PE, Sacred Valley: Ollantaytambo – Archaeological Park

How to Peru in 2 weeks, Day#4: Ollantaytambo – Archaeological Park

After 3 busy days in Lima, we decided to have a lazy morning in Ollantaytambo. We could see the sun was already up through a narrow gap of the dark curtain, and as soon as we pushed it aside I had the joy to spot immediately a hummingbird feeding from a hibiscus tree in the inner court of our hotel. Such a sweet way to start a day!


Due to the high altitude, we scheduled to get from Cusco airport (where we landed the night before) straight to Ollantaytambo, located in the Sacred Valley, and to acclimatize for a couple of days.

The heart of Inca Empire, The Sacred Valley is stretching about 60 km along the Urubamba River (or Vilcanota River as the natives prefer to call it) between Cusco, the capital of the Incas, and Machu Picchu, the ancient fortress.

After a copious breakfast we had a short walk to the centre of this little town; of course that is the Plaza del Armas. As a legacy from the Spanish times, all cities (we visited in Peru) have a Plaza del Armas, even though the names might have been re-named to Main plaza, Main square, Mayor square, etc.

In this small town, with smiley faces we had our first cultural shock. Between the ones who were trying to sell something to the tourists, and the ones who were trying to make an actual living, my heart felt before seeing the poverty of some of the country people. But this is not a reason for begging or else. Every person I saw in or out of the town was either working the land, weaving, knitting, or selling things.

The town is pretty small, a couple of hours is actually enough to get through, so we decided to visit the Archaeological park right after lunch.

The main plaza is full of restaurants all around, and it was so hard to take a decision where to stop, and especially what to have for lunch, as majority had similar menus. We ended up at Apu Veronica Restaurant, where not only the food was excellent (the best we actually had in Ollantaytambo), but the decorations gave us a local feeling, and the serving was exceptional. What is Apu Veronica actually? We will find and see it next day.

Apu Veronica lunch

After getting our tickets at the park’s gate, we went at a slowest possible pace, even though we felt great. We could feel the hike soon enough, but with short breaks we found ourselves on top, pretty quickly.

Ollantaytambo was built as a living and ceremonial center by emperor Pachacuti Inca Yupanqui, who conquered the region around the middle of 15th century, and incorporated to his personal estate. He overtook extensive farming in the Vilcanota Valley, where from the terraces and the irrigation systems.

Coming from the town, our eyes fell on the terraces of Pumatallis, huge and impressive, framed on both sides by rock outcrops. Due to the massive and outstanding character of these terraces, the Temple Hill is also known as the Fortress; or maybe because it served as a stronghold for Manco Inca, the last native resistance in this area against conquistadors.

Ollantaytambo - Archaeological park -terraces of Pumatallis

After a steep climb, we found ourselves at an elevated position with a nice view of Ollantaytambo, as well as the whole valley, including the storehouses Pynkuylluna on the next mountain (on the other side of Urubamba river),

Ollantaytambo and Pinkuylluna mountain viewed from above
Ollantaytambo and Pinkuylluna mountain viewed from above the Archaeological Park

and Viracocha’s profile nicely carved by Mother Nature, or maybe by the Incas themselves..

Pinkuylluna Granaries and Viracocha profile
Pinkuylluna Granaries and Viracocha profile

When approaching the end of the stairway, I noticed right away the fitted stones of the walls were different than the field stones of the terraces.

Ollantaytambo - Archeological park -the upper terraces - layers of cut stones

I still wonder why they preferred to cut a stone in many angles rather than make it rectangular.

Ollantaytambo - Archeological park - close up stonework

Once we finished the climb, we found ourselves on a sort of a hallway in the Middle sector, with a half-finished gate and the Enclosure of the Ten Niches.

After passing the gate, there is a big area with unfinished walls and floors, with many huge blocks spread over, waiting the work to be done. The reason of abandonment of construction and re-modeling is still unknown, as many as other facts from the Inca history.

