The Inca Trail – Along The Sacred Valley

The magnificent backdrop and setting of Ollantaytambo
The magnificent backdrop and setting of the inca city of Ollantaytambo

We awoke early in the morning ready to catch the minibus up The Sacred Valley. To get us to the trailhead we had been booked onto a day tour up the valley to the Incan settlement of Ollantaytambo which also enabled us to see some of the ancient sites and structures along the way.

Our team to trek the actual Inca Trail was only going to be a small team of six people but todays bus tour dumped us in with other tourists and holidaymakers from all over the world. It was a bit of a shock and not the kind of thing we are really used to these days being very averse to being shepherded around on a tight budgeted timeline. But it was a means to an end and eventually after the obligatory stops at shops and artisan stalls all along the way we made it to Ollantaytambo.

Ollantaytambo is itself a magnificent place. It’s setting in the steep sided Sacred Valley is sublime and having travelled the 60 odd kilometers from Cusco to get here we were very glad to see that this final destination was well worth the effort.

During the Inca Empire Ollantaytambo was the royal estate of Emperor Pachacuti who conquered the region and built the town and a ceremonial centre here to affirm his authority. At the time of the Spanish conquest of Peru it served as a stronghold for Manco Inca Yupanqui, leader of the Inca resistance. Today it is the launch pad for among other things ‘The Inca Trail’.

The town itself is located next to the Patakancha River in the Urubamba Valley and steep terraces rise all around the lavish structures that form its famous Temple Hill complex. Temple hill was primarily a religious precinct and at the ceremonial centre are a series of stairways that climb to the top of the terraced complex. The main structure of this sector is the Sun Temple, an uncompleted building which features the Wall of the Six Monoliths.

Our destination along the narrow traverse – the qollqa (grain storehouses)

We spent some time exploring the unfinished ruins of the temple before setting off along a narrow traverse to several storehouses (qollqa) made out of field stones on the hills and terraces that surrounded. Their location at high altitudes, where there is more wind and lower temperatures, defended their contents against decay, an advantage for the farmers indeed but a distinct disadvantage for us struggling to acclimate while attempting to access them. But the views from their very precipitous positions once gained were easily worth the grind.

A typical Incan street in Ollantaytambo
A typical Incan street in Ollantaytambo – the foundations are original, first floors colonial

After some time exploring in and around the terraces we descended back to the valley floor to take a look around the old town. The main settlement has an orthogonal layout with four longitudinal streets crossed by several parallel streets and at the centre of this grid the Incas built a large plaza. All the blocks in the southern half of the town (which is the best preserved area) were built to the same design; each comprised two kancha, walled compounds with four one-room buildings around a central courtyard.

Wandering around the narrow streets was an intoxicating experience transporting me back in my mind to the late 15th century when the town would have seen it’s heyday. After hiking around for some time in the late afternoon heat we decided to call it a day and sensibly find a bar to sit at and just people watch.

Matt quaffing back a cheeky pint or two
Matt quaffing back a cheeky pint or two in a bar above in the town square

I would have had a cold beer at this point but conscious of my upcoming high altitude trek I abstained as I’m a believer that alcohol and altitude just don’t work together (call me old-fashioned) but there you have it. However, Matt who we had met on the minibus ride here and who would also be embarking on the trek with us did not have any such qualms and proceeded to quaff back a couple of pints right in front of me! Oh the arrogance of youth! OK basically I was jealous but I stuck to my guns conscious that tomorrow the adventure would start for real, tomorrow we would start our five day trek along the Inca Trail to the fabled Machu Picchu, or so we hoped!

Next in this series of travel dispatches – Km82


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