Why You Should Go from Cusco to Ollantaytambo Before Machu Picchu

Why You Should Go from Cusco to Ollantaytambo Before Machu Picchu

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Ollantaytambo is a fascinating place to visit, and should certainly be on your Peru travel itinerary.  Often overlooked, be sure to give Ollantaytambo, or Ollanta as it’s also known, a chance to show you just why it is so special.  Here I’ve listed my reasons to hopefully persuade you why you should go from Cusco to Ollantaytambo before heading to Machu Picchu.

READ MORE ABOUT PERU: Backpacking Peru Budget Travel Guide

Why Go from Cusco to Ollantaytambo Instead of Straight to Machu Picchu

You can visit Ollantaytambo on a day tour from Cusco, returning to Cusco in the evening, but Ollantaytambo’s location between Cusco and Aguas Calientes makes it an ideal choice to spend the night before continuing your journey to Machu Picchu.

Machu Picchu - Use Ollantaytambo as a break between Cusco and Machu Picchu
Machu Picchu – Use Ollantaytambo as a break between Cusco and Machu Picchu

You’re Closer to Machu Picchu

The ‘classic’ Inca trail begins at Chillca, about 25-30 minutes’ drive from Ollantaytambo.  If you are planning to hike the Inca trail, it could make more sense to base yourself at Ollantaytambo instead of Cusco for a day or two while you acclimatize to the altitude, and do some training hikes.  You are also closer to Machu Picchu so it takes less time to get to Aguas Calientes by bus or train, so you can save valuable time when you do decide to go to Machu Picchu.

The Altitude at Ollantaytambo is Lower than Cusco

The altitude in Cusco is 3,399 m (11,152 ft) above sea-level, which can be a challenge for a lot of visitors who fly directly into Cusco.  Ollantaytambo’s altitude is lower than Cusco, at 2792m (9,160 ft) above sea level, so it’s still pretty high (and above the 2400m or so when altitude starts to have an effect) but it can help to ease you in more gently than staying overnight in Cusco.  Even so, you should still allow a day or two to take it easy and acclimatize to the altitude in Ollantaytambo before attempting any strenuous activity like the Inca Trail!

READ MORE: Coping with High Altitude in Cusco

Looking for a day tour to Ollantaytambo?  Check out these options from Cusco with GetYourGuide:

Things to do in Ollantaytambo Peru

If you’re wondering what to do in Ollantaytambo, I’ve put together ideas for things to do in Ollantaytambo itself, and tours and trips you can take from Ollantaytambo to explore more of the Sacred Valley.

Ollantaytambo Ruins

The temple of Ollantaytambo was built by the Inca emperor Pachacuti, high up on the mountainside above the town of Ollantaytambo.  A steep stone staircase leads up to the ruins, and from the top, you can appreciate the scale and ingenuity of the Inca – they clearly knew what they were doing!  It was at Ollantaytambo where Manco Inca, the last Inca gave one of the last stands against the Spanish conquistadors, using the temple as a fortress.  He defeated Spanish forces by flooding the plain beneath the Ollantaytambo ruins, but unfortunately, his success was short-lived when the Spanish returned with four times as many men, finally forcing Manco Inca to flee to into the jungle.

The Terraces and Temple Hill at Ollantaytambo - going from Cusco to Ollantaytambo
The Terraces and Temple Hill at Ollantaytambo

As the fortress of Ollantaytambo was originally built as a temple and ceremonial centre you can still see the remains of the temples here, and ‘Temple Hill’ is fascinating to explore.  The Temple of the Sun appears to not have been completed, featuring a wall of six monoliths.  It seems that the Inca had to leave Ollantaytambo before the temples were finished, perhaps due to the Spanish Conquest or disagreements between the Incas themselves.

Part of the Temple of the Sun at Ollantaytambo Peru - going from Cusco to Ollantaytambo
Part of the Temple of the Sun at Ollantaytambo Peru

On the right-hand side of the steps up to the ruins, the Inca had built large agricultural terraces, some of which are still in use today, and were full of quinoa when I visited.  It was fascinating to see this superfood growing how the Inca’s would have planted it!

Quinoa growing in the terraces at Ollantaytambo - going from Cusco to Ollantaytambo
Quinoa growing in the terraces at Ollantaytambo in the Sacred Valley

Pinkuylluna Storehouses

Across the valley from the rest of the Ollantaytambo ruins, you’ll find the storehouses which the Inca built to keep their harvested supplies fresh.  They are built at high altitude and have effective ventilation systems so the combination of lower temperatures and wind helped to keep the contents fresh for longer.

