For a real experience of what Inca life would have been, visit Ollantaytambo.

Inca Emperor Pachacuti, who had his royal estate here, built Ollantaytambo in the 15th century and established it as a ceremonial centre. While Spanish conquerors replaced some of its original structures with colonial architecture, much remains in Ollantaytambo’s old town where ancient Inca buildings are still occupied by surviving Inca ancestors.

Laid out in a traditional grid pattern, cobbled narrow streets bordered by adobe brick buildings and stone Inca doorways are an absolute pleasure to explore. Wide stone stairs, flanked by carved canals carrying fast flowing water from the surrounding mountainsides, rise up through arched tunnels and on into small courtyards, or Canchas; adorable children in brightly coloured indigenous clothing pass by, chasing chickens or assisting parents with daily chores; and to add to the wonder of it all, the contours of the surrounding massive gorges are accentuated by the beautiful ribbed remains of Inca terrace agriculture.

To the west, on a steep escarpment amidst these terraces, are the ruins of a religious structure that in 1537 successfully defended the Incas from a Spanish attack. The fort-like ceremonial centre, known as Temple Hill, was unfinished at the time of invasion. But while not as impressive as Pisac or Machu Picchu, there are some superb examples of Inca stone masonry to admire and fabulous views of the town and surrounding valley, including the ruins of storehouses clinging to a steep escarpment – built at a higher altitudes so that wind and lower temperatures could prolong the life of the grain.

To learn a bit about the history and culture of the town, visit El Museo Catcco on Calle Patacalle. It’s a pleasant little place with a small cover charge and archaeological and ethnographic information that will enhance your experience of the ruins and town.

Ollantaytambo is easily accessed on buses and minibuses from Cusco and Pisac. It is also a stop on the Cusco to Machu Picchu train line and a common starting point for the Inca Trail.

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