Peru

4 reasons to stay in Ollantaytambo, Peru

Ollantaytambo, Peru

Many people will visit the Wonder of the World that is Machu Picchu and other popular sights in Peru’s Sacred Valley while based in the colonial city of Cusco. There’s nothing wrong with that per se; I just think there’s a better plan of action to be had and that is the tiny town of Ollantaytambo, or Ollanta as it is affectionately known. (Spanish lesson-remember the double “ll”in the Spanish alphabet is pronounced like a “ya”sound so “Oyan-tay-tambo.”)

Cusco has a big city feeling, Ollanta does not.

I’ve lived and traveled throughout Latin America so upon arrival into Cusco (that’s where we flew from Lima), the scenes before me did not surprise me at all (i.e. mobs of people, bad traffic fumes, open air markets selling every type of produce you could imagine, trash everywhere). Cusco’s airport is also not immediately near to the stunning Plaza de Armas where most tourists stay so visitors won’t be greeted with the most serene of images. I always have an open mind while traveling but I know that many do not so I could see some people being put off by Cusco in those initial moments. Although it was nothing compared to Lima’s, the traffic was still pretty bad in Cusco too.

The population of Ollanta is around 2,000. While you will certainly see tourists there, it’s nowhere near as many as you see in Cusco. Situated at the northwestern edge of the Sacred Valley, this small town offers more of an authentic feeling in my opinion. More than half of the population speaks Quechua, the indigenous language, the locals are “right there” in terms of them doing their own business (i.e. not just serving tourists), and it’s just a sleepy, laid back place. In Ollanta itself, there is one road in and one road out; two roads in one direction if a driver deems another driver as going too slow.

Ollantaytambo, Peru

Ollanta’s location can’t be beat

While staying in Ollanta, we made two day trips, one to Machu Picchu, the other to two famous sights in the Sacred Valley (the agricultural terraces at Morray and the salt mines in Salineras). Both trips took a lot less time than if we had been coming from Cusco which is further away. To me, a plus when traveling is being able to spend less time in the car getting to your final destination.

The agricultural terraces of Moray

The agricultural terraces of Moray

The train station is “right there”

Unless you’re doing the Inca Trail, the most popular way to get to Machu Picchu is via train. While you can catch the train to Machu Picchu from both Cusco and Poroy, Ollanta is the nearest train station to Peru’s most famous ruins. The journey from the Ollanta train station to Aguas Calientes (where the train terminates for Machu Picchu) is only 90 minutes, versus being two hours or more when traveling from Cusco or Poroy. Staying in Ollanta meant that the day we traveled to Machu Picchu, we literally just needed to leave our hotel and walk right outside to the train station (our hotel was right there). No need to hire a driver to take us to the train station or leave even earlier than our 5:07 AM departure time.

Ollantaytambo, Peru

Ollanta ruins

I’ll admit, prior to researching Peru I had never heard of the Ollanta ruins. From a worldwide perspective, Machu Picchu gets all the attention. However, after having visited, I have to say it was pretty incredible to stay right in the same town as such impressive ruins. Our guide called them the “mini Machu Picchu” and yet I think they were just as special and unique in their own right. Between their dramatic location (they offer a great vantage point on the valley below), their religious significance (you apparently want to be here on the summer and winter solstices to see some incredible imagery), and the fact that Ollanta was one of the few battle grounds where the indigenous people actually beat the Spanish conquistadors, it’s a pretty neat place to check out.

Ollantaytambo, Peru

Don’t get me wrong, Cusco is still a great place to visit and stay (I myself spent two nights there). But I think when it comes to delving into the world of the Inca Empire, Ollantaytambo is a much better choice and that much more fulfilling and memorable.

