Ollantaytambo

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Altitude: 2,792m (9,160 ft) Population: 3,000 Phone code: 84

 

Poised in the northeastern end of the Sacred Valley, about 97 km (60.2 mi) from Cusco, this little town is a cultural haven well worth the visit. Surrounded by snow-capped peaks on both sides, Ollantaytambo boasts spectacular views of both Andean scenery and ancient Inca ruins. The town itself offers several hotels and restaurants, and it is recommended that you spend the night in town to ensure that you get to the ruins early, before the crowds. For a truly unique experience, rise early and watch the sun rise over the mountains. Because the scenery around Ollantaytambo is some of the most remarkable in the region, it’s a great place to wander while you explore nearby ruins and other landmarks of the Inca Empire. Of the marks left by the Incas, some of the most intriguing are the Inca andenes, or agricultural terraces, that adorn either side of the massive gorge surrounding the town.

The town itself, with its adobe brick walls draped in blooming bougainvillea and perfectly carved canals that continue to carry water down from the mountains, is testament to the Incas’ engineering and architectural genius. Take a stroll through the characteristic grid of streets and you’ll be astounded by the site of locals lingering in the doorways of ancient Inca residential cachas, once inhabited by several families during the 15th Century.

As you meander through town you may want to stop by El Museo Catcco, which has displays of textiles and archeological objects recovered from the local ruins, in addition to a plethora of ethnographic and archaeological information. If you get lost just follow the Ollantaytambo Heritage Trail, denoted by blue plaques, which highlights the most important historical sites around town.

Onwards from the main plaza, towards the outskirts of town, are several enchanting Inca ruins. Perhaps the biggest attraction is the massive fortress, perched among steep stone terraces carved into the hillside. Representing one of the Inca Empire’s most impressive architectural examples, the fortress successfully held the Spanish at bay during an attack in 1537. Despite its forbidding façade, however, the edifice was probably originally intended as temple for worship and astronomical observation in addition to military purposes.

Between the temple fortress and town, adjacent to the Patacancha River, you will encounter another interesting site: Baño de la Nusta (Bath of the Princess). This ancient ruin composed of grey granite was once used for ceremonial bathing and offers excellent views of ancient granaries built by the Incas. If you’ve got a keen eye, you may also make out the face of an Inca carved into the cliffs rising high above the valley.

 

Other places nearby Ollantaytambo: Urubamba, Yucay and Pisac.

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