The first thing you need to know about Ollantaytambo is that we could not pronounce it. At all. I am certain every time we tried we screwed it up. It shall henceforth be known as Olly.
The second thing you need to know is that Olly is famous today for being the starting point for the intrepid souls hiking the Inca Trail and the less intrepid souls taking the train to Aguas Calientes. But it is also a perfect example of an Inca city, having been inhabited continuously since the 13th century.
Today, the small Sacred Valley town revolves mostly around its tourists trappings. The main plaza is surrounded by restaurants, inns, and stalls filled with Peruvian crafts.
We came to Olly not to hike the Inca Trail (sleeping in a tent for four nights? No thank you.), but to visit the ancient ruins that served both as a fortress and a temple to the Incas.
When we arrived in Olly, we noticed a couple of things. First, it is even smaller than Urubamba. Second, the city felt older, perhaps because it is. Instead of partially paved roads, we found narrow cobblestone pathways, a reminder of the ancient city that once was.
We spent the majority of the afternoon climbing the steps to the mountainous ruins and looking down on the city. The scenery was beautiful, and since our thighs were screaming out in pain, we took many breaks to simply sit and enjoy the view. What can I say? I’m a sucker for mountains and ruins.
Practicalities: We took a taxi from our hotel in Urubamba for 40 soles since we had slept late and wanted to get started on our day. The taxi is comfortable and will stop along the way so you can take pictures. The total drive time is about half an hour. On the way back, I convinced Lisa to travel like the locals. After asking three people if they spoke English I found the bus stop in Ollantaytambo. Bus is a generous term. In the Sacred Valley, buses are actually collectivos – vans that only leave when they are stuffed to the gills with passengers and drop people off along its designated route, all for the super cheap price of a sole and a half (or 53 cents).
I’m not entirely sure why but I found the experience incredibly entertaining. In some collectivos, the seats fill up and passengers are left standing as the van hugs the curves of Peru’s winding roads. Personally, I thought the collectivos were a bargain, and completely worth feeling like a sardine in a can for a short ride.