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Ollantaytambo: What makes this tourist destination special?

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There is a place in the Cusco region that captivates as much as Machu Picchu and the Imperial City itself. This is Ollantaytambo, the city also built by the Incas located in the heart of the Sacred Valley and known as the "Living Inca City", which is home to one of the most touristic archaeological parks in Peru.


Thanks to the excellent level of conservation of its architectural, landscape, natural and cultural heritage, inherited from a glorious Inca past, added to its firm current commitment to sustainable development through tourism, Ollantaytambo has garnered important distinctions as one of the "Best tourist towns of the world" and the first "town with charm" in Peru.



Ollantaytambo is located in the province of Urubamba, almost 60 kilometers northwest of the city of Cusco and at an altitude of 2,792 meters above sea level. This tourist district is divided into two well-defined sectors: the city or town and the archaeological park, both built during the reign of the Inca Pachacútec, in the 13th century AD.


The city sits next to the Urubamba or Vilcanota river, revered since before the Incas and which contributes to forging the impressive beauty of the Sacred Valley. Despite its ancestral origins, Ollantaytambo only reached district status on January 2, 1857, by a law passed in the government of President Ramón Castilla. Its territory covers an area of 645.25 square kilometers and has a population of approximately 11,000 inhabitants who are mainly dedicated to tourism, agriculture and livestock.


It has a very pleasant climate with a minimum temperature of 11°C to 15°C and a maximum of 18°C to 23°C, throughout the year. As occurs in all the valleys of the Peruvian highlands, there is a presence of seasonal summer rains (December-March) with winds from west to east throughout the year, being more intense in the months of July to September.


Name's origin

According to researchers from this place, the name Ollantaytambo comes from the Aymara word Ullanwtawi, which means “Look down” or also “Viewpoint”. Later, with the consolidation and expansion of the Inca empire, the Quechua language became predominant in this area and the initial name was changed to Ullantay. When a tambo or lodging was built on the esplanade of the place, the name of Ullantay Tampu was adopted to later derive in Ollantaytambo, as it is currently known.


Living Inca City

The architectural beauty of the city or town of Ollantaytambo remains engraved on the retina from the first moment. It has a well-planned urban design with the geometric scheme divided into rectangular blocks that are the Inca construction hallmark.


Its narrow and straight streets built entirely of stone, which invite you to walk them many times, open towards the Urubamba River and make up 15 blocks or "fields". The town is divided into two zones by the Patacancha stream or canal. This is Qosqo Ayllu, in the eastern sector, which includes the central square and four streets parallel to Patacancha. The other sector is Aracama Ayllu, which includes the western area of Ollantaytambo and where the archaeological park is located.


The houses, premises and various venues of the town of Ollantaytambo, built on original Inca walls, stand out for their excellent state of conservation for eight centuries. Each block or "field" is made up of a set of properties that share the same door to the central courtyard. These living spaces have been occupied, uninterruptedly, since Inca times.


Its hallmark as "Living Inca City" responds to the living culture that can be seen in all its corners. The colorful typical costumes that its inhabitants wear, the textile workshops from which beautiful garments such as chuyos, ponchos, scarves, mittens, booties, bags, along with many other crafts that are offered to tourists, as well as the delicious cuisine that It has the native potatoes that are grown there as a stellar input, they constitute the seal that identifies the town of Ollantaytambo.


In the town of Ollantaytambo is the Andean Center for Traditional Technology and Culture of the Ollantaytambo Communities, where samples of architecture, crafts and traditions of its inhabitants are exhibited.


Strategic location

Ollantaytambo plays a key role on the Cusco tourist map, since the station is located there from where the trains that lead to the citadel of Machu Picchu leave and the town is a connection point with other important tourist attractions in the Sacred Valley such as Chinchero and Moray , as well as the salt flats of Maras, the platforms of the Yucay district, the Qhapaq Ñan or Great Inca Trail, among others.


Formidable Archaeological Park

The other sector of Ollantaytambo and the one that arouses the greatest fascination among tourists is the archaeological park of the same name, located in the western part of the district and where an imposing fortress stands out, which is considered a masterpiece of Inca architecture and engineering. . Its construction, like Machu Picchu, dates back to the period of greatest expansion of the Inca empire, during the reign of Pachacútec, in the 13th century.