Ollantaytambo Town

Ollantaytambo town is worth exploring too and is a fabulous example of Inca urban planning.  The Inca emperor Pachacuti conquered and destroyed the original settlement at Ollantaytambo and set about rebuilding it as he saw fit.  The central square is surrounded by streets and irrigation channels to allow water to flow through the town – which it still does to this day.

Ollantaytambo village has irrigation channels like this everywhere - going from Cusco to Ollantaytambo
Ollantaytambo village has irrigation channels like this everywhere

Ollantaytambo Market

Just outside the entrance to the fortress, there are rows of stalls selling crafts, clothing and souvenirs.  You can also pick up hiking poles and other last-minute equipment you might need for Machu Picchu or the steep walk up to Ollantaytambo ruins.  The market is significantly smaller than the one at Pisac, so if you are on the serious look-out for souvenirs, then Pisac is definitely worth a visit!

READ MORE: Pisac Market & Inca Ruins

Ollantaytambo ChocoMuseo

The ChocoMuseo has locations in Cusco and Lima and various other locations in Latin America.  Here you can take a look at the free museum to learn how chocolate is made or take hands-on classes to make your own chocolate, truffles, or learn how to make traditional Peruvian food with one of their cooking classes.  Check out their website here or read the reviews for ChocoMuseo on Tripadvisor here.

Pinkuylluna Storehouses in Ollantaytambo Peru
Pinkuylluna Storehouses in Ollantaytambo Peru

Visit an Indigenous Community

Awamaki is a non-profit which helps local women to start and run their own businesses.  They arrange visits to a traditional Quechua village where the local women can teach you how to weave a bracelet using their weaving methods, cook you a delicious Peruvian lunch, and teach you Spanish or Quechua.  You can also spend a weekend with them, where you stay with local families and learn more about the culture and surrounding areas.  Get more information on their website here or check the reviews on Tripadvisor here.

Sacred Valley Tour from Ollantaytambo

Most tours of the Sacred Valley leave from Cusco, so basing yourself in Ollantaytambo does limit your options. However, there are some tour operators based in Ollantaytambo who arrange Sacred Valley Tours by taxi to include Moray, Maras, Chincheros (and Pisac if required).  These tours could be useful as an onward journey either from Cusco to Ollantaytambo or returning from Ollantaytambo back to Cusco, as you can arrange for the taxi to drop you off at different destinations to suit your plans.

If you prefer to take a Sacred Valley tour from Ollantaytambo and return to Ollantaytambo, I would recommend just visiting Moray, Maras and Chinchero, and visiting Pisac from Cusco.  Pisac is a lot closer to Cusco, and you could easily spend a full day or two just in Pisac, exploring the market and the ruins there.

The Circular Terraces at Moray Peru - going from Cusco to Ollantaytambo
The Circular Terraces at Moray Peru

Moray and Maras

Moray and Maras are often combined as a day tour to visit both sites in one day as they’re quite close to each other.  Alternatively, you can visit them independently but the public transport isn’t great, we had to hitchhike back to Ollantaytambo from Moray!

Moray, the agricultural experimentation centre of the Incas, is a unique Inca site as it was built specifically for agriculture, not as a religious or residential site.  The circular terraces allowed the Inca to experiment with different plants and climates to find the perfect conditions to grow their crops.  Incas were accomplished farmers, and the unique terraces at Moray show how advanced they were in farming.

The Salinas or salt ponds at Maras have been used for salt evaporation since Inca times.  Salty water surfaces from a subterranean stream and is directed through a system of channels down the mountainside, trickling through a series of man-made salt ponds.  As the water gradually evaporates, the salt is harvested.  It is a surreal sight on the mountainside!

Don’t forget – to visit the archaeological sites at Ollantaytambo, Moray, or Chinchero, you will need to buy the Boleto Turistico tourist ticket, which allows access to 16 different Inca ruins and museums in Cusco.  The ticket is valid for 10 days to give you plenty of time to visit all the sites you want, and can be bought at the sites themselves, or from the Tourist Office on Avenida del Sol in Cusco. The ticket currently costs 130 soles, or 70 soles for students with a valid student ID or ISIC card, or you can also get a 2-day ticket for just Ollantaytambo, Moray, Chinchero and Pisac for 70 soles.

