Visit one of the last remaining cities of the Inca Empire, Ollantaytambo, an ancient town in the Sacred Valley that is filled with archaeological ruins. Located to the north of Cusco on the train line to Machu Picchu, Ollantaytambo is the perfect rest stop on your journey to or from your Machu Picchu experience.
The town usually attracts day trippers from Cusco. But it is increasingly attracting overnight guests who stay here after their Sacred Valley tour en route to Machu Picchu, or after walking the Inca Trail.
You can also stop their before catching the train to Machu Picchu with a number of quality and budget hotels for you to stay in.
What to see
Second only to Machu Picchu in splendor, Ollantaytambo was the temporary capital for the Manco Inca after the fall of Cusco during the Spanish conquest. During this period of turmoil, the settlement, which up until that point was primarily religious, was turned into a defensive fortress. This grand site held out against the Spanish until the Inca retreated to a more fortified position in the forests.
A view from the Massive Sacred Pink Stones at the top of the fortress will give you the vantage point to see the impressive Inca town below. The town is laid out on as a grid shaped in a trapezoid (the trapezoid was a sacred design element for the Inca), and it relatively unchanged since Inca times.
The town and farm terraces are irrigated by canals. Their advanced water system allowed them to farm on otherwise unarable land. They also diverted the Urubamba River to serve their defense needs.
They constructed large storehouses to keep produce for the winter months. The houses were build in the highest parts of the town, where it is coldest, and constructed so the cool wind can flow through, preserving the produce in a cool dry place.
Where to stay – Sacred Valley Hotels
The town has developed a number of comfortable accommodations that make a stay in Ollantaytambo after a long Inca Trail trek the perfect way to relax.
The vintage El Albergue Hotel is the oldest in the Sacred Valley area, and dates back to 1929. Located right on the train tracks, it has an upscale, gourmet restaurant with open kitchen (rated number 1 on Trip Advisor for restaurants).
They also recently finished remolding all the rooms throughout, with each having lots of character and a view over a courtyard with gardens. The best feature is the complimentary eucalyptus sauna.
The Pakaritampu Hotel is only a five minute walk from the train station and is one of the newest most modern hotels in Ollantaytambo, with expansive lawns and gardens. Listed as a four star hotel, it has striking common areas and grounds but lacks the rustic elegance or vintage character that you would find in El Albergue.
Another hotel you could consider is the Hotel Sauce, only a 10 minute walk from the train station and with the best views of the ruins in the town. Centrally located right off the Plaza de Armas, the property has easy access to some of the best historic sites in town. But, it does not have the serene gardens or charming character you would find at the El Albergue or Pakaritampu hotels.
Where to eat
The El Albergue, at the hotel listed above, is a contemporary version of Andean cuisine. The Mayupata Restaurant, at Calle la Convencion, has really great wood fired pizzas and tasty Italian food.
There are also a number of restaurants around the central Plaza de Armas. I ate a fantastic 3 course menu lunch for only $5 at the Camino de Inca restaurant there. The host was kind enough to let me leave my bags securely in the restaurant while I explored the ruins, which is great when you have a large case!
Top travel tip
The view from the top of the ruins at Ollantaytambo at sunset is outstanding: the valley turns golden from the reflection off the hillsides, and bright greens from terraced agriculture that goes for miles.