Disclaimer: This trip was made in March 2014. A lot has likely changed since. Please apply due diligence in your own planning.
After a home-made breakfast at the lodge, we made our way to the main road where Chris flagged down a collectivo (small shared local bus) in the middle of the street and sent us on our way to the ruins at Ollantaytambo. We paid in local currency and then spent the next several minutes enjoying the ride with the locals. The bus dropped us at the top of the road leading to the entrance and we had to walk a bit to get there.
We got our tickets to the Ollanta ruins and made our way closer to the mountain. We bought the Boleto Turistico that covers the all of the Sacred Valley’s attractions including Ollantaytambo and Pisac, but not the Salineras (salt mines) of Maras.
Visiting early morning on that spring day was the best thing we did as the weather was cool. This ancient site involves climbing steep steps and at times crossing narrow ridges. Carrying drinking water, sunscreen and a hat were helpful.
The site served several purposes in its times – ceremonial, religious, administrative, agricultural and military, all in one. The lower complex houses the buildings for ceremonial purposes. Facing the mountain, the left side forms the Temple Hill with the Temple of the sun. It is connected through a narrow ridge with the granaries and warehouses on the right, the Balcon Pata. Close to the foot of the mountain, centrally is the religious/ceremonial complex. On the mountain face all across run the quintessential terraces that are so much a part of the Incan architecture.
What I loved most about Incan architecture was how they molded their structures to the land around them, be it the mountains or the valleys they built in. The high mountains provided them good sunlight, water for agriculture and survival but also natural protection from the elements as well as invaders. In fact, one of the few victories scored by the Incas against the Conquistadors was here at Ollantaytambo.
The precision of the giant stone blocks forming the Temple of the Sun is startling and thoroughly impressive. How they managed to quarry and haul these monoliths up the mountainside and shaped them is mind-boggling to even consider. The view from the Temple of the surrounding mountains and the valley at its feet is expansive and breathtaking.
The Temple Hill also contains ruins of homes that belonged to the people of the upper echelons of society, still well-preserved. I can only imagine how fresh and pure the air must have felt around here, how vibrant the morning sun as one looked out the window and gazed at the valley below.
Across the valley is the Pinkuylluna mountain with more warehouses. It is said that this mountain has the face of the Viracocha (creator of all things) carved into it.
The Ritual complex houses the ceremonial aspects including several fountains.
Walking back to the main entrance we passed the vendors with colorful wares. By now the sun had risen high and we were both hungry and thirsty. So we headed to the Tawa Chaki restaurant where we ate pizza. Across the restaurant was the Choco Museo, the museum about cacao products and their harvest to manufacture story. Naturally, the kids found this place enticing. The museum itself was free to visit but we couldn’t leave the store without buying some chocolate.
We walked back to the main streets of Ollanta and made our way to the train station. The narrow streets were fun to walk in. The local women walked by in brightly colored Quechua clothing. The bold and striking colors of their textiles make one want to stand and watch them as they walk past.
Chris had asked us to find a taxi for hire at the station to visit the other sites, Maras and Moray. We didn’t make the trip to Chinchero. I remember us standing outside the train station bargaining with the taxi drivers. Ultimately we settled on 100 Soles for the trip. Once we started, part way, the driver stopped the car and asked us to get out. He then flagged down a different taxi and talked to the other driver for a bit. Then he gestured for us to get into the other cab. It was a bit bewildering but we did. We were not entirely certain but it seemed that the first driver felt there was a problem with his car and so he felt obliged to get us settled with a different driver. We were just thankful he didn’t leave us stranded by the roadside. The second driver seemed a bit more friendlier and we made small conversation as we drove to Moray.
The circular terraces at Moray are a sight to behold. It appears that the Incas were pursuing agricultural research and development intensely during their rule. One of the interesting features is that these terraces differ in temperature from one ring to the next thus mirroring climactic changes affecting their lands. There is also an extensive system of irrigation canals underneath these terraces that helps these ruins avoid flooding despite usual heavy rains in the area. The man-made beauty runs hand in glove with the natural allure of the surrounding land.
From Moray, we drove to Maras, the home of the Salineras or salt pans. It was also home to the driver who took us there. And we could detect a certain glint of pride in his face as he took us to the central plaza pf the town. We spent a bit of time looking around the area before heading to the salt mines. Like the farming terraces at Ollanta, the salt is extracted from water in small pools laid out in terraces by evaporation.
The sight of these salt pans from a bird’s-eye view is quite dramatic. Brown soil against glistening water and white salt, a melange of colors. Salineras entry is separate and not included in the tourist ticket.
By then, the day was almost coming to a close, so we chose to return to the lodge, instead of onto Chinchero. We also had an early morning train to Aguas Calientes. We enjoyed a quiet evening in the gardens of the Lodge before Chris served us another excellent vegetarian pasta meal. We packed a small suitcase for the next two days and called it a day! We were off to see Macchu Picchu!