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24 Comments

  • Reply
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  • Reply
    Becca Niederkrom
    September 10, 2014 at 5:43 pm

    Beautiful pictures and insight on the town. I love finding tips like these because I like finding towns off the beaten path to stay in so I can dive in to the people and everyday-ness of a new place.
    Becca Niederkrom recently posted…The Brilliant Way to Separate an Egg YolkMy Profile

    • Reply
      Julie
      September 12, 2014 at 9:44 pm

      Thanks Becca! While I’m sure there are other Peruvian towns in the Sacred Valley that are even more “authentic” (i.e. devoid of any gringos), to me it still offered a pretty unique experience, especially with it being my first time to Peru! When the trains would come in, you saw a lot of foreigners, but then at other times it was you and the locals which was great!

  • Reply
    Kelly @ Tasting Page
    September 10, 2014 at 7:34 pm

    Love the mini-Machu Picchu. What a great hidden find – and I think that’s what traveling is all about!

    • Reply
      Julie
      September 12, 2014 at 9:45 pm

      Prior to going I had read a little bit about the ruins there and yet on the day of our tour, our guide explained how they were on a scale comparable to Machu Picchu which was quite amazing as I had no idea! And yes, I definitely agree with your statement! Discovery is the best gift a traveler can have!

  • Reply
    Jenn Turnbull
    September 10, 2014 at 8:59 pm

    Great tips! It seems everyone stays in Cusco but Ollanta seems to have just as much, if not more, to offer in addition to being closer to Machu Picchu. I always prefer staying in more chill places and getting to see what “real” life is like when traveling. Can’t wait to hear what you thought of the rest of your trip!

    • Reply
      Julie
      September 12, 2014 at 9:46 pm

      I think it’s really important to have the experience of both-the hustle and bustle of the big colonial city and also a more rural stay, one that is definitely more authentic! And yes, it being so near to Machu Picchu was an enormous benefit! Ollanta is definitely chill which made it all the more likable in my opinion! Stay tuned, plenty more posts coming 🙂

  • Reply
    Lance
    September 16, 2014 at 11:12 pm

    We had precious little time in Ollantaytambo on our trip to Peru. In fact, it was probably our biggest regret. We stayed mid-valley and ended up doing a lot of backtrackng. Doing it over again, we would have stayed at least one night in Ollantaytambo.
    Lance recently posted…Wurzburg – the Little Gem on the River MainMy Profile

    • Reply
      Julie
      September 17, 2014 at 10:03 pm

      It was a great place to be based! I definitely drooled over some of the fancier hotels in the Sacred Valley but with its proximity to the train, key sights in the valley, and of course the Ollanta ruins, it was a terrific location. As travelers, we are forever living and learning 🙂

  • Reply
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    • Reply
      Leslie Baker
      September 18, 2016 at 3:25 pm

      Thank you for this blog. We are not fans of tours and I knew there had to be a better way to explore this area on our own. We will be staying in Ollanta and exploring from there.

      • Reply
        Julie
        September 19, 2016 at 8:14 am

        My pleasure Leslie and thanks for commenting! I agree, the all-day group tours lead a lot to be desired. Being based in Ollanta is a terrific way to go, not to mention, private tours/drivers to take you around to the sites in the Sacred Valley are a bargain compared to many US and European destinations. Have a wonderful trip!

  • Reply
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  • Reply
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    January 7, 2015 at 8:18 am

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  • Reply
    Brenda
    June 8, 2015 at 12:37 am

    Hi Julie
    Wondering if you could tell me the name of the hotel/hostel you stayed in while in ollantaytambo and would you recommend organising accommodation before you get their or just once i arrive?

    • Reply
      Julie
      June 14, 2015 at 7:48 am

      Hi Brenda-Sorry for the tardy reply! I’ve been out of the country for the past week and was (on purpose) off the tech grid. The name of the hotel was El Albergue-it was very reasonably priced although I even splurged for doing the more deluxe accommodations even though by US/European standards it was still quite inexpensive. I’m someone who would always book accommodations before I go no matter the destination. I usually have more of a fixed time period in which I travel and would never want to chance it. I know that El Albergue is quite popular and does get booked up on certain dates. I think as a whole, being a smaller town, there won’t be as many accommodation options as say in a place like Cusco so I would probably reserve prior to going. Good luck and hope this helps!

