Ollantaytambo, Peru: Cobblestones, prison ruins and vivid festival of the village’s patron saint

Story by staff writer Lisa A. White. Photos Copyright © Lisa A. White.

Latest in a series about her travels in Peru by staff writer Lisa A. White

In a previous story, I touched on our decision to stay in Ollantaytambo and our horseback ride to Inti Punku. However, I’ve barely scratched the surface of our adventures in the little town of Ollantaytambo. I’ll hit a few more highlights but, after that, you simply must plan to visit it yourself.

Quiet streets

Quiet streets

We arrived from Cusco, Peru by car. As we got closer to Ollantaytambo, the cobblestone streets were so rough the entire car and our teeth rattled. Although we had a map to get all the way to our “home away from home,” a little hostel known as Casa de Wow, it was clear that no car could go all the way there.

The “streets” of Ollantaytambo are narrow stone paths between Inca stone walls and stone buildings. Along many of these paths are trench waterways, about 18″ wide, without covers, and with fast-flowing water from the mountains.

The streets of Ollantaytambo are not car-accessible!

The streets of Ollantaytambo
are not car-accessible!

A few reviews we read before leaving the States claimed that Ollantaytambo was “too touristy.” We disagree. Admittedly, the town square and the road to the train station have a bustling tourist trade, primarily due to transportation connections. Ollantaytambo is the last stop before Aguas Calientes and Machu Picchu. However, once you move past the square, it becomes clear that this town is a living relic of the Incan past. Local culture and native Peruvians dominate.

Our daughter Annie in the Sacred Valley

Our daughter Annie in the Sacred Valley

From the rooftop perch at Casa de Wow, we had a 360-degree view of this Inca community. In front of our hostel were the ruins of Ollantaytambo. Behind us were the ruins of the grain storage and prisons, called Pinkullyuna.



While in Ollantaytambo, we hiked to both sets of ruins. Pinkullyuna has no entrance fee, but often guides to hire are near the bottom of the steps. The guide that we hired was friendly, very informative, and a lot of help navigating the steep and unmarked terrain. Pinkullyuna is sunny in the evening and Ollantaytambo is sunny in the morning, so plan accordingly based on the weather and your preference. To hike both in a single day would be exhausting.

Interesting cut stone designed to interlock with other stones.  This one is was about the size of a small car.

Stone cut to interlock with other stones.
This one’s about the size of a small car.

Before we traveled to Peru, we hoped to visit during some sort of local festival. The websites we went to were silent, but once we arrived in Ollantaytambo, we were shocked to learn that the Santisima Cruz de Senor Choquekillca—a festival in honor of the town’s patron saint—overlapped perfectly with our trip.

The festival includes a lot of dancing, fireworks, music, parades and, more than anything, it’s COLORFUL. We were never quite sure what was going to happen next but we certainly enjoyed ourselves. The videos (see dancing link to YouTube above) and photo collage tell the story better than I can.

Festival dancers of all ages, and some of the locals.

Festival dancers of all ages,
and some of the locals

To end on a memorable note: During one of the festival nights, we were standing between two sets of bleachers filled with local families. All of a sudden, a waterfall of sparks started pouring down to our right. I started videotaping it. Then another waterfall was pouring to our left. Still capturing the sight on video. Suddenly the waterfall was right over our heads. Dan ran, I hid under some people. The proof is in the video—and the burn-holes on our fleece jackets!


Beer in Brussels

Lisa drinking beer in Brussels

Lisa White loves wandering through the world and life without a perfectly planned path. In all pursuits—whether personal or professional—she always has more to explore, more to learn, and more to do. She practices law in Tennessee with Greg Coleman Law PC, working primarily on class action lawsuits. When major corporations refuse to “do the right thing” for consumers, plaintiff firms like GCL step in. Whether for work or for fun, when Lisa catches a flight somewhere—anywhere—she makes plans to celebrate the good, positive, beautiful, tasty, and fun of the world.


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