Peeling ourselves off the sweaty seats of our colectivo (shared mini-van) as it pulled in to the center of Ollantaytambo, we knew within moments this was our kind of place. As dusk waited in the rafters, the sweet town square welcomed us with a bevy of friendly dogs, trees and a few people, sweet shops, small restaurants, and the mountains of the Urubamba Valley painting a striking backdrop.
The streets that lead off the main square – including the one that led to our home for the next four nights – could hardly be called that: no cars could squeeze down their narrow width, and they are better described as perfectly-laid stone walkways lined on both sides with perfectly-laid stone walls. A rushing brook is built into the side of the paths (presumably for plumbing purposes) and from within the courtyards of the houses that fronted the paths, tree limbs spilled over and bloomed in view.
These paths hold the structures for what are said to be some of the longest inhabited dwellings in South America, dating back to pre-Incan indigenous communities who lived on this valley floor. We walked the short distance to our hostel, K’uchu Wasi, where we met owners Andrés and Silvia and their Bernese mountain dog, Beethoven. Their property sits on the edge of town, almost directly under the Pinkuylluna ruin site, with an incredible flower garden, and one of our most comfortable beds in our travels to date.
After dropping our bags and reassembling ourselves, we ventured out in search of dinner. We decided to treat ourselves to Chuncho, a second floor restaurant overlooking the town square, known for its modern takes on traditional regional fare (and pisco-oriented happy hour!). After a few tasty cocktails from the balcony, we moved inside and enjoyed a multi-course feast featuring lots of root vegetables, corn, a ricotta-like cheese and yes, alpaca meat! (Cuy, or guinea pig, was also on the menu, as it is all over Peru, but we abstained.)
Since becoming a sometimes-meat-eating person in my late twenties, I have slowly made my way around the edible animal kingdom, exploring the culinary possibilities afforded by this new (to me) food group, and always trying to remember to express gratitude to the animals when I eat them (“thanks, fishy!” is a common phrase in the Levitt-Draper-Zivetz household). So it went with the alpaca skewers: a word of thanks, a bite off the stick, and – at least for me – almost instant remorse. 2/10, wouldn’t try again. But Drew loved it! The texture of alpaca is tough and the taste is gamey, with an aggressive flavor that leaves little chance for any accompanying sauces or seasonings to compete for attention in your mouth. With our divided house on this one, we can’t make a Scheme-Based-Adventure Official Endorsement, but we can request you report back if you get a chance to try alpaca yourself!
Anyway, enough about the food. (Haha, yeah, right). The highlights of our time in Ollantaytambo were multiple and varied, including several feats of physical strength. I will leave the vivid descriptions of those to my brawny husband in a forthcoming post, and instead share a bit about what brings most people to this place: the ruins.
As mentioned, we were staying just under Pinkuylluna, the lesser-visited of the two ruin sites in town. On our first full day in town, we followed an unassuming sign leading from a path in town up a mountainside towards what turned out to be a phenomenally in-tact granary/store-house. We speculated that one builds a granary precariously into the side of a mountain some 30 sweaty minutes vertically up from the town for… security purposes (more protected from attacks and floods?)…but we can’t be certain. I will let the photos speak for themselves.
Later that afternoon, after a lunch and rejuvenating juice, we walked over to the other side of town (a trying adventure of about three minutes) and paid the entrance fee to the other, much larger set of ruins. We opted against paying for a tour guide, so can’t relay a whole lot of context for these ruins to you all, but we did pick up a few snippets here and there as we surreptitiously listened in on other Spanish, English and German tours that were underway in our proximity. Around six hundred years ago (mid-15th century) the Incan emperor Pachacuti built this estate for himself and other Incan nobility. It’s sprawling (maybe 1/2 km from end to end of what’s left) and includes multiple temples, military outlooks, residences, and farming terraces. It was notably the site of an important victory against the Spanish, preventing (temporarily at least) their advancement into the highlands.
Drew was particularly blown away by the stonework, and I loved imagining the harvests – in such proximity to everything else! – on the farming terraces that were still remarkably intact.
Other highlights included the amazing water temples which still have running water to this day – and the Temple of the Sun. The whole experience felt like a potentially dangerous warm up for what was ahead; could Machu Picchu really stand up to this?
Below is a 360-degree panoramic photo Drew took from the Inka Watana, the lookout post above the Ollantaytambo ruins. You can see the town of Ollantaytambo beneath the ruins, and beyond the town, Pinkuylluna with its own antiquities on the hillside. Farther afield, you can appreciate the strategic value of this lookout, with its long views down the Sacred Valley of the Urubamba River to east and west as well as up the Patacancha River to the north.
It’s not easy (or even necessary) to choose favorite places, but we both agreed this was nonetheless a strong contender; we’re grateful to Howard and Wendy who visited a few weeks prior and encouraged us to spend some time here. Stay tuned for more tales of epic hiking and biking that rounded out our time at this wonderful stop!