PE, Sacred Valley: Free things to do in Ollantaytambo

How to Peru in 2 weeks, Day#6: Ollantaytambo – Inca Bridge – Punku Punku – Q’ello Raqay

 After a sleepless night, and more headaches in the morning, I realized that one can’t play with the nature, and with the human nature. I was still reticent, and careful not to exert myself too much, but hopeful I could continue the trip, especially that our schedule would continue to higher altitudes.

Many people use Ollantaytambo as a stopover for their Machu Picchu adventure. But this little city is underappreciated by many, in their excitement to head to the great fortress. There are so many free activities that you can do in this small and cozy town, if you just have an extra day.


Ollantaytambo, the place where the train will take us to Machu Picchu, was the town we had chosen as a base while we could get a glimpse of the renowned Sacred Valley. After visiting the Archeological Park and the surroundings the days before, we still had enough time to hang around on our third day here, before heading to the train station.

Hiking to Pinkuylluna Granaries was out of discussion; we could see it up on the mountain, across Urubamba River. I just wanted to stay in room all day, as my head was throbbing anyway, but my husband suggested we could go outside for fresh air. After sitting in the Plaza del Armas for some time, I eventually got bored and decided we can go at a slow pace around the town.

Ollantaytambo - Pinkuylluna Granaries up on the mountain
Ollantaytambo, Plaza del Armas with Pinkuylluna Granaries up on the mountain

Not very impressive, the Inca Bridge is located at the base of the hill where Ollantaytambo is.

Ollantaytambo - Inca Bridge top view
Ollantaytambo – Inca Bridge crossing Urubamba River (or Vilcanota, as the locals prefer to call it)

This is not for cars, but they do cross the river anyway. Local and tourists are using it for different reasons, and if you have available half day, this is a great point to start a spectacular walk with various ruins and sights along the way.

Ollantaytambo - Inca Bridge

Before crossing the road, we noticed another site on the map: Punku Punku, the remnants of the ancient city gate. Also, some fragments of an ancient wall on the same side of the hill. We could find this archaeological site on the local map, but it is not an actual site. It is left to the winds, unfortunately.

Ollantaytambo - Punku Punku

Nothing much than a couple of pictures, and we were right across the road, crossing the Bridge. A group of people were just gathering at the other side of the bridge, coming from a 5km hike to Cachiccata Quarries that I couldn’t afford to see anymore.

Ollantaytambo - Cachiccata Quarries tour map

While we were crossing the bridge back, we saw a set of huge terraces stretching along the Urubamba River. Due to their shape, they are called Callejón, the Spanish word for alley. Land inside Callejón is protected from the wind by lateral walls, creating great conditions to the Incas to grow species of plants native to lower altitudes. Its interconnected buildings are quite different than the typical single-room Inca structures. As the site is isolated from the rest of Ollantaytambo and surrounded by elaborate terraces, it was postulated to be a palace built for emperor Pachacuti.

Ollantaytambo - Callejón
Callejón – about 700 m long, 60 m wide, and up to 15 m below the level of surrounding terraces.

At the southern end of Callejón, overlooking the Urubamba River is an Inca site called Q’ello Raqay, which we visited starting from the town. It is a short trip (less than an hour back and forth), and we’ve been rewarded with the views of some small ruins. The site is not quite advertised online; therefore not so visited.

Ollantaytambo - Q'ello Raqay

The walk itself was very pleasant, watching hummingbirds along the way, and many flowers. Once the Ave Estudiante is ending at the stadium, we saw many fields with flowers. After few more minutes we saw the ruins in the distance, on our left side. We didn’t go too close, as the locals were tending the land, and picking flowers. No wonder why, next day was the Good Friday!

picking flowers

But if you only have a couple of hours to spend in the city, then wondering around the ancient cobbled streets in Ollantaytambo is the main thing that you should do. And while you observe the streets, and the life, the roofs shouldn’t be missed either.

Ollantaytambo - Pucara bulls
Pucara bulls, symbols of prosperity, fertility, happiness are placed on most of the roofs in South of Peru. The dualism is still observed in the Andean life, nature, and traditions: male-female, day-night, the upper-lower realms.

There is plenty to see around, from the old adobe buildings built on the old Inca foundations, to the new colonial houses. You can hear the sound of the water cascading down through the well preserved Inca irrigation system; the locals still use these channels. You can admire the colorful handicrafts sold in the main market. You can try one of the local dishes, in one of the many restaurants from Plaza de Armas, or along the streets in the center of the town. And if you are interested to see the real Peruvian life, then Mercado San Pedro might give you a hint if you’re visiting late in the evening.

Ollantaytambo is also known as the “Living Inca City”, as the inhabitants maintain some of the traditions inherited since Emperor Pachacuti, who conquered the region around the middle of 15th century, and incorporated to his personal estate. He built the city as a living and ceremonial centre, and overtook extensive farming in the Vilcanota Valley.

Ollantaytambo - minimarket

The Spanish derivation of the Quenchua word “Tambo” means “City that provides accommodation, food, or comfort for travelers”. And we definitely saw all sort of places, entrances, and accommodation signs across the town.

Ollantaytambo is famous for its oldest continuously occupied dwellings in South America, and even though the later constructions have altered the original layout, we could still see the old and narrow stone streets, with their original architecture and drainage channels, or many of the houses that have a solid stone foundation, still visible, cut in the Inca fashion.

The last, but not the least, I have to mention about the amazing food we have had in Ollantaytambo. Plaza del Armas has a variety of restaurants all around, as well as the main street.

Here was the first time when I saw displayed (and was outraged) one specific local dish. Can you identify which one?

Ollantaytambo - menues

Nope, we have not tried that! Have you?


Tip(s) of the day:

*Ensure you walk at your own pace. Select only the trails you know you can do. Be prepared when planning to visit high altitudes. Coca tea and candies are the most common local remedies for altitude sickness.

*Having some water, good shoes, as many breaks as needed, and a proper breathing would help to climb the steep sites.


~ visited in April 2019


11 thoughts on “PE, Sacred Valley: Free things to do in Ollantaytambo

  1. I’d be focused on those roof lines, Christie! Sorry about your headache. Altitude sickness is no fun! We used to use anti-acid pills, which were suggested to me by an old mountain climber. Not sure why they worked, but they seemed too. –Curt

    Liked by 1 person

    1. That’s so true, altitude sickness is no fun at all! I had to give up on a couple of hikes, but everything else went smoothly till the end of our trip. This is so interesting with the anti-acid pills, thank you for the tip!!


  2. Christie, this is an informative and comprehensive post on Ollanta. Like you, we based ourselves there and loved it. And after seeing Aquas Calientes, we knew we had made the right decision. I’m a bit surprised that more tourists don’t stay here, but I wasn’t complaining when we were there. ~James

    Liked by 1 person

    1. You’re right, most of the people are rushing to see MP, not knowing there is so much to visit in THE Valley🙂 As you said before, one needs a little planning before visiting a place to get (at least try) the best out of it.
      And there was still a lot to see around, if our time was not so limited. Thank you for your comment James! Happy Friday to you and Terri🙂

      Liked by 1 person

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