Ollantaytambo: the main gateway to Machu Picchu

Complete Guide to Ollantaytambo

Explore the fascinating history of Ollantaytambo and learn everything you need to know to visit this unique town in the Sacred Valley, including what to see and how to get there.

Ollantaytambo Fortress

Located at a significant transit point between Cusco and Machu Picchu, the town of Ollantaytambo is often overlooked in favor of more exciting destinations. However, travelers who choose to stay and explore this historical place are rewarded with a unique perspective on daily life in a small village in modern Peru.

History of Ollantaytambo

Ollantaytambo was one of the many settlements conquered by Pachacutec, the ninth Inca king who led the transformation of the Kingdom of Cusco into the powerful Tawantinsuyu or Inca Empire. During his reign, Ollantaytambo served as a crucial outpost for Inca nobles and agrarian workers. After his death, the property remained under the control of his lineage in accordance with the territorial privileges reserved for Inca kings.

In contrast to Machu Picchu, we have extensive written records of the history of Ollantaytambo during and after the conquest. When the rebel leader Manco Inca escaped from Cusco, he established his headquarters here, becoming the scene of the infamous Battle of Ollantaytambo in 1537. Faced with an impending attack, Manco Inca ordered the construction of a dam to flood the valley and used the terraces as elevated ground to defeat the Spanish soldiers.

The Inca rebel forces eventually retreated deeper into the jungle, and Ollantaytambo fell firmly into the possession of the Spanish colonizers. The town became a focal point for settlement in the Sacred Valley, first as an encomienda granted to Hernando Pizarro, brother of the conqueror Francisco Pizarro; and later as an important source of tribute and labor for the colonial state. (Encomiendas were parcels of land given to Spanish settlers. In a feudal-like fashion, the grantee was entitled to the labor of native communities residing there, ostensibly in exchange for religious education and protection).

The town of Ollantaytambo remained inhabited throughout this tumultuous period. Today, its oldest pre-Columbian dwellings share space with Spanish colonial buildings and contemporary constructions. Together, they tell the story of a long and complex past.

Complete Guide to Ollantaytambo Complete Guide to Ollantaytambo Ollantaytambo la Principal Entrada a Machupicchu Ollantaytambo The Main Gateway To Machupicchu

Architecture

The architecture of Ollantaytambo is monumental. The design of the urban sector includes two clearly differentiated areas: residential and administrative. Exquisite masonry is displayed alongside impressive agricultural technology that includes terraces, fountains, and irrigation canals still in use today.

In both its urban and architectural design, Ollantaytambo is possibly one of the most sophisticated constructions of the Incas. Based on the conquest chronicles and the strategic position of the site, it was long believed that this place was a fortress for military defense. However, the high quality of the masonry suggests that it may have also served as a long-term resting place for royal families transiting through the Sacred Valley, possibly following the trails from Cusco to Machu Picchu.

What to see in Ollantaytambo

Ollantaytambo has three main areas of interest: the town, the Temple of the Sun, and the terraces.

THE TOWN

Ollantaytambo exhibits a highly organized spatial distribution, with a grid design and a polygonal layout. The main square is in the center of the town, but its current total surface is a fraction of its original size.

The southern and northern sides of the town are quite distinct. The south is more polished with better masonry, while the north generally is in poor condition with lower-quality architectural and urban design work. Residential buildings follow similar patterns: a central courtyard, single-room buildings, walled enclosures, and one or two public gathering spaces known as “canchas.”

On the western side of the town and across the Patacancha River, there is an adjacent construction known as Aracama. It features less impressive architecture but includes noteworthy places to visit, such as the main square or Manyaraqui, the Catholic Church, the Temple of Water, and the Bath of the Ñusta.

Guía completa de Ollantaytambo The town of Ollantaytambo

THE TEMPLE OF THE SUN

The “Temple of the Sun” is located in an area called Aracama (also known as “The Fortress”). The temple sits atop a pyramid of seventeen terraces overlooking the main square of Manyaraqui. Reaching the summit presents a challenge due to the condition and quantity of stone stairs. Expect to spend 20 to 30 minutes climbing to the top. Caution is advised during rainstorms, as the stones can become slippery.

The red porphyry rocks that composed this temple are mostly gone, as they were used to build the colonial city below, but stone looting has continued until recent times. Only six monoliths survive on-site, but they tell the story of a structure that must have been magnificent.

Above the Temple of the Sun, there is another structure called Inca Huatana, a flat wall with small niches several centimeters deep, seemingly used for astronomical observation. The complementarity between the monoliths and the astronomical structure reinforces the idea that the site had spiritual and ritualistic functions. It is also believed that the construction of the Temple was interrupted by the arrival of Spanish conquistadors and was never completed.

Complete Guide to Ollantaytambo EL TEMPLO DEL SOL

THE TERRACES

A distinctive feature of the Sacred Valley region is the ubiquitous presence of terraces, known as “andenes.” They are evidence that local populations mastered the challenging environmental and geographical conditions of the Andes to create productive lands. The terraces in Ollantaytambo are a marvelous achievement of early agricultural engineering. They are approximately 2300 feet long, 190 feet wide, and 50 feet deep.

These terraces feature high walls of polished stone. The positioning of the structures in relation to the sun and the slope of the hill allows them to absorb solar heat during the day and retain it at night when temperatures drop. This creates a microclimate that enables the cultivation of crops at lower altitudes.

Ollantaytambo terraces

How to Get to Ollantaytambo

Two roads connect Ollantaytambo to the city of Cusco. The shorter route (Route 3S) passes through Chinchero and crosses a high plateau; the second (Route 28B) passes through Pisac and the Sacred Valley. Both roads connect in Urubamba and continue on a single road to Ollantaytambo. Weather and road conditions permitting, a direct transfer between Cusco and Ollantaytambo is approximately 1.5 hours in duration. Buses and taxis (private and shared) serve the route.

Twenty-five additional miles separate Ollantaytambo from Machu Picchu. There is no direct road to Machu Picchu, only rail. A good way to organize a Machu Picchu itinerary is to arrive in Cusco, take a bus or taxi to Ollantaytambo, spend the night there (or in Urubamba), and then take a train to Machu Picchu. For overnight stays, Urubamba and Ollantaytambo offer the full range of accommodations, from basic hostels to luxury resorts, and everything in between.

Solving Some Questions

How long is the taxi ride from Cusco airport to Ollantaytambo?

This route is not too long. Firstly, car traffic inside Cusco’s city is usually heavy, but most of the time, we can reach the outskirts from the airport in about 20 minutes. Then, we will continue the car or bus ride to Ollantaytambo, and this distance takes about 1 hour and 30 minutes. In total, traveling by car or bus from Cusco airport to Ollantaytambo takes approximately 2 hours.

How much does the transfer from Cusco to Ollantaytambo cost?

Our transfer service pricing is determined by your choice of vehicle. You can find our prices at the following link: 

We also offer an enhanced experience with our transfer with stops service. You can view the corresponding pricing details here:

How can I go from Cusco to Ollantaytambo?

There are two options to get to Ollantaytambo. The first one is to use our transfer services from Cusco to Ollantaytambo, and the other option is to take the Sacred Valley tour or another tour within the Sacred Valley of the Incas.

As we could see, Ollantaytambo is still an important gateway nowadays, whether you’re leaving Cusco to visit Machu Picchu or you’re on your way back to Cusco, you should always make a stop in this beautiful place, and we, Cusco Transport, will take care of getting you to Ollantaytambo or safely returning you to Cusco with high-quality services. Contact us.

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