During the first years of the Spanish conquest, the fortress served as a refuge for Manco Inca, who led the resistance after the capture and death of Atahualpa. In 1536, the Spanish troops commanded by Hernando Pizarro faced the army of Manco Inca in Ollantaytambo. After a bloody battle and a tenacious Inca resistance, the conquerors were forced to withdraw from the area for a while.


Studies in Ollantaytambo indicate that its construction was oriented towards the city of Cusco, and its strategic location was chosen due to the existence of underground water channels discovered in the area. The builders of Ollantaytambo designed an aqueduct system that is still operational today. Each water fountain was carved out of rock with its own characteristics and designs. The best known and considered the most beautiful is the Fuente de la Ñusta, made of a single stone and decorated in the shape of a portal.


In the Ollantaytambo fortress you can see six huge rectangular stone blocks that belong to the so-called Temple of the Sun. These are located in one of the highest areas of the place and appear to be an unfinished construction. The largest monolith measures more than four meters high and two meters wide. The construction has a square in which a large block with perfect edges has been placed, which are oriented towards the four cardinal points. The streets are divided into straight lines along which the water used to flow through the canals.


One of the most surprising details of Ollantaytambo is that the rocks used in its construction are perfectly polished, with impeccable cuts, and are intact, which reveals that the builders were able to move the stones and transport them without damaging them, despite the fact that the fortress is built on a very high slope. Something similar to what can also be seen in the formidable Machu Picchu.


Another interesting place is the Pincuylluna hill, located in front of the Temple of the Sun of the Ollantaytambo fortress. There you can see superimposed stone block structures with six facade windows and the same number of colcas or Inca warehouses.


Recognitions and distinctions

The cultural, landscape, natural, historical and architectural attributes that Ollantaytambo possesses have earned it several recognitions and distinctions. The most important is its election as one of the "Best Tourist Towns in the World", at the XXIV General Assembly of the World Tourism Organization (UNWTO), which was held in December 2021 in Madrid, Spain.


With this award, the UNWTO distinguishes peoples from all over the world that have demonstrated their commitment to the promotion and conservation of their cultural heritage and to sustainable development through tourism.


Another important award to Ollantaytambo is the first "Charming Town" in Peru, awarded this year by the Ministry of Foreign Trade and Tourism (Mincetur) in recognition of its unique natural and cultural attractions. This designation, which was born on the initiative of the Mincetur, aims to promote the recognition of towns with a tourist vocation, not only for the various attractions they can offer, but also for the passion and dedication of its people to the tourism development of their community.


Ollantaytambo has also been declared the "World Capital of Indianness" and its Wallata dance from the Patacancha river basin was declared Cultural Heritage of the Nation by the Ministry of Culture, on October 30, 2008.


Likewise, the Feast of the Lord of Choquekillka was declared Cultural Heritage of the Nation in June 2017. Three years later, in June 2020, the Andean Parliament distinguished the "Ancestral Staging of Ollantay Raymi" as an Intangible Cultural Reference of the Andean region.


How to get from Cusco to Ollantaytambo?

There are two ways to get from Cusco to Ollantaytambo. One to the north through the town of Písac; another shorter one to the south, through the town of Chinchero.


On the Pisac route you have to take the buses on Puputi street s/n in the city of Cusco. The cars pass through the town of Písac and arrive at Calca. The trip takes approximately 1 hour and 20 minutes. Then, from Calca, you must take a car to the town of Urubamba in a 30-minute drive. Finally, you must board a bus from Urubamba to the town of Ollantaytambo with a trip of approximately 30 minutes.


On the Chinchero route, vehicles must be boarded on Pavitos street in the city of Cusco, which reach the main square of Ollantaytambo, with an intermediate stop in the town of Urubamba. The trip takes approximately 1 hour and 30 minutes.


Another way that tourists use is to hire the services of a tourism agency that transports them from the city of Cusco to the Ollantaytambo train station. Once there you can take a tour of the city and the archaeological park. If tourists are in one of the towns in the Sacred Valley, they can board vehicles that drive to Ollantaytambo.


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