Maras Salt Ponds near Ollantaytambo Peru
Maras Salt Ponds near Ollantaytambo Peru

How to get from Cusco to Ollantaytambo

Getting from Cusco to Ollantaytambo is fairly easy, there are frequent minibuses and train services which run the route.

Bus from Cusco to Ollantaytambo

The bus from Cusco to Ollantaytambo is run by Real Inka and have mini buses or colectivos running at least every 40 minutes, or when full, from their base at AV. Grau N° 496 in Cusco to the train station at Ollantaytambo.  It costs 15 soles each way (about $4.50 USD) and takes around 2 hours, so is much cheaper (if less comfortable) than the train to Ollantaytambo from Cusco.  Check out their website here.

Train from Cusco to Ollantaytambo

Peru Rail and Inca Rail run regular trains to Ollantaytambo from Cusco, which continue onto Aguas Calientes for Machu Picchu.  Both are similar prices for the standard fares, you can check the prices and times for trains to Ollantaytambo with Peru Rail here, and with Inca Rail here.  See also the below information for how to get from Ollantaytambo to Machu Picchu.

The Mountains around Ollantaytambo Village - going from Cusco to Ollantaytambo
The Mountains around Ollantaytambo Village

Sacred Valley Tour from Cusco to Ollantaytambo

As I mentioned earlier, if you plan to explore more of the Sacred Valley, it could be a good idea to arrange a tour to visit Chinchero, Maras and Moray on the way to Ollantaytambo.  Most transport and tour companies in Cusco can arrange for a one-way tour so you can be dropped off in Ollantaytambo instead of returning all the way to Cusco.

Check out these options for a Sacred Valley Tour:

Taxi from Cusco to Ollantaytambo

If you want to go straight to Ollantaytambo from Cusco, you can take a taxi.  Of course, this will be relatively expensive compared to other ways to get to Ollantaytambo, but it is a direct and personalised service, so you can arrange the times which best suit you.  You can even take a taxi from Cusco airport to Ollantaytambo if you want to skip Cusco entirely or only visit Cusco on your way back.  Get a couple of quotes and check reviews before you book your taxi – ask your hotel in Cusco or Ollantaytambo to recommend a reliable company for this.  I’ve seen prices for a taxi to Ollantaytambo from Cusco or Cusco airport for around $55 USD for two people.

How to get from Ollantaytambo to Machu Picchu Peru

To continue your journey to Machu Picchu from Ollantaytambo, again there are several possibilities.

The Inca Trail

The traditional Inca Trail to Machu Picchu starts close to Ollantaytambo, so is one of the most popular and exciting ways to get to Machu Picchu.  However, permits for the Inca Trail are limited to 500 per day, and that figure includes the guides and porters as well, so the number allocated for tourists is, in fact, a lot less.  Tickets can sell out months in advance, so if you want to hike the Inca Trail you need to book as far in advance as you can.  You also need a good level of fitness as three days trekking at high altitude is not an easy feat.

Me on the trek to Machu Picchu
Me on the trek to Machu Picchu

Ollantaytambo to Machu Picchu by Train

The easiest option for those not hiking the traditional Inca Trail is to take the train to Machu Picchu from Ollantaytambo.  The train from Ollantaytambo to Aguas Calientes (the town at the base of Machu Picchu Mountain) starts from around $55 each way with Inca Rail or Peru Rail.  You can choose train times to Aguas Calientes depending on how long you want to visit Machu Picchu, and the time you want to go inside.  Due to a new regulation brought in in 2017, tickets for the entrance to Machu Picchu tickets have two schedules, either from 06:30 am to 12:00 pm, or from 12:00 pm until 05:30 pm.  Tickets can only be used once in the day within the chosen time, so you may want to spend the night at Aguas Calientes before going into Machu Picchu for the early time slot, or you could take a morning train and go in during the afternoon.

You can buy the train tickets from Ollantaytambo to Aguas Calientes at Ollantaytambo train station, but I’d suggest buying the tickets online to guarantee your preferred time.  You can also get your return train ticket back from Machu Picchu to Ollantaytambo or straight through to Cusco.

The Train from Ollantaytambo to Machu Picchu
The Train from Ollantaytambo to Machu Picchu

Ollantaytambo to Machu Picchu by Road

There is a reason why you never hear about people taking the bus to Machu Picchu from Ollantaytambo – it’s because the road finishes before you get to Aguas Calientes.  It is possible to take the bus from Cusco or Ollantaytambo to Hidroelectrica then walk about 2 hours along the train tracks to reach Aguas Calientes.  I haven’t done this route myself and have heard mixed reviews about the walk.  It is the cheapest way to get to Machu Picchu, but certainly isn’t the safest!  Recently there have also been blockades to prevent tourists from walking that route, so do more research before you choose this route to Machu Picchu.

