As well as being something of a tongue-twister (try saying it after a couple of Pisco Sours), Ollantaytambo is also a remarkable Inca site that combines a mighty fortress perched on a mountainside, exquisitely constructed terracing and the remains of an Inca town on the valley floor with narrow cobbled streets and fast flowing irrigation channels that still retain their pre-Hispanic feel.
Ollantaytambo is one of the handful places where the Spanish suffered a defeat at the hands of the Inca (and there were few enough). It was here in 1536 that Manco Inca retreated with thousands of his followers after his defeat at Sacsayhuaman. In an attempt to capture Manco Inca and put an end to his rebellion, Hernando Pizarro pursued him with a force of 70 Spanish cavalry and hundreds of Spanish and indigenous foot soldiers.
What the Spanish didn’t know was that Manco Inca had forged an alliance with Amazonian tribes who swelled the ranks of the defenders, and then in a cunning tactical move he flooded the valley floor to hamper the Spanish cavalry. Trapped between the viciously steep terraces of the fort and the flooded valley the Spanish suffered one of their few defeats, slinking away in the middle of the night and leaving behind many of their weapons.
As with all things Spanish versus Inca, the triumph didn’t last long and the Spanish soon returned with a much larger force and Manco Inca fled deeper into the Amazon. Having climbed the stairway to the top of the fortress it is easy to see how the Spanish came unstuck at Ollantaytambo, the climb up is unpleasant enough without being bombarded from above.
Ollantaytambo is one of the main railway stations in the Sacred Valley and a major jumping off point for Aguas Calientes and Machu Picchu. Consequently it gets its fair share of tourists, but get up early enough and it is possible to have the ruins more-or-less to yourself, and once you’re at the top the views up and down the valley and over the town are spectacular.
Across the valley on the other side of the village are more Inca fortifications, stretching into the distance around the side of the mountain. A stiff 20 minute walk up brings you to this set of buildings with views back over the village and the main fortress of Ollantaytambo. After which a stroll around the village, a cup of coffee and some delicious pastries seemed in order.