Of course, no visit to Peru or Ollantaytambo would be complete without a journey to Machu Picchu, the 'lost' city of the Incas and one of the 7 Wonders of the modern world. Below please find all the important things you need to know about visiting Machu Picchu in order to maximize your enjoyment:
- You will need to purchase, before your arrival, 2 tickets: your train ticket and your actual entrance ticket to Machu Picchu. You should do this as far in advance as is possible Both tickets are a bit complicated to obtain, but we outline how do it in detail here. The best way is to buy them online, first just checking that both are available on your desired date, then purchasing them both immediately. Check train availability online at: www.PeruRail.com or www.IncaTrail.com. The most common and recommended route is to go roundtrip from Ollantaytambo to Aguas Calientes (and taking a taxi or bus to and from Cusco). Note that in Peru Rail's site, you must choose "Sacred Valley" as that is what they call the Ollantaytambo station.
- Entrance tickets to Machu Picchu can be bought in person at the INC office in Cusco (not recommended) or online at www.MachuPicchu.gob.pe. The ticket office in Cusco is located at #238 Avenue de la Cultura, in theory from 7am to 5pm. There are generally long lines and they are often closed at lunch hour. Entrance tickets cannot be purchased in Ollantaytambo, and only rarely can you buy them in person in Aguas Calientes. Buy them online at the website above. Have patience, as the site can get overloaded at times. . Entrance costs 126 soles to enter just the site of Machu Picchu, for this option select Cuidad Inka MAPI. If you wish to climb Huayna Picchu, be sure to select that instead, for which the cost is s/150. Students are half price with authorized ID.
- Machu Picchu lies above the town of Aguas Calientes, it is a two hour walk or a 20 minute bus ride, the bus ride being recommended for the climb up so as to conserve energy for the rest of the day. Bus tickets can only be bought in Aguas Calientes, near the bus station, and they cost 20 soles per person each way. Buses leave from 5.30am until 2.30pm.
- If you do not wish or are unable to get tickets to climb Huayna Picchu, do not despair as there are several other options equally fascinating but much less crowded. Ask anyone at the site to point you out the direction to walk to either 1) The Sun Gate (Inti Punku), 2) The Inca Bridge (Puente Inca), or Machu Picchu mountain, (Cerro Machu Picchu). All three of these sidehikes are spectacular and offer the same aerial perspective of Machu Picchu that Huayna Picchu does, without the crowds! Note, however that int theory a separate ticket is now required to climb Machu Picchu mountain, it can be purchased at the website, www.MachuPicchu.gob.pe.
Sites in Ollantaytambo
- Old town (Inca pueblo) - No visit to Ollantaytambo would be complete without a stroll through the original Inca village known as the "old town". Meticulously planned and built by the Incas and featuring the original water system, the walls of the old town are made up of massive, perfectly placed stones and it is a real treat to walk around in. Peek inside a doorway and you may see livestock, a local restaurant or perhaps some friends and family drinking chicha, the corn beer of the Incas!
- Fortaleza (Fortress) - The fortress of Ollantaytambo is one of the most magnificent structures in all of the Incan empire and serves to anchor the western end of the Sacred Valley of the Incas, along with Pisaq on the east. There are many examples of fine stonework, some of it being as fine of qualty as that found in Machu Picchu. The temple, as is often also called, was still being constructed at the time of the Spanish invasion. The site has many astronomical connections and effects, many of which can be observed during solstice dates like June 21 and December 21. Also of interest is the Temple of the Sun, a shrine consisting of 6 monolithic slabs of pink granite stone that was transported from a rock quarry a half a kilometer away, on the other side of the Urubamba river. A spectacular place to visit, best done in the mornings before the tour groups from Cusco arrive. Entrance is s/40 soles, or free with the Boleto Turistico (tourist ticket).
- Pinkylluna - Pinkylluna is the name of the mountain that forms the eastern side of the valley bowl in which Ollantaytambo lies. It is literally covered in Incan sites, and at this time there is no charge whatsoever to climb up and explore them. The first site is reached in less than 15 minutes of climbing up from the Plaza de Armas, from there one can hike up as much as 2 hours further, visiting a string of Incan constructions along the way. A very enjoyable way to spend an hour or two in the morning or in the afternoon.
- Q'uello Raccay - Q'uello Raccay, which means "yellow place" in the Quechua language, has only very recently been uncovered and restored and is a very peaceful and rarely visited Inca site that is only 15 minutes walking from the Plaza de Armas in Ollantaytambo. Thought to have been the palace of the great Incan rebel leader Manco Inca, it sits along the Urubamba river with great views of the Pinkylluna mountain, the fortress of Ollantaytambo, and the sacred mountain of Veronica. Currently no charge to enter, it is yet another free and fairly isolated activity within a short distance of Ollantaytambo.
