There are two types of travellers in the small Incan town called Ollantaytambo: those who have just come back from Machu Picchu, and those who are just about to visit.
A beautiful two hour drive from Cusco (do not fall asleep on this!), the town is the hub for people taking the train toward the citadel in the clouds, starting their four-day Inca Trail hike, and a handful considering a walk beside the tracks to Aguas Calientes. Due to this it gets a lot of foot traffic and a lot of tourist turnover each day, with most individuals and groups only sticking around for only one night.
However, Ollantaytambo should be understood as a special place that stands very much on its own two feet for a few good reasons - and very much worth making a stop at before you visit Machu Picchu, rather than simply going directly from Cusco. The town, continuously inhabited since the 13th century, was actually the only place in Peru which defeated the Spanish army (or at least held them back successfully until they returned with more forces) and remains a leading example of Incan architecture. Its location within the Sacred Valley is also simply stunning.
In fact, due to the tourism infrastructure it has in place, it’s a great alternative base for discovering the secrets of the wider Sacred Valley (or getting one of your most memorable haircuts ever, as Andrew can testify).
So, whether you’re staying for one night or two, here’s our advice on the best things to do in Ollantaytambo, where to stay in town, transport options, and some tips on the best places to eat amongst the dozens of options. And if you’re reading this and still not exactly sure how to get to Machu Picchu from Ollantaytambo, we’ve got all the answers for you too!
Visit the Ollantaytambo Ruins and Terraces
Snaking up the hills, these ruins define and dominate Ollantaytambo from nearly every angle. However, it’s important to try and get to them in the early morning or later the in the afternoon as it becomes incredibly crowded once the large tourist buses turn up (however, it’s quite entertaining to watch hundreds of humans from a distance as they make their way up the 200 large steps and somewhat resemble an ant colony). The town is at an altitude of 2,792 m, so don’t be surprised if you’re a wee bit out of puff making your way to the top.
Entry to the ruins is only possible with the Cusco Boleto Turistico - a multisite ticket which covers many of the best Sacred Valley ruins. It is not possible to buy a single entry ticket to Ollantaytambo, so find out more about the Boleto Turistico, where to buy it, and its three ticket price packages in this post. Give yourself 1-2 hours to explore the site at your own pace.
Where | You can’t miss them
When | 7 a.m. - 5.30 p.m.
Cost | See above
Explore The Old Town Streets
It always sounds like it’s raining in parts of Ollantaytambo, and that’s due to the town’s unique and incredibly well preserved Incan open-draining system which runs straight through the centre of many of its pretty cobblestone streets (if you don’t spot them in time, expect wet feet). Walking the town’s narrow backstreets feels like stepping back in time and, as Ollantaytambo is so compact, you’ll never really get lost.
Browse The Souvenir Market
If you are on a shorter trip to Peru, then you’ll enjoy spending some time exploring this small but well-stocked open-air souvenir market.
Found at the base of the ruins (you’ll pass through it to enter the terraces), it has all the usual fare one would expect to see in a Peruvian tourist spot and makes no claims to be anything other than just that - but you may find some gems for yourself. Haggling is part of the process, but remember to only try and get a deal that is fair for everyone involved in the transaction.
Tip | There’s a cute little side street branching off from the tourist market where there are small shops selling similar wares.
Stop By Mercado San Pedro
Just of the the central plaza, this local’s market is a joy to walk through and get an insight into day-to-day life here; in somewhere that has no shortage of tourists, it has remained defiantly authentic (a good thing). It’s also the best place to stock up on snacks for your Inca Trail hike.
Enjoy The View from The Depositos de Pinkuylluna
A great free view over Ollanta (as the locals call it) and its imposing mountains is available from these old storehouses - it’s perfect for golden hours vibes. They’re also much less visited than the Terraces and Ruins, so offer the opportunity to escape the crowds and work up a sweat too.
To find the trail, simply go down Lare Street and you will see a set of the stairs and sign on your right to take you on the trail; the start point is also clearly pinpointed on Google maps if you type in ‘Pinkuylluna’ . The walk up takes 30-45 minutes, and be careful on the way down!
A Sacred Valley Space
If you’re keen to avoid spending too much time in Cusco (but make sure to read our favourite things to do in Cusco first!), then Ollantaytambo’s small town vibe may be a much more attractive alternative and allow you to discover the Sacred Valley a little slower and on your own terms. Once the large crowds have come and gone each day, it’s got a pretty charming small town vibe to it and there remain so many pockets of authentic Peru in amongst the rest of us gringos.
Another alternative town to stay in as part of a slower Sacred Valley experience would be Pisac.
Where to Stay in Ollantaytambo
The most unique accommodation experience in all of Peru is actually located just outside Ollantaytambo (if you’re brave enough to spend the night in a glass pod suspended off the mountainside).
