Ollantaytambo wasn’t on our original schedule, but we had a spare week or so because Tacna didn’t appeal to us and Peruvian miners blocked our way to Lake Titicaca. Having chosen a pretty posh hotel at £50pn and deciding to go for the best room (terrace overlooking the mountains, spa bath and a massive bed), we arrived at Ollantay from Cusco. In two hours, we passed over soaring hills, the roaring Orubamba river, colourful fields of vegetables, and skirted the side of mountains over 5000m high in what must be one of the most spectacular taxi, or any other car journey, we have ever taken.
Ollantay is at a reduced altitude (only 2700m!). There is also a lot of history to this place, including a pretty rare incident for Inca history in which they defeated the Spanish conquistadors. The tourist part of the town is basically two streets, one main road and one road down to the train station, with various shops, reasonably basic but good restaurants and a few decent hostels/hotels. It is in the Sacred Valley on the way to Machu Picchu and, from what we have seen so far, is a very pretty little town. Conveniently, for us anyhow, there are engineering works on the Cusco to Machu Picchu line and all trains now start at Ollantay. Most people, therefore, pass straight through here and probably just stop for a coffee waiting for their train.
Ollantay’s main attraction is a very well preserved Inca archeological site, with mighty terracing and that is where we headed on Saturday. When visiting the tourist places, there’s always a bit of a dilemma: do we get a guide or not? Experience so far has been good, but the Inca language was only spoken, not written, so any Inca sites are still a little bit of a mystery. The general advice for Inca sites is that a guide is often not much better than reading a book and some will make up facts to inject a little more interest. Fortunately, we randomly chose (i.e. she asked whether we were interested) a fantastic guide this time. Ninakuru was enthusiastic, knowledgeable and happy to talk about everything and anything. In absolutely perfect English.
We found about the site being occupied well before the Incas, how the quality of workmanship got better the further up the steps we went (did I not mention steps before now? there were flipping hundreds of them…), seeing the big ramp up the mountain where the massive stones were brought from surrounding mountains and that Incas were a little like The Borg – they took the best parts of cultures that they defeated and assimilated knowledge to improve themselves. We climbed up to one of the highest points of the whole sight and wandered around for a good couple of hours.
Ninakuru, who was from a mountain area where the language commonly used by the Incas (Quechuan) is still spoken, also gave us insights into being brought up at 5000m altitude. One great story was about when she did the Inca trail (with ease) as a small, young Peruvian woman, totally showing up the cynicism of the local macho porters. For those who don’t know, the Inca trail is four days of pretty difficult trekking that normally turns even experienced, big and strong westerners into a gibbering mess.
We also found out that climbing steps at this altitude is SO much easier than in Cusco, what a difference 500 metres makes! It gives us confidence that going to Machu Picchu will not involve getting there and just looking at a partial view of the spectacular wonder of the world from the comfort of the overpriced coffee shop at the entrance.
Overall, at the minute, we are very glad that schedules allowed us to stay in Ollantaytambo and if you come to this part of the world you should make sure it is in your schedule. And the view from this deluxe room at Tunupa Hotel will take some beating on this holiday or any other to come – breathtaking in a nice way for a change.