Steeped in history, Ollantaytambo at the end of the Sacred Valley once served as the Incas' last retreat from the Spanish. Today it functions as a starting point for trips to Machu Picchu and hikes on the Inca Trail.
The Inca town of Ollantaytambo is the last town in the Sacred Valley of the Incas, 21 kilometres after Urubamba. Here, at the latest, tourists change from the car to the train on their way to Machu Picchu.
According to legend, the Incas were instructed to build a city by their creator god Viracocha himself, so Ollantaytambo also means "storehouse of my god". A less spiritual explanation for the resonant name is that the city was named after the general Ollantay at the time.
Table of contents
Visit to Ollantaytambo
As the starting point for train rides to Machu Picchu and hikes on the Inca Trail, Ollantaytambo is one of our top 10 sights in Peru. Hotels, cafés and restaurants provide sufficient tourist infrastructure.
The perfectly thought-out structure of the city is still easily recognisable today. The buildings, terraces, squares and alleys are still in their original state and take visitors back to the fascinating time of the Incas.
The path to the fortress of Ollantaytambo is truly breathtaking. Firstly, it leads up countless steps along man-made terraces, and secondly, from the top there is a dreamlike view over the Sacred Valley of the Incas.
Terraces and "fortress" of Ollantaytambo
The most impressive walls of Ollantaytambo are found in the "fortaleza" ("fortress"), an extensive complex that dominates the Sacred Valley of the Incas. Originally, however, the impressive terraces were not built for defensive purposes, but for religious or agricultural purposes.
After the fall of the royal city of Cusco, the fortress of Ollantaytambo served as a retreat for the then Inca king Manco Cápac II and his remaining soldiers.
The temple area in the south of the complex consists of the famous Inca walls, made of stones perfectly interlocked without mortar. Skilfully interlocked with grooves and tenons, they were completely earthquake-proof.
Particularly impressive is the wall of the six monoliths in the sun temple of Ollantaytambo, which is the first to be lit on the day of the winter solstice (21 June). The other buildings and also the retaining walls of the terraces are made of simple stones.
Warehouses of Ollantaytambo
The strange ruins clinging to the rocks around Ollantaytambo were once warehouses. At the high altitude, the temperature was lower, which, together with an ingenious ventilation system (it is always windy up there), ensured a longer shelf life for grain. The grain was probably emptied into the warehouses at the top and taken out of the front and side windows as needed.
To the left of the warehouses on the mountain called Pinkuylluna, opposite Ollantaytambo, you can see a face carved in stone, 140m high. The monument represents the crowned head of the priest and astronomer Wirachochan or Tunuba, who was recognised as the ambassador of Viracocha, the highest god of the Incas.
On the opposite side of the valley, the quarry from which the rocks of Ollantaytambo originated is still safe. Back then, they were rolled 6km downhill, dragged through the valley and then a few hundred metres uphill to today's Ollantaytambo - a feat hardly imaginable! Some stones, which were apparently too heavy, are still scattered in the landscape today.
History of Ollantaytambo
Ollantaytambo lies at just under 2,800 metres above sea level and is the only remaining example of Inca urban planning. It was conquered in the mid-15th century by the Inca ruler Pachacuti as a royal seat and generously expanded.
Ollantaytambo consists of 15 square blocks, the so-called "canchas", whose central courtyard is surrounded by several houses. The buildings served as homes, the military, the administration and agriculture, which was practised on the numerous man-made terraces in the Sacred Valley.
When the Spanish invaded South America in the mid-16th century and took Cusco, 60km away, Ollantaytambo served as a temporary Inca capital after the defeat at Sacsayhuamán.
In 1536, the Incas under Manco Cápac II even managed to repel the Spaniards by striking from the terraces and finally flooding the valley. Only a few weeks later, however, the conquistadores declared Ollantaytambo to be Spanish territory. In the 19th century, the ancient city was rediscovered and slowly came to public attention.
Tip: The visit to Ollantaytambo is included in the Boleto Turistico (Cusco Tourist Ticket)!