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Exploring the Archaeological Site of Ollantaytambo, Peru

Everyone goes to Peru to see Machu Picchu. I mean, that's why we went to Peru too.

But the Inca Empire seriously spans the entire country of Peru (and much of the far-west of South America, in general).

Only about 2 hours from Cusco, which was both the political and military capital of the Incan Empire, is the Sacred Valley. And in the Sacred Valley is Ollantaytambo. Ollantaytambo (the town, not the archaeological site) is now the starting point for the Inca Trail hike to Machu Picchu, so it sees a ton of traffic from visitors. You can also pick up the train from Ollantaytambo to Machu Picchu. But the archeological site of Ollantaytambo is worth time, in and of itself.

The site of Ollantaytambo is simply stunning, and an interesting contrast from the greenery and lushness of Machu Picchu (at least in August). Ollantaytambo's terraces are impressive, and you can still see the route from the quarry where the enormous stone monoliths came from at the top of Ollantaytambo. It's incredibly amazing to see the massive quarries and long routes (5 kilometers or more down and up steep mountains) the Incas took to move those ginormous stones to Ollantaytambo and other sites. While sliding the blocks downhill seems sort-of feasible, getting the stones uphill is sort of like pushing rope, no? The architectural feats of the Incas (and other civilizations) are truly amazing.

I guess that's why there are so many believable alien conspiracy theories. Kidding. Obviously. Ya'll know I'm big on believing things I can't see. Actually, experts in these things have developed a wooden platform and lever system that they suspect the Incas used (with large labor forces) to slowly move the many ton stones. But there are also multiple blocks laying haphazardly both in Ollantaytambo and in the paths from the quarries destined for structures that were never completed (damn you, Spanish conquistadors). The Spaniards and the Incas also had a large battle at or near Ollantaytambo.

The old town area of Ollantaytambo (the old Incan city) is still occupied, with tiny brick-lined streets and beautiful Inca walls. It's amazing to see the structures being used much in their original state.

We hiked to the top of Ollantaytambo, which has beautiful views into the surrounding valleys. And I use the word "hike" loosely. It's all stairs. While the altitude may make you pant, there isn't any arduous hiking required to see these ruins. Regular tennis shoes are fine, as are Tevas or Toms. Be warned though, much of the Incan stone can become slippery if covered in water or dew. While it can be cool in the morning, it warms up quickly and Ollantaytambo gets a good dose of high altitude sunlight, so take layers but keep yourself protected from the sun. While a guide isn't necessary, there aren't any explanatory signs or information as you explore, so if you are interested in learning more, either buy a book or get a guide for an hour or two.

It's hard to explain the enormity and impressiveness of the Incan cities. But definitely don't miss the opportunity to visit if you have to take the train or start your hike from here–it's worth a few hours!


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Hi, I'm Heather! I'm a part-time traveler with a love for Africa, warthogs, archaeological sites, carry-ons, and studying disease outbreaks. Err on the side of luxury travel, and always want to look somewhat fashionable while been totally comfortable. With just a short amount of time to travel each year, I try to make the most of it! Beaches, cities, jungles, and the bush--I enjoy it all. Always planning the next trip, exploring the near, and destination lusting.

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