Ollantaytambo turned out to be one of my favorite little towns in Peru. After paying the small village of Pisac in the Sacred Valley a visit, I decided that I needed to explore more of the villages just outside of Cusco. I visited Chinchero, Urubamba, Yucay, and more. However, most of these paled in comparison to Ollantaytambo.
Popular among travelers as the gateway to Machu Picchu, Ollantaytambo is definitely much more set up as a tourist town. However, it is impossible to deny both its natural beauty and the beauty of its historic streets and architecture. Surrounded by mountains in every direction, the cobbled streets and tiled roofs of Ollantaytambo contrast to the lush scenery around it. A quick hike up to the ruins of Ollantaytambo or Pinkuylluna will quickly become one of your favorite views in all of Peru.
Although few ruins can rival Machu Picchu, Ollantaytambo and Pisac are two of the only places in the Cusco region that might even come close. Another perk of Ollantaytambo is that it is very easily accessible to travelers. It is only a 10 soles colectivo ride from Cusco, or even cheaper depending on where in the Sacred Valley you currently are. It cost me 2 soles to get here from Urubamba, which was only a 6 soles ride from Cusco.
The Best Things To Do In Ollantaytambo
Ollantaytambo Archaeological Site
The cool thing about this archaeological site is that you can see it right from town. I hopped off the colectivo in the Plaza de Armas of Ollantaytambo and was immediately greeted with these majestic terraced ruins.
To get here, you just walk in the direction of the ruins and then enter. That sentence really wasn’t even necessary, was it? Seriously, the ruins are impossible to miss. Just walk towards them and you are there. Show them your ticket or buy a ticket and then begin your exploration of this massive archaeological complex. Make sure to reach Inka Watana at the very top, as well. It is definitely a bit of a hike but it is worth it to see as much of these ruins as you can, and the panoramic views of the Sacred Valley is one of the best you’ll get.
One thing to note about the Ollantaytambo Archaeological Site was the entry fee. I’m a very slow-moving traveler, so even the 10-day comprehensive tourist ticket seemed like a lot despite its great value. You either pay 70 soles ($22) for a partial 2-day ticket or 130 soles ($40) for the complete ticket to all the sites for 10 days. Don’t get me wrong, $40 is worth the money if you manage to see all of the sites. Shit, on its own, Ollantaytambo itself might be worth that money.
But as a budget backpacker, there is something appealing about the free hike across town from the archaeological complex. It also boasts impressive Incan ruins and an unbeatable view of the city, valley, mountains, and Ollantaytambo’s archaeological site. And that hike is…
Pinkuylluna Ruins and Viewpoints
Pinkuylluna can be easily accessed right from Ollantaytambo town, with the entrance on Calle Lares. I did miss it the first two times because the more prominent sign on the entrance was about a pottery class or something. Pinkuylluna is open from 7:30 AM to 4:30 PM, which was quite frustrating because I had just settled at the top waiting for golden hour before the security started ushering us out.
No matter the time of day, the view is absolutely gorgeous. The Incan ruins also make for some beautiful framing for photos. With the clouds and mountains always changing the lighting, the view is ever-changing and you will inevitably take hundreds of photos.
Walk Along The Rivers
Ollantaytambo is flanked by the Rio Urubamba and the tributary Rio Patacancha. Both are beautiful to walk along and really add to the indescribable beauty of Ollantaytambo. Rio Patacancha runs along the town while the Rio Urubamba is mostly outside of the main area of town.
The Open-Air Artisan Market
Just outside of Ollantaytambo’s Archaeological Complex is an open-air tourist market. I didn’t actually buy anything but I always love walking through these little markets. The setting is stunning, with the market stalls surrounded by the mountains and at the heels of a massive archaeological site. At the very least, it makes for a beautiful area for a walk and some photos.
Eat at the Mercado Central
With Ollantaytambo being as touristy as it is, most of the restaurants will be over-priced and catering to gringos. In cases like this, especially when I’m on a budget, the local mercado is a godsend. Just a block away from the main plaza, the three-story market is full of everything you need if you want to stick to your budget. Fruits, vegetables, baked goods, grains, oats, lentils, you name it. If you don’t feel like cooking your own meals, the third floor is the dining area where you will find cheap lunch specials. I paid 6 soles (<$2) for one of the best mercado meals I’ve ever had, a delicious soup and aji de gallina, both generously portioned.
I came back to the market for dinner, but unfortunately, no one will be serving food at this time. However, just outside the market, you’ll find stalls selling big portions of food for cheap. Usually, it’ll be something like rice, noodles, French fries, and a piece of fried chicken for something like 5 soles. I also passed two restaurants offering dinner specials and a cheap Chifa place in this area so if you want to stick to a budget, the mercado area is still the spot to be.
Wander Through The Narrow Cobblestone Streets
I could not stop taking pictures in Ollantaytambo. There is something about these old-timey streets, colonial buildings, plethora of plants, and crazy lighting from the mountains that make every damn direction you look so beautiful. Seriously, every street here is photogenic. Ollantaytambo is a very walkable town and even though it is small, it never got old walking down the same streets over and over again.
Walk to Machu Picchu
Because why the hell not? I did say Ollantaytambo was the gateway to Machu Picchu but most people opt for the more comfortable way of getting there. Train or bus will get you to Aguas Calientes. Or your feet can take you the 32 kilometers there yourself. Some people do this, and there are a number of hostels and campgrounds in Ollantaytambo catering exactly to this crowd. I wasn’t initially planning on visiting Machu Picchu a second time due to the cost, but if you make it to Ollantaytambo and walk to Aguas Calientes, then basically the only cost will be the $50 entrance ticket, as opposed to the pricy train ride.
If you don’t feel like knocking out the near-marathon to walk to Machu Picchu, you can take a colectivo to where most people start walking along the train tracks. This is a much more manageable 2-4 hour walk and you will still get a plethora of views along the way.
Where To Stay in Ollantaytambo
Ollantaytambo is a popular destination for travelers of all types, considering that it is a frequent stop for people coming to and from Machu Picchu. Because of this, there are a wide range of accommodation options. You can camp for a small cost at some hostels, or book a gorgeous property to treat yourself as a pre or post-hike treat. I stayed at Casa Quechua for 20 soles ($6 US) a night including breakfast, although there are plenty of hostels to choose from.
How To Get To Ollantaytambo
From Cusco, you can head down past San Pedro Market and walk a few blocks down to the intersection of Pavitos and Avenida Grau. If you have Maps.Me, look up Combis to Ollantaytambo. It will cost you 10 soles or $3, making it a very affordable day trip or multi-day trip. I’d recommend staying at least a day or two here.
If you are coming from elsewhere in the Sacred Valley, you’ll likely be able to catch one or a combination of colectivos to Ollantaytambo. From Urubamba, a colectivo is only 2 soles, or about 60 cents. If you are in Pisac or Calca or Yucay or Chinchero, you will pass through Urubamba so catch a colectivo heading that way then catch one from Urubamba to Ollantaytambo.
You can also take guided tours if you are short on time, but I recommend against it. They are quite expensive for something that you can totally do on your own and at your own pace. A guided tour of the Sacred Valley is normally around 150 soles, not including the 70 or 130 soles ticket to enter the sites. From Cusco, you can find your own transportation to the main sites of Pisac, Moray, and Ollantaytambo for about 20-25 soles total roundtrip and spend as little or as much time as you want in each place. If you are like me, it’ll be closer to as much time as you want.