Ollantaytambo shouldn’t be just a quick pitstop on your journey to Machu Picchu as it has SO MUCH to offer curious tourists and wanderlusting travelers alike! As I was planning my journey to Machu Picchu, I ignorantly decided to use Ollantaytambo as a pitstop to get a good night’s rest before taking the train to Aguas Calientes. There was a time when I decided to jump over a turnstile while under the influence of alcohol, but thinking Ollantaytambo was nothing more than a quick stopover was a much bigger mistake. Yes, Machu Picchu can wait patiently for your benevolent presence as you soak in equally impressive monuments, amazing and jaw-dropping views, and friendly locals here in this town. Here are five reasons why Ollantaytambo should be a top priority destination:
1. Inca Fortress Ruins That (Dare I Say) RIVAL Machu Picchu
Upon arriving to Ollantaytambo, I couldn’t believe the grandiose ruins that bathed my eyes with such amazement. From the carefully crafted terraces, to the impressively interlocking blocks of granite, my gaze was pleasantly stuck in joyous disbelief. How in the world did the Incas build such incredible and architecturally impressive monuments, despite the fact that the Incas were only around for about 330 years. Must be aliens. Gotta be aliens.
Entrance to the ruins (without the tourist ticket you can purchase in Cusco) cost me about 70 soles, or about $25 USD. It’s good for two days, so definitely make sure to revisit the ruins early in the morning after spending a night in the town. You can definitely wander with more room to breathe as tourists don’t start arriving in hordes until noontime. The walk up through the terraces isn’t anything too difficult, but with the altitude it definitely makes you try to fit in some extra gasps of glorious oxygen. But making it up to the top, you’ll find yourself at the Templo Del Sol, among immense granite boulders that boggle the mind as to how they were cut so precisely, not to mention how to were even brought up there in the first place!
2. Inca Granaries of Pinkuylluna
On the other side of town, you can see ruins situated on the mountain that were once used as storehouses for food. The genius engineering and intelligence of the Incas is prevelant with these ancient refrigerators as shafts within the mountain served as cooling tunnels to keep food and resources preserved. Visting this side of Ollantaymbo is free, but the hike up to the top is not as paved and semi-perilous – it can give some cause for reason for the faint at heart!
Oh did I mention that the Incan god Tunupa is watching your every move, so make sure to be respectful!
3. Is This Real Life? Waking Up To Spectacular Views
This seems to be a common trend with places in the Sacred Valley, but the views here in Ollantaytambo are absolutely spectacular in any direction you look. And I feel like I’m doing it a disservice because I cannot find a better word than “spectacular” to describe it. The sometimes mysterious clouds that float gently in the wispy currents maneuver and try to avoid the playful mountains as they try to poke and tickle them.
I rested and recharged my batteries at a quaint hostel called Casa De Wow and was constantly wowed by the amazing view of the ruins right outside my window, most especially at night. Funny enough, Winn, one of the owners of the hostel, said that she was so wowed by the views and charmed by the lifestyle the town offered, that a three month visit in Peru transformed into a permanent fixture.
Can’t blame her – I almost didn’t want to leave, but there was this thing called Machu Picchu that I actually came to Peru to visit.
4. Despite The Influx of Tourism, Ollantaytambo Still Maintained Authenticity
Because of all the amazing things you can see and do here in Ollantaytambo, as well as it being a stop on Peru Rail on a journey to Aguas Calientes, markings of tourism is definitely present. In addition to seeing signs inviting you to eat fried guinea pig (cuy), there are equally just as many telling you of the presence of “Pizza” and “WIFI”. Understanding the need for this from the perspective of income for the town and it’s people, Ollantaytambo thankfully maintains its authentic charm as decorated by the homes and buildings found here. Cobblestone paths line the small alleyways where you can hear the soothing sounds of water that flows through the town’s irrigation system.
Lucky for me, I was present during the Señor de Choquekillka Festival, a multi-day festival celebrating their patron saint. Celebrations included singing, dancing, and parades dressed up in very traditional costumes, emblazoned with colorful trinkets and stones. People watching is a fun pastime of mine while traveling abroad, but this took it to a whole other level! Just a bit of warning for the light sleepers – the partying and celebration does go all night long! So get those ear plugs ready, or embrace the joyous festivities as you waddle into dream land!
5. Street Food Smorgasborg At The Plaza de Armas!
And of course, food is always a top reason to visit a destination and the street food here in Ollantaytambo doesn’t disappoint! From scrumptious and fresh-made bite size churros to grilled meat and potatoes, you can dine like royalty without breaking the bank! Street food here range from 3 to 5 soles, which is equivalent to about $1-1.50 USD, so you can certainly fill up your ravenous appetite with entrees and desserts to your heart’s, and tongue’s, content!
Having dined at both restaurants and street food alike, I found no real taste advantage between the two. I can only imagine that the ingredients are sourced from the same place, which most likely came from a nearby farm or garden. Free outdoor seating with magnificent views coupled with delectable and budget friendly culinary treats is truly a match made in travel heaven!