Ollantaytambo is approximately 2 hours from Cuzco, which is where most people land when visiting Machu Picchu and the Sacred Valley. Many people in fact use this as their base. Cameron and I chose to be a little further out. While Ollantaytambo certainly has its fair share of tourists, (this is one of two main stations that service the Machu Picchu station at Agua Calientes and also a common start of the Inca Trail) the town itself still manages to retain a certain village feel to it. With its Incan buildings, cobbled streets and gushing waterways, it is quite a cruisy place once the tourists have headed off to Machu Picchu for the day. It’s a great place to do day trips from and if you want to truly experience the local transport, forget about the tourist coaches and Peru Rail. Jump into a collectivo(or should I say squeeze). These are basically combi minibuses that besides a couple of main stops, pick people up all the way along. When there are no seats left, the fun is in the squeezing. Personal space is not a consideration. We made sure that we jumped on at the first main stop ensuring a seat. They are cheap and simple but depending on what road you are travelling on – not for the faint hearted.
The town of Ollantaytambo is also home to some major ruins of the Incan Empire and is a key point in the Sacred Valley. As with most of the ruins, some of the stonework is so incredibly perfect – you can’t begin to imagine how long it took to shape it to fit like it does. Even more amazing are the huge blocks that were quarried 5 kms else away and moved into place. Pink Rhyolite blocks were used for many of the Temple structures whereas fieldstones were predominantly used in basic buildings. On the hills surrounding the town, there are also storehouses which were built to store all the grains and dried produce. Making use of the higher altitude and colder temperatures ensured longer life for their produce.
Cam and I also made a point of sampling quite a few of the local cafes although the Heart Café saw us visit more than a few times. Run as a not for profit , all monies it does make go towards the highland villages into a variety of projects from medicine, clothing, education and childrens health. Being a lover of all things textile made this also a choice pick. Various items created by the women of the villages is for sale with all monies going directly to them. The Chaskawasi hostel where we stayed also contributes to the villages. Whilst not a not for profit, Katey the owner works with the villagers and also asks all hostel customers to donate a kilo of rice or sugar. These are some of the main ingredients that villagers must come down the mountain for ,which is difficult and expensive.
If you are wanting to base yourselves somewhere for a few days and are looking for somewhere a little less of the hustle and bustle of Cuzco(as great as it is) Ollantaytambo could be the place you are looking for.