It’s our opinion that if you make the journey to Machu Picchu without taking a day trip to Ollantaytambo, you’re really missing out on a wonderful example of Inca architecture. Ollantaytambo is not only the place where many people catch the Machu Picchu train, but it’s also a former Inca administrative center.
It’s worth it just to spend a few hours here.
By the way, the town’s name is pronounced “Oh-yan-tay-TAM-bo,” but the locals just call it Ollanta (“Oh-YAN-tah”).
What’s special about Ollantaytambo?
Ollantaytambo was the imperial palace of Pachacuti, one of the most important Inca emperors. In addition to being his estate, the town also provided lodging for the Inca nobility as they traveled throughout the Sacred Valley.
The town is dwarfed by two massive Inca ruins and the town itself is one of the best surviving examples of how Incas planned cities.
It’s not only an excellent place to get away from the hustle and bustle of Cusco, Ollantaytambo is also the place where many travelers will start their Machu Picchu trek.
Day trips from Cusco: We’ve put together a list of our favorite places to see around the Sacred Valley. Check it out right here. We think this is one of the best lists out there (and yes, we’ve done them all).
Things to see in Ollantaytambo
Ollantaytambo is not a large Peruvian town. But don’t let the size fool you. There’s a lot packed into it. When you arrive, you’ll either be dropped at the main square (Plaza de Armas) or, if you’re arriving by train, at the train station.
If you’re arriving by train, make your way up the hill. You can take a taxi or a tuk-tuk if you’re carrying a large amount of luggage. Otherwise, it’s a 10-minute walk. Once you reach the intersection at the top of the hill, on your left will be the market and ruins, and on your right will be the main square.
Here’s what you will see on your day trip to Ollantaytambo.
The town itself
Ollantaytambo is a great example of the way that the Inca planned cities. It’s laid out in a grid of two long streets intersected perpendicularly by seven others.
As you walk up and down the streets and weave in and around the town, you’ll notice the cobblestone streets, drainage systems, Inca walls, and a town that’s existed for about 700 years.
Even if you’re only coming to Ollantaytambo to catch a train, or if you have a couple of hours while waiting for the train back to Cusco, take the time to wander around and see this lovely place.
When you’re done, and if time permits, there are plenty of places on the square to sit, have a coffee, and people-watch.
The terraces at Ollantaytambo
One of the things the Inca were really good at was farming. More specifically, they were kinda genius at figuring out what would grow at what altitude and what soil was best for each.
At Ollantaytambo, they took advantage of what they learned over time about variations in altitude, humidity, and elevation to plant a variety of crops. The terraces here are of much higher quality than many that you’ll see throughout the Sacred Valley.
Temple Hill in Ollantaytambo is commonly known as “The Fortress.” But it’s not a fortress at all. It is exactly what it says – a hill of worship where the Incas built places to practice religion.
Temple Hill is subdivided into three sections. The first, which you see right in front of you as you approach, is the main section. On the left (south) is the Temple section, and on the right (north) is the funerary section. The main thing you’ll encounter in this area is the Temple of the Sun, where you’ll also find the Wall of the Six Monoliths (above).
Most archaeologists believe that Temple Hill was either unfinished or was undergoing a major renovation, as evidenced by stones that remain strewn on the ground in the area.
Inka Watana / Intihuatana
Want to continue your journey with a 45-minute hike even further up a hill? Then Inka Watana is for you.
It’s the highest point in Ollantaytambo. No one is really 100% certain what it was used for.
Some think it might have been an astrological observatory. And given its place at the highest point, along with the fact that huatana generally translates to “sun clock,” then that seems like a good explanation to me.
The storehouses / granaries
High up on the hill at the opposite side of the valley are the granaries or storehouses. This trek is not for the faint of heart. In fact, there is even a sign at the bottom of the trail advising against it. And if you don’t speak Spanish, they even throw in a skull and crossbones to discourage you from attempting it.
We sort of feel a bit awkward for recommending the granaries because, well, we didn’t do it. But it’s not because we didn’t want to. It’s just that by the time we were done with the main part of the site, we were kinda wiped out already. Next time.
And seriously, don’t do it without proper footwear. There is a lot of loose rock here and there are no guardrails. Definitely no flip-flops or sandals.
For those who are a little more adventurous and have more time, it’s worth the trip to see where all this stone came from in the first place. About 5 kilometers from Ollantaytambo are the quarries – Mullup’urku, Kantirayoq, and Sirkusirkuyoq.
To get to these quarries, you must cross the Urubamba River over the Inca Bridge. Follow the trail for a couple of hours and you’ll enter the area where the stones for the Ollantaytambo temples came from.
If you want to go all the way to the Inka Sun Gate, add a few more hours to make the round-trip hike.
Here are a few answers to some of the most common questions we’ve read or heard about Ollantaytambo.
1. How do you get to Ollantaytambo?
Getting to Ollantaytambo from Cusco isn’t difficult at all. Just about every tourist who visits Cusco ends up here eventually because most of them are going to Machu Picchu. In other words, it’s a popular route.
To get here, you can either spend the money for the PeruRail train to Ollantaytambo or catch a colectivo from Cusco for about S/. 10.
On our trip to Machu Picchu, we traveled to Ollantaytambo in a colectivo and took the train the rest of the way. We stopped in Ollantaytambo for a day on our way back.
