Free day in Ollantaytambo

The day after the Inca Downhill we were pretty much toast, and ready for a little R and R in the Sacred Valley. While the main plaza can be all hustle and bustle as the many tourist buses unload and load again, just a few blocks away the peace and quiet allow the true beauty of the valley to shine through.
Since I’ve been living ultra-low budget style for over 6 months in Cusco I decided it was time to splash out a bit on accommodations. After two days of grueling downhill riding I wanted to be assured of a hot shower, clean rooms with comfortable beds, and some additional space to relax. Of course, a view of the surrounding peaks or the massive Inca site across the way wouldn’t hurt.
When a friend in the travel industry recommended Hostal Iskay II, I knew I’d found my place. And absolutely every one of my wishes were granted and every expectation exceeded. While technically only 2-stars, Hostal Iskay II actually felt like the lap of luxury due to the lush gardens, patio terraces, and bright, airy rooms directly across from the Inca site. And, yes, the showers are hot and have good pressure and the beds are comfortable with delightful down comforters. (Oh, how I’ve missed the down comforter!) In addition to the lovely rooms we had access to a clean, organized kitchen in the commons area. While we didn’t make use of it due to the number of great restaurants, we did appreciate the all-day availability of hot beverages and important culinary tools such as the bottle opener.
As I alluded to earlier, I really do think that everything magical about Ollanta can be found in its side streets. Having the distinction of being the only Inca city still functioning today gives this tiny town its impressive labyrinth of towering stone walls and irrigation channels that run directly through the narrow streets providing the constant soothing sound of moving water as you wonder along, trying not to get too caught up in the insanely delicious smell of the blossoms cascading overhead. Yeah, it’s rough.
Back on these side streets you can also find small, family-owned restaurants that offer delicious food at roughly half the price of the tourist marketed restaurants on the main square and often offer seating in their lush courtyard gardens.
One of the most amazing stumble-upon finds was a bar named Gonso’s, which we found only by following Izzy’s version of “Somewhere Over the Rainbow” floating into the night sky and a gut instinct that wherever that was coming from was where we wanted to be. And how right we were. Everything about this bar is unique: from the swinging bench seating in the upstairs area that is brimming with eclectic (and eccentric) art, to the smooth wooden fire pole you can use to slide down to the first floor when nature calls or you need another round. That’s right, the bar has a fire pole – that alone is reason enough to check this place out.
After a refreshing night’s sleep at the hotel we were ready for some activity so we did the day hike to the Pumamarka Inca site. The hike is actually mostly a moderate, but lengthy, walk along the dirt road that leaves from the back side of town until you reach a left hand turn at a bridge with clear signage for the site. From here you climb a relatively short but steep trail up to the ruins. Not surprisingly, the structures that remain are yet another reminder of the advanced building techniques and appreciation for beauty that marked the Inca culture. If your trip or tour includes a free day in Ollantaytambo this a great way not only to see an equally impressive site and get some exercise, but to get expansive views of the surrounding peaks and mountain valleys. Any hotel staff should be able to give you directions, though you can also hire a guide if you ask around. If hiking’s not your thing, or if you’ve cashed in all your energy tokens on the Inca Trail, an alternate route to the site is available as a horseback trip that you can inquire about at offices in the main plaza.
Digging a little deeper in to Ollantaytambo provided some awesome surprises, and I certainly came back to Cusco feeling more relaxed and rested.