Sites around Ollantaytambo
- Moray/Salt Mines of Maras - Both of these sites, the Salt Mines of Maras as well as Moray, are legitimate "can't miss" sites in the Sacred Valley and easily one of the best ways to spend a half a day. They are best done together, in either order, and are often done along the way on the route from either Cusco to Ollantaytambo or from Ollantaytambo to Cusco.
The Salt Mines of Maras have been producing salt since before the time of the Incas. The Incas, as was their custom, simply enhanced and improved on what was there before them and built a series of gravity-fed evaporation pools in order to extract salt from the naturally-saliinated stream that flows through the canyon. There is a 5 sole charge to enter the site.
Moray, a beautifully designed set of circular terraces sunk deep into the earth may have served as a sort of agricultural experimental laboratory for the Incas, taking advantage of the different temperatures and microclimate within ts rings to simulate various altitudes. More likely, it was a ceremonial place where corn was grown for the sacred chicha of the Incan elite. Whatever it was, it it a wonderful place to visit and feel its undeniable mystic energy. These two sites can be visited by taxi, by hiking, by horseback, or by mountain biking - ask us for details or see the Area Activities section for more information.
- Abra Malaga - The drive up to the pass of Abra Malaga has been described by travelers as one of the most scenic in all of South America. It takes about one hour to drive up the newly paved, narrow and winding road up to the 14,400foot/4320meter altitude pass of Abra Malaga. This is the continental divide of Peru, from here going eastward the road plunges straight down to the Amazon jungle basin and out to the Atlantic Ocean. This is also the road that serves as the "Back Door" route to Machu Picchu, taken by adventure cyclists but also travelers in taxi or bus who desire to get off the beaten path while visiting Machu Picchu. Day trippers, however, will turn around at the pass and return down to Ollantaytambo, either sitting in the taxi or perhaps while riding a mountain bike. Along the way there are numerous waterfalls, Incan and pre-Inca archeological sites, and examples of local people leading the farming subsistence lifestyle that their ancestors did.
- Pumamarca - Pumamarca is a pre-Incan site above Ollantaytambo. If you are searching for something Incan to visit but that is less "touristy", Pumamarca is the perfect place. Perched atop a ridgeline with commanding views in all directions, there is no entrance fee and few other visitors, thus it makes an ideal excursion for a relaxing picnic. This is a half day trip and can be done walking right from town, other options include taking a taxi up to the sight and returning or doing the route on a mountain bike back down into Ollantaytambo.
- Quarries / Inti Punku - The stone quarries of the Incas, known as "Las Canterras" and the ridgetop Incan lookout and astronomical observatory called "Inti Punku" are yet another pair of amazing Incan sites located within a half day of Ollantaytambo. The quarries are located on the hillside that makes up the southern part of the valley bowl in which Ollantaytambo lies, and they are the site where the Incans mined and shaped their massive stones, before somehow bringing them across the Urubamba river and up the mountain to the site of the Ollantaytambo fortress.
Inti Punku is a small set of buildings built atop the western ridge above Ollantaytambo, and it features incredible views of Ollantaytambo, the Pumamarca valley, as well as the valley up to Abra Malaga and the sacred glacier of Veronica. This site is believed to have been used for military lookout purposes as well as for making astronomical observations, and it also faces in the direction of Machu Picchu itself, which lies just on the other side of Mt. Veronica from here. It is a one half day trip to just the Quarries, otherwise it is a full day to include also the visit to Inti Punku. These sites can be reached either by hiking (be advised that the terrain is very steep) or on horseback.
Ollantaytambo is quickly becoming known as one of the Adventure Travel capitals of South America. World class hiking, mountain biking, rafting, and trekking expeditions can all be found here. Considering that all of these activities are part of a complete package that includes true local culture (directly descended from the Incas) as well as countless Incan archeological sites everywhere you go, it is easy to see why this area has become so popular.
Hotel Sol is proud to use KB Tambo Tours as their exclusive provider of adventure tours in the Ollantaytambo and Sacred Valley area. Their knowledge of the local people and mountains is unmatched, as is their safety record and reputation of competence. Please contact them directly with any questions or needs, and if you end up booking a trip with them (their advice is free) be sure to ask for the 15% discount all Hotel Sol guests are entitled to receive.