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9 REASONS TO VISIT OLLANTAYTAMBO
IN THE SACRED VALLEY OF THE INCAS, PERU
There is a hidden gem in the Sacred Valley of the Incas that not many know about and it is Ollantaytambo.
Here are 9 reasons why you need to visit Ollantaytambo.
OLLANTAYTAMBO WAS THE ROYAL ESTATE OF
Around the mid-15th century, the Inca emperor Pachacuti conquered the town of Ollantaytambo and incorporated it and its surrounding regions into his personal estate.
Under Pachacuti’s ownership, town of Ollantaytambo went through an extensive rebuilding and improving process starting with the construction of elaborate terraces and superior irrigation system.
Eventually, Pachacuti started to built his royal retreat on the hill overlooking the town of Ollantaytambo and the Urubamaba Valley.
Pachacutec used the Colla people from Lake Titicaca to quarry the massive stones from the other side of the valley located about 4 km (2.5 miles) away for his royal estate.
Interestingly, the Colla are said to have deserted halfway through the work. It explains why there are so many unfinished blocks lying about the site.
As a matter of fact, it is hard for me to imagine how these massive blocks weighing between 70 and 80 tons were moved from the quarry to site of the royal estate. It seems logical that an elaborate system of sleds, log rollers, levers, pulleys, and the power of hundreds and even thousands of men were used in the process.
Above all, the mystery still remains how these massive blocks were so perfectly fitted together.
OLLANTAYTAMBO SERVED AS A STRONGHOLD FOR
MANCO INCA YUPANQUI
DURING THE SPANISH CONQUEST OF PERU
Ollantaytambo has a very strategic location. It is surrounded by mountains and the main access routes run along the Urubamba Valley.
In 1537, after Manco Inca Yupanqui had lost the battle at Sacsayhuaman, he retreated first to Calca then to Ollantaytambo.
WHO WAS MANCO INCA YUPANQUI?
Manco Inca Yupanqui (1516-1544) was an Inca Prince and later a puppet ruler of the Inca Empire under the Spanish.
Initially Manco Inca worked with the Spanish who had put him on the throne of the Inca Empire. Yet, he later came to realize that the Spanish would usurp the Empire and fought against them.
He spent his last few years in open rebellion against the Spanish. He was eventually treacherously murdered by Spaniards to whom he had given sanctuary.
Ollantaytambo, specifically, the Temple Hill itself with its high terraces provided a line of defense against invaders. It became the stronghold for Manco Inca during the Spanish conquest of Peru.
Hernando Pizarro (Francisco’s half brother) pursued Manco Inca with a force of 70 Spanish cavalry and hundreds of Spanish and indigenous foot soldiers.
Manco Inca prepared an ingenious and unexpected defense. When the Spanish troops arrived at the base of Ollantaytambo, Manco rained arrows, spears, boulders, and slingshots down onto the attackers.
More importantly, he opened up channels from the Rio Patacancha which flooded the ground behind the Spanish. This sent the horses of the Spanish into panicked disarray and forced them to retreat. The battle would prove to be the most important battle ever won by the Inca against the conquistador.
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OLLANTAYTAMBO HAS THE MOST SUMPTUOUS CONSTRUCTION
Ollantaytambo site is separated into four distinct areas: the temple hill, the ceremonial area, the agricultural sector, the ancient town. While there are yet other things to do in Ollantaytambo, the Inca ruins really are the reason you should visit.
THE TEMPLE HILL OF OLLANTAYTAMBO
The Temple Hill is a steep hill on top of which the Incas built a ceremonial center.
The Temple Hill is covered with a series of massive stepped agricultural terraces of the very finest stonework. Due to impressive character of these terraces, the Temple Hill is commonly known as the Fortress.
Take your time when you climb up the Temple Hill to the Ceremonial Area. The high altitude will leave you breathless in no time.
THE CEREMONIAL AREA OF OLLANTAYTAMBO
To access the Ceremonial Area of Ollantaytambo take either the stairway located on the west or east side of the Temple Hill.
The stairway will end on a terrace.
Next, turn left and follow the path along the Enclosure of the Ten Niches.
The Ceremonial Area was built out of cut and fitted stones, whereas the rest of the sections were made of fieldstones.
The Enclosure of the Ten Niches is also known as the Wall of the Ten Windows.
Once you pass the Wall of Ten Windows, walk through the doorway.
Next, follow the path to the Sun Temple.
Eventually, the path will take you to the area called the Sun Temple. Its main feature is a massive structure called the Wall of the Six Monoliths.
The wall is composed of the massive blocks of stone. Interestingly, the blocks are united by slim spacer stones. It is an unusual feature in Inca construction that has long puzzled the archaeologists.
