Ollantaytambo of the Beaten Track
Ollantaytambo of the Beaten Track.
This past weekend my boyfriend, our puppy Wayra and I went to Ollantaytambo for the weekend. Ollantaytambo is a town in the Sacred Valley close to Cusco with beautiful ruins and where many people catch the train to the inca citadel Machu Picchu. It’s known as the living town of the Inca’s in Peru because it was literally built on Incan terracing and foundations. The Incan irrigation system still works and water runs through stone canals on the sides of streets. In short, Ollantaytambo is gorgeous. With ruins not only peering down from their perches high on surrounding mountain sides, but also forming the very basis of the town center, Ollantaytambo is indeed as close as you can get to a living Incan town.
Most visitors don’t have the time to stay long in Ollantaytambo. They see the main ruins above the town, and then go by train to Machu Picchu. If you have more time in Ollantaytambo and are wondering what to do, there are plenty of other ruins and hiking opportunities that abound in the area as we discovered this weekend.
The first place we explored were the free ruins on the other side of town. Few people visit them in comparison to the main ruins that require the Tourist Ticket (Boleto Turístico). The main ruins in Ollantaytambo are located on the mountain overlooking the town on the lefthand side. There is a tourist market in front that sells all the same things you can find in any other tourist markets from Pisac to Cusco. On the mountain face on the other side of town are more ruins that you don’t need to pay for in order to visit. It’s a bit of a hot and dusty climb up, but the view of the town and the ruins on the other side is beautiful. My favorite part was an itty bitty little square building perched on the very edge of the cliff! If you go up, make sure to bring plenty of water. Especially in the afternoon, it can get hot as the evening sun beats down on the mountain side.
The following day we headed over to ‘el puente inca,’ the Incan bridge, located right below Ollantaytambo just off the road into town. On the other side of the Vilcanota river are more terraces and my boyfriend and I wanted to go check them out. We were looking for a lazy day of wandering and didn’t want to do any big hikes. Right after crossing the bridge, though, we found the lovely surprise of an actually marked, legitimate hiking trail. There was a large sign with a map pointing a route down the valley in the direction of Machu Picchu with various other ruins and sights along the way. There were even marked places for camping, although by their measurements you could easy do this hike in one day.
We took the left rather than the right, though, as we wanted a short easy stroll. We walked along the dirt road on the other side of the river until the next bridge crossing back over, about 2 hours of leisurely walking. Along the whole road we saw ruins, from terracing to small complexes of buildings. The day was beautiful, and the scenery idyllic with cows grazing about us and crops bursting out everywhere, even amongst the ruins.
The highlight of the day was at the end, though. As we got closer to a train station and the bridge back over the river to the main road, we noticed something strange on a cliff face on the other side of the valley. My theory was alien space pods. My boyfriend guessed ancient Egyptian time-travelers. The truth was possibly better. The three metal pods shaped like barrels that hang off the top of the cliff are a hotel. You rock climb up to them, and then spend the best night of your life watching the stunning view and waiting for the inevitable fall. Just kidding, they have to be perfectly safe. We were lucky to arrive just as a van pulled up and disgorged a group of tourists who started the assent up. Judging by their rapid pace, there must be pre-installed metal pegs in the rock face because they got half-way up very quickly. This place definitely ranks as one of the coolest hotels in the world. For those who can’t stomach rock climbing, there is also a path you can scramble up to get to the top and approach the pods from above.
After eating our snacks as we watched the small figures inch their way up the cliff, my boyfriend and I caught a bus to Urubamba and made our way back to Cusco, already with plans to come back for this intriguing hike we unintentionally stumbled across. And who knows, maybe we would find a few real alien pods along the way. Like the Nazca Lines, if you can’t explain it, just shout aliens!
Getting to Ollantaytambo: There are a few options. One is to take the train from Cusco, which can be expensive. If you are traveling on a budget, public transportation is the way to go. You can get a bus from Cusco to Urubamba in the Sacred Valley for S/.4.00 ($1.30). Go to the bus station on the street 21 de Mayo in Cusco. There you hear people calling out destinations such as Chinchero and Urubamba. At the garages there are minivans that go to Chinchero as well as the big blue buses that go to Urubamba and all stops along the way, including Chinchero and the road entrance to Maras and the Moray ruins. You buy your ticket at the counter, and then hop on the bus. It takes off once it is full, which usually doesn’t take long. Buses run from early in the morning to around 9:00 pm.
Once you’ve reached Urubamba you’ll pull into a parking-lot on the right-hand side of the station. Go through the bus station to the other side where there is another parking-lot. There you can find minivans for different destinations including Calca and Ollantaytambo. The one for Ollantaytambo costs S/.1.50 ($.0.50).
Hostels: Once in Ollantaytambo, you can find hostels everywhere. Cheap hostels in Peru go for about S/15 ($5) to S/.20 ($6.50) and up. If you don’t make a booking ahead of time, don’t worry. You should be able to find a place with an opening without any problem, although I am unsure if this holds true during the high season from June – August. The first hostel we went to had multiple rooms free and didn’t hesitate when we said we had a dog in tow as well.
Getting to the free ruins: To find the entrance start in the main plaza and take the main road into town that you came in on. (If you are standing in the plaza facing the ruins, it is the road in the upper right hand corner of the plaza). Go down this road and take the first left hand road onto a pedestrian-only stone lined alley. You will find the entrance to the ruins on your right after about two or three blocks. These ruins are open til 4:30 pm but the guard at the top will push you down starting at about 4:00 pm.
Getting to the Incan bridge: The ‘Incan bridge’ is a suspension bridge across the Vilcanota. Get there by taking the main, the one and only, road out of Ollantaytambo. The one you came in on that goes up through those big terraces and into the town. Follow the road to the bottom of the terraces. The main road curves to the left and the cobblestones turn to pavement. A dirt road forks off toward the right. You can see the bridge from here just a little ways down the dirt road.
Getting back to Urubamba: You can catch a van from Ollantaytambo to Urubamba right outside the market. If you do the same walk down the dirt road to the next bridge back over the rive, there is a bus stop there and you can catch a van either back to Ollantaytamo or to Urubamba from there.