Ollantaytambo - Archaeological park -unfinished stonework

Going forward we got to the main structure of this sector: the Sun Temple, also unfinished. The masterpiece of the Temple is the Wall of the Six Monoliths, with the Inca cross on the main monolith.

Ollantaytambo - Archaeological park - Templo del Sol - Wall of the 6 monoliths
Ollantaytambo – Archaeological park – Templo del Sol – Wall of the 6 monoliths

The chakana (or Inca Cross) is a stepped cross with three steps and a hole in the middle. The three steps represent the three levels of existence: the upper level, inhabited by higher gods (symbol is the condor), the middle level is the one we are living now (symbol is puma), and the underworld, inhabited by the spirits of dead (symbol is the snake). Chakana means Bridge in Quenchua, and it actually represents the circle of the life, the bridge to the eternity, based on the Inca philosophy of “live, love, work”, with 3 principle of living: don’t lie, don’t steal, and don’t be lazy. The hole in the center represents the passageway between the levels.

Further on, we went toward the Western side of the hill to the Military zone, passing by many living quarters.

Have I mentioned? This is a one-way path, so we could only move one direction. Since the Military area occupied the highest point from the park (with views from West to East), we followed the path toward Eastern side, getting to see one of the store houses qollqa, totally re-constructed.

Ollantaytambo - Archaeological park - storehouses qolcas
Ollantaytambo – Archaeological park – storehouses qolcas

Climbing down the hill we found many other terraces that had an agricultural use. Urubamba River is stretching all the way along the Valley, and we could see why so many terraces with the river so close.

Incas were well known for their worshiping; worshiping to the God Sun (Inti), Mother Earth (Pacha Mama), The Creator (Viracocha), and other deities, which would give them food, water, good weather, good crops, etc. One of the most important elements, especially in the Sacred Valley, where they were doing extensive agriculture, the presence of water was essential. It is obvious why they would want to irrigate the terraces, but more importantly the reason to build the Incamisana, a water temple where they would perform their religious ceremonies and offerings. Along the mountain side with agricultural terraces we saw many niches and channels to direct the water, and at the base of the mountain bigger channels, some pools and fountains that carry the water through the sanctuary, to the town. I think the whole water system is a real engineering masterpiece, especially for Inca times.

This large size terraced site served as well as a gateway and military control point for access through the Sacred Valley. Since the occupants had royal blood, it also had political function, beside ceremonial, and agricultural, and has several impressive and unique features that include terraces for erosion control, not only for agriculture, several strategic overlooks. From afar, the site has a pyramid shape and is very impressive; one cannot stop gazing at the whole side of the mountain. Many unique out-buildings are located on the hillside across from the Sun Temple, including the one that looks like a face in one of the boulder outcroppings, and some astronomical highlights on the top of the hill. In fact, the notch at the top of the opposite mountain, Pinkuylluna, is where the summer solstice sunrise illuminates the Sun Temple every year through, due to the amazing Inca engineering.

Ollantaytambo - Archaeological park -unfinished stonework


Tip(s) of the day:

*Before buying the entrance ticket to any site in the Sacred Valley area (including the ones in Cusco), you have to decide the sites you want to visit and the number of the days you’re visiting the area. All-important attractions are included in the 10-days BOLETO INTEGRAL, but some require additional fees.

*Ensure you walk at your own pace. Having some water, good shoes, as many breaks as needed, and a proper breathing would help to climb easier the steep stairway.

*A local guide would be recommended to be hired at the entrance of the archaeological park, since there is no information on the map given with the ticket, nor any other information along the path.

~ visited in April 2019


10 thoughts on “PE, Sacred Valley: Ollantaytambo – Archaeological Park

    1. I believe that was a local thing. I don’t recall seeing whose type of masks in other areas, other than Ollantaytambo. And so many of them at the market!! Thank you for your comment!


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