe, located on Avendio Ventiderio (before the bridge leading to the ruins and at the intersection of the road leading to the train station) offers ‘healthy, homely and hearty meals with a warm and friendly atmosphere’. All profits go to Living Heart, an organisation that supports local communities and women in need. +51 84 436 726 +51 84 204 013 Opening Times: Every Day – 7:00am to 10:00pm (Note: last order at 9:00pm)
Uchucuta Restaurant holds the number one spot on Tripadvisor (at time of publishing) and features fine Peruvian dining and good service. Ventiderio S/N, 12:00 pm – 10:00 pm
How long to spend at Ollantaytambo
You should allow 1.5 to 2 hours to explore the ruins at Ollantaytambo and another 1 or 2 hours for the central market and town.
Getting to Ollantaytambo
Ollantaytambo is located in the western end of the Sacred Valley, about 20 minutes drive from Urubamba.
Take a video tour of Ollantaytambo in The Sacred Valley, Peru.
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