A note about trains: The Machu Picchu train (or basically any train heading in that direction from Cusco) is going to be very expensive. Those of you doing Machu Picchu tours are a captive audience here. So if you want to take the train, you’re gonna have to dish out for it!
To get from Ollantaytambo to Cusco, you can either take a colectivo at the train station or find one on the main square. The cost is roughly S/. 10, though you can sometimes find them for less.
2. How much does it cost?
Although we’ve heard about people getting in for free or at a discount, there is officially no one-time admission charge to get into Ollantaytambo. To visit the park, you must buy the Cusco Tourist Ticket (Boleto Turistico). You can get it at Ollantaytambo itself or at any of the 16 Cusco Tourist Ticket sites in the Sacred Valley.
Note: If you don’t have a ticket, you’ll need to have your passport with you to purchase one.
The full ticket is S/. 130 (S/. 70 for students). However, you can also buy a partial ticket for S/. 70 that includes Ollantaytambo (and no student discount). It has a validity of only two days. To see all the Cusco Tourist Ticket options, go here and find the heading “Partial Ticket Circuit III: Sacred Valley.”
3. How long should you spend here?
People who come to Ollantaytambo are either:
- Arriving by colectivo to catch the train to Machu Picchu
- Coming back from Machu Picchu by train to catch a colectivo to Cusco
- Visiting Ollantaytambo as a day trip from Cusco
If you’re doing #1 or #2, we’d suggest adding at least a half-day to your itinerary to stay in Ollantaytambo. If you’re only interested in the terraces and Temple Hill, that should be enough time to see it.
But we suggest adding a couple of days. Seeing the quarries, along with a hike to the granaries, will give you a much richer experience in this town. Plus, you can do it at a far more relaxed pace. Eat at a few of the restaurants, see the market, and enjoy a coffee at one of the cafes.
Although Ollantaytambo has a different vibe than a place like Pisac, they’re both similar in that they’re generally well-developed for tourism. Ollantaytambo is somewhere that you might even prefer to stay for a while if larger cities like Cusco aren’t your thing.
Further reading: Cusco might be touristy, but it’s also a lot of fun. Check out our post on the top things to do in Cusco.
4. Are there good places to eat in Ollantaytambo
Yes. We didn’t eat out much in Ollantaytambo. Before we came here, we didn’t even know if there was much available. But there is. You’ll find coffee shops and restaurants all over town. I won’t list any here because I don’t want to recommend food we haven’t tried. Just know that you won’t have trouble finding things to eat.
Vegetarians, vegans, and those who eat gluten-free can find options as well.
One thing we do recommend (decidedly not vegetarian) is ayacucho – it’s the Peruvian version of meat on a stick and it’s delicious!
5. Should I stay overnight?
There are a few good reasons to stay overnight in Ollantaytambo. It’s not a bad destination in and of itself as outlined above. But there are more practical reasons to stay here.
For a very reasonably overnight stay price, you can shave a couple of hours of driving off of your trip to Machu Picchu. You won’t have to wake up early in Cusco to catch the colectivo to Ollantaytambo.
But here’s an even better idea for those taking a trip to Machu Picchu: take the train from Ollantaytambo to Aguas Calientes and do your Machu Picchu trek early the next morning. After your visit, take a late afternoon or evening train from Aguas Calientes to Ollantaytambo and spend the night here. Then, get up the next day and spend several hours here exploring the ruins and relaxing in the village.
This itinerary is even better because it means that you can avoid getting back to Cusco late at night.
6. Places to stay
Hostel Apu Qhawarina: On our overnight trip to Ollantaytambo, we decided to stay at this place. We just wanted a hostel that was cheap and comfortable. And it was. You can see photos at the link. We paid about $18 for one night and the simple breakfast was free.
Sauce Ollantaytambo: For something a little better, this is a good hostel (more like a hotel). The rooms are nice. When you arrive, ask for a room that has an amazing view of the ruins.
Casa Blanca Lodge: Just a short walk from the ruins, the Casa Blanca Lodge is in a fairly quiet location on Avenue Estudiante. Good WiFi, free tea and coffee at the front desk, and bike rental on-site.
Sky Lodge Adventure Suites: Adventurous people (with deeper pockets) should definitely check this place out. You’ll stay in a pod on the side of a cliff! For $500 a night. How we wish we could have afforded this!
7. Ollantaytambo hours
Ollantaytambo Archaeological Park is open 7 days a week from 7:00 am to 6:00 pm. Though we think you should try to start as early in the morning as possible to avoid potential crowds from the trains from Cusco and Aguas Calientes.
They start arriving at around 11 am.
8. What’s the best time of year to visit?
We spent two months in Peru. We arrived in late August and spent the bulk of September and October in the country. Even though we knew it was the dry season, we were still surprised at how little rain we experienced. In 61 days, it rained only twice during the day and a couple of times overnight.
The benefit of visiting during this time of year is that it is moderately cool. This makes Peru a perfect destination for hikers. The wet season in Peru runs from December to late about April. If you’re here at that time, prepare for rain in the afternoon.
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Michael is originally from Canada but now resides in Atlanta, GA with his husband, Halef, who also writes here. He is a Couchsurfing expert. Michael has traveled to over 50 countries learning how to experience more for less as he travels.