OLLANTAYTAMBO’S AGRICULTURAL AREA
The valleys of the Urubamba and Patakancha Rivers along Ollantaytambo are covered by agricultural terraces or andenes.
They start at the bottom of the valleys and climb up the surrounding hills. They show a superior quality of craftsmanship. First of all, the supporting walls are made of cut stones which perfectly fit together. Second, they have much higher walls than any other Inca terraces.
The terraces were invaluable to Incas. They allowed farming on otherwise inaccessible terrain. They also allowed the Incas to take advantage of the different ecological zones created by variations in altitude.
The Incas built several storehouses or qullqas out of fieldstones on the hills surrounding Ollantaytambo.
Their location at high altitudes, where more wind and lower temperatures occur, defended their contents against decay. To enhance this effect, the Ollantaytambo’s qullqas feature ventilation systems.
Interestingly, grain was poured in the windows on the uphill side of each building, then emptied out through the downhill side window.
OLLANTAYTAMBO WAS BUILT IN THE SHAPE OF A LLAMA
My guide pointed out to me that Ollantaytambo was built in the shape of a llama. The llama was considered a sacred animal to the Inca.
It is not easy to see the shape of llama right away. So, I will trace it out for you. The llamas head is on the left at about where the Sun Temple is located. Its body comprises of the terraces that are stretching along the side of the hill. The steps form its legs.
OLLANTAYTAMBO VILLAGE MANAGED TO PRESERVE ITS
Notably, Ollantaytambo is a living Inca town. It remains almost unchanged despite the passage of time.
Ollantaytambo has narrow cobbled streets and fast flowing irrigation channels.
To stroll around the ancient village, start in the Plaza de Armas and wander for a few blocks along the narrow, cobblestone streets.
As you are meandering through, notice that each block consists of two ‘canchas’. Canchas are communal dwelling areas. They are one of the prominent features of Inca town planning.
Specifically, each cancha has one door that opens from the street and leads into a central courtyard. The buildings are grouped all around the courtyard.
Furthermore, Ollantaytambo was laid out in the form of a corn cob. It is one of the few surviving examples of an Inca grid system.
WHERE DOES THE NAME OLLANTAYTAMBO COME FROM?
The vilage of Ollantaytambo (pronounced O-yan-tai-tam-bo) is also called Ollanta (O-yan-ta) by the locals. It is kind of a tongue twister type of a name.
Legend has it that the village was named after a warrior named Ollanta. Ollanta’s family ruled the area during the Inca times. They were related by blood to the royal Inca line. Unfortunately, they were not full blooded Incas themselves.
Ollanta fell in love with the daughter of the Sapa (high) Inca of the time.
Although, Ollanta was a noble, however not a “true”, full bloodded Inca, then as a result the love affair was forbidden.
It was not until Ollanta saved one of the royal sons of the Sapa Inca from the Chanka people of the Apurimac region near Cusco, that his heroic deed gave Ollanta not only the hand of daughter of the Sapa Inca, but also resulted in the area being named after him.
THE GIGANTIC FACE OF VIRACOCHAN STARES DOWN AT YOU FROM THE PINKUYLLUNA MOUNTAIN
I think you will easily make out a gigantic profile of a face carved out of rock.
My guide told me that it was an Inca sculpture of Viracochan, the mythical messenger from Viracocha, the major creator-god of Peru.
Next to the sculpture are rows of ruined buildings originally thought to have been prisons but now considered likely to have been granaries.
THE PROFILE OF INCA WARRIOR FACE OUTLINES THE PINKUYIILUNA MOUNTAIN
If you continue on the trail and then look at the left side of the Pinkuyiiluna Mountain, you will see a carving of an outline of an Inca warrior face.
When the sun sets to the left of Pinkuylluna and the rays pass right along the eye of the carving, they mark the winter solstice.
Pinkuyiiluna in Quechua means flute, so called because the wind whistles around the rocks.
OLLANTAYTAMBO HAS THE MOST SOPHISTICATED IRRIGATION SYSTEM AND SPECTACULAR CEREMONIAL BATHS
Next, the trail will lead you down to an area called Incamisana. Incamisana includes irrigation channels carved out of the rock and ceremonial baths.
Water— and the control of water—had a ceremonial function for the Incas. They were able to control the flow of water with great precision, often bringing the water from springs way up in the mountains via stone channels and aqueducts, and finally to fountains and waterfalls at important points within their religious sites.
Further on, almost back towards the entrance of the site, you will come across Bano de la Nusta (The Princess’s Bath). Here you will notice the Andean Cross carved into the rock.