For everyone else, there’s no shortage of locally run hostels, hotels, and guesthouses catering to every travel style. You will always be able to find somewhere cheap and cheerful if you just turn up (less possible in the June-September high season), but if you prefer to book and plan ahead then our recommendations are:
Mama Simona | With a great kitchen, lovely garden, eco-friendly approach, and excellent riverside location, Mama Simona is the pick of the bunch for hostels in Ollantaytambo. Check prices and availability on HostelWorld or Booking.com
Inka King | Seconds from the main square and a 10-minute walk to the train station, Inka King is a popular backpacker option with clean and comfortable dorms, twins, and doubles. Check availability here.
Most hostels and hotels in Ollantaytambo will offer free luggage storage services, so you can leave your backpacks or suitcases there whilst you’re doing the Inca Trail or visiting Machu Picchu for one to two days. To see an overview of prices and availability of accommodation in Ollantaytambo for your trips, click here.
How To Get From Ollantaytambo to Machu Picchu
Ok, so this is probably the main reason you’re looking into Ollantaytambo in the first place right? Here’s what you need to know!
The small town of Aguas Calientes / Hydroelectrica is actually the access point to Machu Picchu, and people can walk to the site from there or take the shuttle bus for 15 minutes to the entrance. The best option to travel to Aguas Calientes is take the train from Ollantaytambo (it’s only 32 kms away) rather than going straight from Cusco. The start point for the Inca Trail can also only be accessed via Ollantaytambo.
This is why so many tourist groups and independent travellers end up in the town for a night!
Here’s a breakdown of the three main ways to get from Ollantaytambo to Machu Picchu (in the next section we’ve shared how to get from Cusco to Ollantaytambo with public transport):
Take The Train
There are regular daily departures to Aguas Calientes from Ollantaytambo train station with both Peru Rail and Inca Rail - this is the Machu Picchu train which you’ve probably already heard a lot about.
It’s highly recommended to buy your tickets in advance online or in person to get the best price and departure times for your trip. It is also possible to buy them last minute at the train station in Ollantaytambo but choice will be very limited in high season and most tickets left will be for the most expensive services.
Where | The train station is easily found at the end of Av. Ferrocarril (go left just before the small bridge which takes you to the tourist market and terraces). It’s a 10-minute walk from the plaza, so make sure you leave with plenty time to catch your train.
Cost | Varies depending on company, departure time, and train service chosen as they have different levels and train types available (i.e. the Vistadome). Prices start from £46 one-way but can cost a lot more.
Time | The train from Ollantaytambo to Aguas Calientes takes 1h 20m to 1h 40 mins (it covers the distance slowly intentionally).
Tip | Peru Rail does have three morning departures from Cusco to Aguas Calientes, but it actually leaves from a station at Poroy, a 20-minute taxi ride outside of the Cusco. That’s why Ollantaytambo is the most popular option and it’s a nicer travel experience to have a chilled out day and night in Ollantaytambo and then take the train to Machu Picchu the next morning.
Read Next | Find out ticket prices, options, and rules for Machu Picchu in 2019 before you book or visit.
Shuttle Bus / Public Transport
On our second visit to Ollantaytambo, we saw lots of places advertising a shuttle bus service to Aguas Calientes. We thought we had snapped a picture with all the information but it turns out we didn’t! However, this option certainly didn’t exist when we first visited and walked the 30 kms to Aguas Calientes as our budget was so tight.
If you do find out about these shuttle buses, then please let us know so we can update the post. The likelihood is that they cover a version of this DIY bus route from Cusco to Aguas Calientes, via Santa Teresa.
Cost | TBC Time | TBC
Walk the Inca Trail
The start point for the Inca Trail is actually by the train tracks at Kilometre 82, about half an hour’s driving outside of Ollantaytambo. However, it’s only possible to do the Inca Trail with an official tour group (we went with G Adventures who have won awards for their Inca Trail experiences), and you have to book your place months in advance. Most Inca Trail tours will include your transport to Ollantaytambo from Cusco.
For all the information you need to prepare for the Inca Trail, read our guide.
Where to Eat
Arround three sides of the plaza and on the road leading towards the terraces and souvenir market, you’ll find no shortage of tourist-focussed places selling pizza, pasta, burgers, plus alpaca steaks and traditional Peruvian dishes. They are all much and such to be honest, so just pick one that you like the look of. Many of them also offer a negotiable happy hour cocktail rate too!
We were however delighted to discover Alma Amor Wellness & Vegan Restaurant, which is on a street just off the plaza which offers healthy and delicious vegan and vegetarian meals - goodness in a bowl and you certainly don’t have to be veggie to enjoy it! They also offer yoga classes if you are thinking of being in Ollanta for more than just one night.
How to get from Cusco to Ollantaytambo
Simply take a collectivo from Ollantaytambo to Cusco from Calle Pavitos and Av. Grau, which is a 10-15 minute walk or short taxi ride from the centre of Cusco. These minivans leave regularly from early in the morning, and depart when full. Travel time is 2 hours, and it’s 10 soles per person.
A private taxi one-way from Cusco to Ollantaytambo costs around 100 soles, but could cost more or less depending on your negotiation skills.
To return to Cusco from Ollantaytambo, simply find the minivans and drivers shouting out in the main plaza.