Ollantaytambo: Citadel of the Inca, contributed by Dean and Pauline at lavidaglobal.com, is the fourth small town expose in the series Small Town Explorer. The villages and towns we visit in our travels are often the hidden gems of a country or region. Readers are introduced to small centers around the globe; featuring their uniqueness, their history, what to see and do, and where to stay and where to dine.
Previous towns featured in the series:
Little has changed here over the past 500 years, the descendants of the brave Inca army that held out against the invading Spanish for so long still live in the houses of their ancestors and the ruins of the once great fortress still strike awe into all who witness them. This is Ollantaytambo, Citadel of the Inca.When you are located on the doorstep of one of the seven wonders of the modern world it is easy to be overlooked. However there is a silver lining for this neighbour of the great Machu Picchu, this town has not been overrun by tourists and has been able to maintain its authenticity.
The only signs of modern life will be found around the Town Square with the usual delivery vans, moto-taxis and minibusses catering to the travelers who decide to break up the journey from Cusco to Machu Picchu. But head out in any direction from this point and you step back into a living history. Ollantaytambo was one of the last great strongholds of the Inca and the base for Emperor Manco Inca who attacked and defeated Pizarro’s garrison at Cusco only to find a huge army led by Pizarro himself come looking for revenge. The battle of Ollantaytambo was fought in 1537 and reports suggest a force of up to 30,000 Inca warriors held the tiered mountainside of the Citadel. They drove the invaders back to Cusco but it was Manco who later fled in the face of overwhelming Spanish reinforcements.
The tiers of the Citadel remain intact as does part of the Sun Temple and some huge stone doorways. The ruins are imposing even in their current state of disrepair but, knowing the history, the fact that anything remains is quite a tribute to the Incan engineers and builders.Another mountain rises on the opposite side of town which houses perhaps the most amazing reminder of the enormity of the Incan capabilities. The ruins of Pinkuylluna with its Granary or storehouse complex is worth every bit of energy-sapping climb it takes to stand among the buildings.
You would think that being surrounded by history and stunning mountainous scenery would be enough to win over any traveler but the true allure of this town is the town itself. The residential part of town consists of a network of cobbled laneways, water runs down the side of each in channels that have stood the test of time.The houses still stand as they did 500 years ago. There are no modern upgrades and no neon signs or signs of any recognizable style for that matter. Simply the original homes that housed the Inca people in the 1500’s that now are home to their current day descendants.
I mentioned there are no signs but, if you know what to look for, this is not strictly true. If you see any of these houses with a red bag tied to a post outside then you have found a place that sells the local corn beer called Chicha. Do not expect English to be spoken or even slightly understood in these places, they are for locals but adventurous visitors are usually welcome. Just off the southern side of the Town Square is the local market, filled with noise and fresh produce. This is where locals come to trade and shop and also where you will find the best traditional food at prices the farmers can afford. Prepare for some strange experiences here but be sure to soak up every minute of it.
Getting to Olaytantambo
Being the midpoint between two of Peru’s iconic locations means there are plenty of options when it comes to visiting this historic town. It is a resting point for those taking the full Inca trail hiking experience, the last train stop before heading to Machu Picchu, and part of a popular route for small tour van operators.
You will have no trouble finding transport from Cusco and many local companies can be found selling short tours that will include an overnight stay in Ollantaytambo. We recommend finding a tour that will include a few interesting stops along the way like a visit to Pisac markets or lunch with a local family in the village of Chichu Bamba. Why not make a memorable trip unforgettable?
Staying in Ollantaytambo
While most visitors see little more than the train station as they sit in their comfortable seat aboard the Inca Rail between Cusco and Machu Picchu, those who choose to stay will find a range of well priced and comfortable accommodations for any budget.
Eating local specialties from the market is a wonderful experience but definitely not the only choice when it comes dining in this quaint little town. Strangely pizza is common to many restaurants in town but just because the name says “pizzeria” don’t assume they do not also serve great local options. Meals are cheap and the quality is amazing for the price.
Be prepared to walk during your stay in Ollantaytambo, not just because of the lack of transport to be found in the town but also because everything is within walking distance. It is not until you begin exploring the Inca ruins in the surrounding mountains that the going gets a little tough. But don’t let a little bit of hard work and the high altitude stop you from getting the full experience here. It is a case of big rewards for a bit of extra effort and to miss out will leave you regretting your laziness for years to come.
Have you visited Ollantaytamo? Let us know in the comments.[box type=”bio”] C[ Dean and Pauline are an Aussie couple working toward their goal of living the global life. Using a little Spanglish they used this dream to create lavidaglobal.com, a travel blog that promotes value for money travel experiences and how to plan them. ] [/box]