Where to Stay in Ollantaytambo

The Garden at Mama Simona Hostel in Ollantaytambo Peru - Hostels in Ollantaytambo
The Garden at Mama Simona Hostel in Ollantaytambo Peru – Hostels in Ollantaytambo

Hotels in Ollantaytambo Peru

There are plenty of highly rated hotels in Ollantaytambo, so you needn’t worry about choosing the best hotel in Ollantaytambo – there are lots of excellent ones!  The top-rated Parwa Guest House is great value, or El Albergue Ollantaytambo is a popular choice, with an excellent restaurant downstairs.  Check out the options on HotelsCombined or read the reviews on Tripadvisor.

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Hostels in Ollantaytambo

Similarly, there are lots of highly rated hostels in Ollantaytambo to choose from on Hostelworld.  I stayed at the wonderful Mama Simona Hostel, which has a beautiful garden to relax in, and a chilled out vibe.  If you’re looking for a different style of Ollantaytambo hostel, check out all of the options here.

BOOK YOUR HOSTEL NOW

Or check the options on Airbnb.   If you have never used Airbnb before, use this link to sign up & get up to $40 credit to use on your first trip!  Read more about the Airbnb first time discount code or click below for your Airbnb coupon.

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Ollantaytambo is a fascinating place to visit, and should certainly be on your Peru travel itinerary.  Often overlooked, be sure to give Ollantaytambo, or Ollanta as it's also known, a chance to show you just why it is so special.  Here I've listed my reasons to hopefully persuade you why you should go from Cusco to Ollantaytambo before heading to Machu Picchu. #Peru #MachuPicchu #SacredValley #Ollantaytambo #Maras #Moray #BackpackingPeru #Travel  Ollantaytambo is a fascinating place to visit, and should certainly be on your Peru travel itinerary.  Often overlooked, be sure to give Ollantaytambo, or Ollanta as it's also known, a chance to show you just why it is so special.  Here I've listed my reasons to hopefully persuade you why you should go from Cusco to Ollantaytambo before heading to Machu Picchu. #Peru #MachuPicchu #SacredValley #Ollantaytambo #Maras #Moray #BackpackingPeru #Travel #Backpacking #PeruItinerary

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Last updated: October 22, 2018
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5 thoughts on “Why You Should Go from Cusco to Ollantaytambo Before Machu Picchu

  1. A friend of mine recently went to Peru and the day she was gonna go to Machu Picchu she missed her tour group and the next tour was after 2 days. Long story short, she ended up going to Ollantaytambo and staying there overnight and absolutely loved the place. And reading this post totally adds to what she had told me about the place! The locals, the ruins and the Peruvian food (also the fact that you can learn some dishes!!) totally makes Ollantaytambo worth a visit. Given hous much there is to experience at Ollantaytambo, I would surely spend more than a day there 😀

  2. One of my biggest travel disappointments this year was to have to cancel our trip to Machu Pichu. But we do hope we can get it re-scheduled. So this post is a good one to put in the planning bucket. I think having a mid-point in Ollantaytambo would be a great idea. I would be happy with a little lower altitude! I love the view of ruins and what look like crop circles that you can get here. And probably far less crowded! Hubby would want to visit the chocolate museum for sure. And do a hands on exercise.

  3. A co-worker recently went to Machu Picchu and had horrible altitude sickness. I love the recommendation to stay overnight in Ollantaytambo and adjust a bit before going forward. Bonus that there are ruins to explore and the Circular Terraces at Moray look incredible. This is the first time I have seen images of the Maras Salt Ponds and now I really want to visit! Good to know about the timed entrance tickets to Machu Picchu

  4. I wouldn’t even have thought of the acclimating to the elevation part. Excellent tip! I imagine more than a few folks are affected by it. I once had mini altitude sickness on a snowboard trip, since I was from Florida and knew nothing of mountains. How long did it take you to acclimate for such extensive travels through the area? Did you have to readjust after you got home?

  5. I agree with you that visiting local communities is one of the highlights of a trip to Peru. And I can see why you suggest visiting Cusco and Ollantaytambo before heading off to Machu Picchu. Love that photo of the salt pond!

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