Lastly, make sure to stop by the Water Temple. Here, a window was built into the wall just above this solitary fountain. My guide told me that during the winter solstice on June 21st, the sun shines directly on the water. The Inca believed that this would give fertility to water which would nourish the crops in the valley.
THE ANDEAN CROSS KNOWN AS CHAKANA IS A PROMINANT FEATURE THROUGHOUT THE RUINS OF OLLANTAYTAMBO
You will find the outline of the Andean Cross throughout the ruins of Ollantaytambo. It is known as the Southern Cross or the Chakana.
My guide showed me the cross that she had and explained that it is sometimes referred to as the Inca Cross.
The word Chakana came from the Quechua word “chakay,” which means “to cross” or “to bridge”.
WHAT IS THE MEANING OF THE ANDEAN CROSS
As you can see, each corner has a three steps. The three-step staging is often found in Andean architecture. Subsequently, each step represents a world of the Universe:
- Uqhu Pacha – the underworld and the land of the dead
- Kay Pacha – the material world and land of the living
- Hanan Pacha – the celestial world of the gods
In turn, each world is identified with an embodiment:
- Snake – represents the underworld as well as wisdom
- Puma – represents the material world and also strength
- Condor – represents the celestial world and spiritual consciousness
In the time of the Inca, the circle in the middle of the cross represented Cusco. The Inca believed that Cusco was the center of the Universe. Cusco’s original name was Qusqo which meant the naval of the world.
The twelve points around the cross mark the twelve months of the year.
Finally, the four sides represent the four directions and the four corresponding elements, as well as four seasons:
- South representing fire
- West representing earth
- North representing air
- East representing water
Lastly, the three laws during the Inca Empire: do not lie, do not be lazy and do not steal.
HOW TO GET TO OLLANTAYTAMBO FROM CUSCO
Ollantaytambo sits at the northern end of the Sacred Valley at an altitude of 2,792 m (9,160 ft). It is located about 70 km from Cusco and 30 km from Machu Picchu.
You can get to Ollantaytambo by car, by foot, or take a train.
My hotel arranged a private transportation for me from Cusco to Ollantaytambo. It a included stops in Maras and Moray as well. The cost was $70.
Another convenient way to travel from Cusco to Ollantaytambo is by train. PeruRail is the railway operator in the southern Peru. Following is the website that will give you train schedules and prices: PeruRail
Also, make sure to check out my post of how to get to Machu Picchu by train. It has all the details about taking the train in the Sacred Valley of the Incas.
HOW MUCH DOES IT COST TO VISIT OLLANTAYTAMBO
To enter the site you need Cusco Tourist Ticket or Boleto Turistico.
Make sure to check out my post before buying the ticket. It lists all the options and prices and save you a ton of time trying to figure it out: Cusco Tourist Ticket Boleto Turistico – Is It Worth Buying?
WHAT ARE THE OPENING HOURS OF OLLANTAYTAMBO
The opening hours are from 7 am till 6 pm. In all honesty, arrive as early as possible to avoid the crowds and to have the place almost all to yourself.
HOW MUCH TIME TO NEED TO VISIT OLLANTAYTAMBO
You will probably need almost a full day to tour to see it all. Decide for yourself what you want to see and what to skip if you are short on time. However, keep in mind that with an altitude of 2,792 meters you will have to take things a bit slower than usual.
DO YOU NEED A GUIDE TO VISIT OLLANTAYTAMBO
You do not need a guide to tour the ruins of Ollantaytambo. However, the guides are available at the entrance.
Incidentally, I contemplated whether or not to hire a guide, yet, I decided to splurge and it was the best decision I made that day. She was an excellent guide, who with expertise walked me through the ruins of Ollantaytambo and explained the history of Peru’s finest archaeological site.
Interestingly, before we got started my guide inquired how I was adjusting to the elevation. I told her that I got very sick on my arrival to Cusco. Hence, she pulled out a bottle out of her bag and asked if she could pour some of the liquid on my hands and instructed me to inhale the fragrance. Needless to say, I was hesitant and I cautiously sniffed my hands. In all honesty, it smelled really good and refreshing. It was Colonia de Ruda.
INTREPID SCOUT’S POINTERS FOR VISITING OLLANTAYTAMBO
- Give yourself extra time when planning your visit to Ollantaytambo. The ruins of Ollantaytambo sit an altitude of 2,792 meters. You will feel breathless while climbing the Temple Hill.
- Make sure you have Cusco Tourist Ticket or Boleto Turistico. Check out my post and find out which option and price is right for you.
- Get to Ollantaytambo as early as possible to avoid the crowds.
- Finally, to help you with your planning process of your trip to Peru, make sure to check out my post: 1-Week Peru Itinerary (+BONUS: 3-Day Extension Itinerary to Peruvian Amazon Rainforest.
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