Ollantaytambo Peru: An Inca Archaeological Marvel


Written by Frankie Cameron

Have you ever heard of Ollantaytambo Peru? Ollantaytambo is an Inca archaeological site with massive terraces in the Sacred Valley of Southern Peru about 72 km (45 miles) from Cusco. Here, the residents preserve the traditions of the Inca living in the oldest occupied dwellings in South America.

In Quechua (the Inca Language) they pronounce it Ollan-tay-tambo. The name comes from the combination of two words. Tambo means ‘resting place’ and Ollanta was a famous Inca captain.

Emperor Pachacuti built the town and ceremonial center of Ollantaytambo during the reign of the Inca Empire. Picked strategically because it is a choke point in the valley. It is situated at an altitude of 2,792 m (9,160 ft) above sea level in the Andes Mountains. It also was the stronghold for the leader of the Inca resistance, Manco Inca Yupanqui, during the Spanish Conquest circa 1528. In 1536, Manco defeated the Spanish by flooding the plain from his position on the high terraces.

Why Visit Ollantaytambo

Tourists flock to Ollantaytambo because of the original structures that haven’t changed since the Incas built them in the 13th century. It makes you feel as if you have stepped back in time. 

It is also the main train station to Machu Picchu in the Urubamba region and where porters meet up with hikers to start the famous Inca Trail. For travelers who wish to spend a few days in Ollantaytambo before hiking to Machu Picchu, the town is the ideal location to acclimatize.

My Trip to Ollantaytambo Peru

My daughter and I travelled to Ollantaytambo as part of a day trip (during our 10-day stay) where we toured the Sacred Valley. Our guides from Condor Travel picked us up early at our hotel, the La Casona De Yucay. After spending the morning in Chinchero, we were off to Ollantaytambo for the afternoon.

The Town of Ollantaytambo Peru 

The ancient town of Ollantaytambo in the Sacred Valley (a zone named by the Incas because of its fertility). The climate here is relatively hot and dry, with sun for much of the year. The dry season lasts from April to November, while the rainy season begins in December. February is the wettest month in Peru.

The quaint town has narrow cobblestone streets and stone steps that show off the Inca architecture. They built the small town of Ollantaytambo in a grid-like formation with four longitudinal streets that are crossed by seven parallel streets. In the center of the grid is a large four-block plaza. The town also features many accommodations, a range of food, and engaging tours. 

The Terraces of Pumatallis

Standing at the bottom of the structure, you are amazed by the Terraces of Pumatallis and the high-cut stone walls. The sunken terraces start south of Ollantaytambo’s Plaza de Armas and stretch all the way to the Urubamba River. The terraces are about 700 m long, 60 m wide, and up to 15 m high. It isn’t until you are standing on the terraces that you realize how tall the walls really are.

The agricultural terraces allowed farming on the otherwise unusable terrain by allowing the Incas to take advantage of the different ecological zones created by variations in altitude. It is only because of the Inca architecture that the place is still standing. Inca architecture is known for its fine masonry, featuring precisely fitted cut and shaped stones without mortar.

The climb to the top was a struggle for most of the North Americans on the tour. Altitude makes you feel like your feet are encased in cement, every step takes energy.

The Granaries of Pinkuylluna

The Incas built their storehouses out of fieldstone on the hills surrounding the terraces because the higher altitude allows for more wind and lower temperatures to defend against food decay. Unfortunately, we didn’t have time to climb all the way to the top.

Image Courtesy of JT Nelms from Pixabay.

The Temple of the Sun

The Inca Religion involved a group of beliefs and rites that were related to an evolving mythological system. The Temple of the Sun has an impressive megalithic stone at the top of the terraces. The stones each weight 50 tons and came from a nearby quarry. I marvelled at what it must have taken to lift these massive stones to the top of the structure.

Image courtesy of Ruben Hanssen at Unsplash.

Final Thoughts

What do you think? Is Ollantaytambo on your bucket list? Let me know in the comments.


Until next time

All photos courtesy of Frankie Cameron except where noted.

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