  • Reply
    Pamela Silva
    July 27, 2015 at 12:40 pm

    Hi Julie,

    do you recommend staying in Ollantaytambo if I want to go to Maras?

    Thank you
    Pamela

    • Reply
      Julie
      July 27, 2015 at 9:34 pm

      Hi Pamela! Yes, Ollantaytambo is a perfect base for exploring sites like Maras. It’s a lot closer to attractions in the Sacred Valley than Cusco and it definitely provides a more unique tourist experience than Cusco (Cusco is a lot bigger, has scores of tourists etc). I still stayed in Cusco but I’m glad I started my trip to Peru in Ollanta. Maras was one of the three sites I visited as part of a private day trip I arranged (I also visited Moray and the ruins at Ollantaytambo). I feel too many visitors skip the Sacred Valley since they’re more focused on the Inca Trail hike. But it’s a shame as they’re utterly spectacular!

      • Reply
        Jenny
        February 21, 2016 at 12:16 am

        My son, 17, and I get into Cusco at 7 pm on a Mon. night and I booked a room in Ollya instead..So we will take a taxi. Should we get a guide for the ruins and go to other places in Sacred Valley on Tues? I also made reservations for room in Auguas Calientes for Tues and have tix for MP & HP early Weds morning..Again I still have not hired a guide yet..Any suggestions for this? We are outdoorsy people from Jackson Hole and want a sacred authentic experience that is simple and not too touristy..we are pretty savvy, but still foreigners that want to do it right. Weds afternoon we will go back to Cusco and stay a night there.

        • Reply
          Julie
          February 21, 2016 at 9:02 pm

          Hi Jenny!

          Thanks for commenting and how awesome you’ll be going on such an amazing trip with your son. I would definitely arrange a private driver and/or guide in advance to take you around the Sacred Valley. It’s too rural and remote an area so there’s not really any public transportation and the sites are somewhat spread out from each other. I arranged a guide for the Sacred Valley sites in advance through our hotel so you could definitely do the same although I also found a ton of listings on TripAdvisor. It will obviously be cheaper to just hire a driver versus someone who also acts as a guide/speaks English, etc.

          As for in MP itself, when you get to the gates of MP (where you present your tickets and passports), there are licensed guides waiting around there (almost to the point of mild annoyance, since there will be many offering their services). You can just arrange one then. I wouldn’t probably hire someone in Agas Calientes itself. I know at the site itself, they have to be licensed.

          Also, just be careful with the altitude (don’t over exert yourselves in the first couple of days). My husband and I took pills to prevent altitude sickness and I would recommend it as we didn’t suffer any of the effects that a lot of travelers encounter. Cusco is the toughest as it’s over 10,000 feet (the SV sites are around the 9,000 mark if I remember correctly).

          I’d also try to learn a little Spanish, more for in the SV. In MP and Cusco, you will be surrounded by tourists 🙂

          Have a wonderful trip and please feel free to ask any other questions if you have them!

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    Candice
    May 4, 2016 at 7:45 am

    Hi!

    I will be visitng Peru in a week and opted to do two night in Ollayantambo before heading to AC. I will be there on a Sun/Mon and was wondering if everything closes up on Sundays or will it still be fun to explore the area and have options for restaurants etc? Thank you!

    • Reply
      Julie
      May 4, 2016 at 8:24 am

      Hi Candice! Thanks for commenting and how exciting you’ll be heading to Peru soon!

      While tiny, Ollantaytambo is still very much a tourist mecca and you’ll find that just about everything is open seven days a week (for all the tourists passing through/staying). I actually visited the Ollantaytambo ruins on a Sunday so you’re good to go there and I highly recommend visiting as they were fantastic (and just so interesting since prior to planning my trip to Peru I had never heard of them). I can’t speak highly enough of the restaurant inside of El Albergue hotel and another one that I wanted to try but missed was Hearts Cafe (it supports and helps the local women there).

      If you have any other questions please feel free to ask, otherwise have a great time!

  • Reply
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