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Ollantaytambo, Peru – Last Stop on the Road to Machu Picchu
Feb 15, 2012
by John Smith
a Very Helpful Review
by the Epinions community
Pros:Plenty of local attractions, rich history, local culture, great dining, inexpensive, comfortable hotels.
The Bottom Line: I would highly recommend staying a few days in Ollantaytambo on your way to Machu Picchu. There are plenty of local attractions and culture to explore.
During my trip to Machu Picchu, I chose to spend several days in the Sacred Valley before beginning my trek to the ancient Incan city in the sky. During the trip, I spent a couple of nights just outside Ollantaytambo at a hotel called Casa Andina Private Collection. This hotel was just a few minutes from the small but bustling town of Ollantaytambo. I also spent one night at El Albergue Hotel located at the Train Station in Ollantaytambo. With several days to spend in and around Ollantaytambo, I had an opportunity to absorb much of the community flavor.
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One of the reasons I wanted to spend extra time in Ollantaytambo was the opportunity to visit a weaving project up the mountain behind the city. I booked the tour through Awamaki, an NGO that operates the tour as Awa Tours. The trip took my wife and I up a winding road that travels alongside the Patacancha River. We reached an elevation around 13,000 feet at the community of Patacancha, where Awamaki has a small weaving cooperative. The cooperative brings together weavers from the local village as well as some who hike the nearby mountain for hours to participate in the project. We were treated to a demonstration on the process of creating thread from the natural alpaca fur as well as enjoying the weaving process. The women continued to weave while we talked about the rich history of weaving in Andes. Afterwards, we were given the opportunity to purchase products from the women and then visited the private home of one of the weavers. It was an awesome trip that was among the highlights of my trip to Peru.
Among the other attractions in Ollantaytambo are a variety of ruins. The Temple of the Sun is the most prominent of these ruins and is included on the Boleto Turistico (Tourist Ticket) sold in Cuzco. This temple shows evidence of the rapid flight of the Incans when the Spanish arrived five centuries ago. Below the Temple of the Sun is a large Inca Market where rows of merchants sell everything from blankets and purses to paintings. It is customary to negotiate a price, but if you agree on a price, it is rude not to follow through. There are a number of hiking trails in and around Ollantaytambo. Awamaki is working on a guidebook of area trails, which they intend to mark and document for visitors. You can also go rafting on the Urubamba River, although that option did not appear very appealing to me. The water in this region would concern me. Ollantaytambo also has tours to a nearby salt mine. Two other tourist activities I considered, but didn’t end up participating in were a craft project and cooking class, both offered through Awamaki.
Ollantaytambo is a small village, but is interesting to walk around. If you are not hiking the trails, you can still get a bit of exercise walking between the train station, the Inca Market and the Plaza de Armas. Beyond the plaza is a small village market with local produce and very inexpensive knick-knacks. The market seems geared to the local denizens and is very interesting to just walk around. There is a soccer field along the road from the local market. The road ends at horse stables, where you can rent horses if you want to visit the area on horseback. The horseback excursions are a bit expensive, but looked like fun. A variety of small shops and restaurants surround the plaza. There are also a couple of interesting churches that you can stop in, when they are open.
Eating in Ollantaytambo can be a rewarding experience. Most of the restaurants around the Plaza de Armas looked a bit sketchy to me. Although the coffee shops on the mountain side of the plaza seemed safer to me. I ended up eating at the top three restaurants listed at TripAdvisor. I did not realize they were the top three until I returned home, so it was unintentional. The restaurants are listed on that website in the same order I would list them: El Albergue, Ruka Rumi and Hearts Café, in that order.
El Albergue Restaurant: The El Albergue Restaurant is located at the Peru Rail station. It is about a five minute walk from the heart of Ollantaytambo. If you don’t feel like walking, you can rent a motorcycle taxi to drive you for one sole. A cheap, short trip that is worth taking just to say you did it. The hotel is known for its alpaca steak, which I did not try. My wife and I both had pasta dishes, which were delicious and filling. We also had an excellent breakfast at the hotel, complete with a cup of cappuccino from Café Mayu, which is connected to the restaurant. If you are only able to grab a cup of the coffee while waiting for your train to Aguas Calientes, you won’t be disappointed. The average meal prices at El Albergue are in the ten dollar range. For the atmosphere and quality, this is average for the area and exceptional compared to prices back home.
Puka Rumi: Ruka Rumi is located next to the Inca Market below the Temple of the Sun. We visited this restaurant because we heard about their awesome burritos. After walking into the small courtyard leading to the restaurant, I started having second thoughts. A few flies were buzzing around the restaurant, which deepened my apprehension. I ordered chicken burritos and my wife ordered the steak. The burritos come out as two empty tortillas along with small ceramic pots filled with a variety of ingredients. Diners get to build their own burritos, or you can opt to eat them as tacos. My wife and I shared our meals and barely polished off the entire dinner. At nearly twenty dollars for the meals and soda, the price seemed a little bit high for the corresponding atmosphere. However, the food was delicious and filling.
Hearts Café: Our meal at Hearts Café was very light. Some might call it “tea.” My wife and I stopped into Hearts Café for coffee and scones. I had a mocha, which came in a tall clear glass with chocolate visibly clinging to the sides of my glass. After mixing my drink, I was treated to possibly the best cup of coffee during my visit. Our coffee drinks were not only exceptional, but very reasonably priced. I don’t remember the exact prices of the drinks, but recall comparing it to a couple of the other restaurants we visited. The prices at Hearts Café seemed moderately lower. The scones were perfect. A bit on the bland side, served with cream and jam. While I like flavored scones, these were delicious. Aside from great coffee and reasonable prices, Hearts Café is an NGO. The profits from this restaurant go toward providing hot breakfast and lunch to students at area schools. Malnutrition can be a serious problem high in the mountains, where diets often consist primarily of potatoes. The feeding program helps stabilize the health of local children. The menu consists primarily of sandwiches along with some pasta dishes and a decent breakfast menu. The restaurant is located at the end of the road leading to the train station. It provides an excellent opportunity to pick up a box lunch to carry with you to Machu Picchu, while providing support to the local community.
There are plenty of hotels in and around Ollantaytambo if you decide to spend the night. Many tourists miss out on this jewel of a city, taking a day trip that begins and ends in Cuzco. These trips make Ollantaytambo nothing more than a changing station from bus to train. Visitors breeze past the local attractions on their way to the “main event.” However, there are plenty of cheap hostels, decent hotels and even resorts in and around the city. I would highly recommend staying at one of the local hotels and experiencing everything Ollantaytambo has to offer. The hotels I stayed at included the El Albergue and Casa Andina Private Collection, located just a few minutes outside the village.
I designed my trip to spend extra time in the Sacred Valley of the Incas. If you enjoy hiking, you could spend weeks here. I wanted to visit the weaving cooperative through Awamaki as well as other local attractions, so I worked with my tour group to book the Casa Andina Private Collection for a couple of nights. An unexpected landslide stranded me in Ollantaytambo an extra day. This provided me the opportunity to stay at El Albergue Hotel. Both hotels had plenty of great features. I would highly recommend both for different reasons. I had plenty of great meals during my stay and thoroughly enjoyed learning more about this small village where the Inca were alive and well when the Spanish arrived. The rich history, area attractions, dining and restaurants are all geared toward giving tourists an exceptional visit. If you are not fluent in Spanish, you will find plenty of people who speak English. A five star destination.
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Best Suited For: Couples
Best Time to Travel Here: Dec - Feb
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