The village of Ollaytantambo is where most trains leave for Machu Picchu (MP) but it is also an ancient city in its own right. All of the houses are built on the foundations of the original Inca village and the streets are distinctively narrow and cobblestoned with the original drainage canal running alongside the narrow sidewalks. It has a village square surrounded by two-storey buildings – typical of most in the region – with shops on the bottom, restaurants on the top, most with small balconies from which to watch the action below.
We stayed in a lovely hotel that, although the entrance is actually right off the station platform, had well-appointed rooms in small buildings surrounding a beautiful garden and adjacent to their own organic farm (which provided veggies to the hotel restaurant). It is owned by an American woman, now living in Lima, whose son (born in Ollaytantambo) is now running it – we met him in the hotel Café at happy hour (where we had our first taste of pisco).
Our guide, Jair, picked us up that morning and we drove to the site of the ruins which tower over the town. The highlight of what was both a ceremonial centre and a royal estate is the unfinished Sun Temple, built with six massive blocks of rhyolite which fit together like a glove. Some of the blocks used in the construction weighed up to 52 tons and were dragged across the valley from the hillside across the river, then up a steep ramp. It literally boggles the mind as to how they did this over 600 years ago. The area also provides an excellent example of the Inca’s brilliance in agricultural terracing and irrigation systems. Still under construction when the Spaniards arrived in 1536-7, this is the site of the last Inca victory over the Spaniards.
We next drove east for about an hour through the valley to see another Inca fortress at Pisac. This is a huge area of agricultural, hydraulic, military, residential and religious ruins. We walked up through one of two entrances, on either side of a mountain and found impressively preserved rough stone buildings over an immense number of terraces following the contours of the hills down to the valley below.