Yesterday morning I woke up early, threw my camera in a backpack, and went to Av Grau to catch a taxi to Ollantaytambo with the intention of taking the trail from the Inca Bridge just outside Ollanta — that’s what locals call the town — and climbing all the way up to the Inti Punku (“Sun Gate”) high up on the ridge west of the town.
I didn’t make it to the top for a couple of reasons. First, I was distracted by a multitude of sites along the way. Second, it’s tough! The climb is climbs for hours with the high altitude Andean sun beating down upon you the entire way.
[As always, be sure to click on the individual photos to see a larger version.]
The trail was long and hot, but the scenery couldn’t have been more spectacular in what turned out to be a beautiful morning.
The best part was the presence of the 19,334′ Nevado Veronica the entire way. Like many mountains, clouds often keep it obscured and frequently barely visible (if it can be seen at all) much of the time, but not yesterday. The pyramid-shaped mountain dominates the surrounding landscapes and is one of the major sacred mountains of both the Inca culture and current campesino culture.
The trail slowly rose up the mountainside on the opposite side of the Rio Urubamba towards the ancient stone quarries several thousands feet higher up the mountain where stones were quarried then brought down for use in the main Ollantaytambo site across the river.
Interesting, a large number of quarried stones still lie along the trail where they were left abandoned at some point while in the process of being brought down.
It’s always “fun” to listen listen to the uneducated Inca experts who think they can look around and understand everything based on some YouTube video they saw by a con man trying to sell unbelievably expensive tours so you his lies about ancient civilizations. I’ve heard many people talk about how the Incas couldn’t get the heavy stone blocks up to the Ollantaytambo site. Of course, they only go in to the site through the front tourist entrance and see nothing else — including the still existing ramp where the stone were brought up that is clearly visible.
Along the way, one of the most interesting sites is a set of four chullpas, or burial tombs, which still exist near the trail. (If you go, please respect the locally made fences of cactus and stones to keep people at a distance.)
For me, the biggest surprise was the discovery of a massive site that is likely larger than just about ancient site that I’ve seen anywhere in the Cusco region. Only a tiny bit is visible from the trail, but I discovered it on one of my treks off-trail looking for something else. There are literally dozens and dozens of buildings and terraces that are buried in the scrub brush along the mountainside.
I kept thinking about if it has ever been explored and mapped. My guess — emphasis on guess — is that’s it’s related to the quarry and was likely housing for the tens of thousands of workers who were involved in the construction of Ollantaytambo.
I was amazed at just how many ruins there were. Walls and buildings were everywhere all along the mountainside.. The availability of considerable farm land below meant these terraces were not agricultural and likely were for stability and erosion control.
While I didn’t make it to the Inti Punku, this was still a fantastic hike with some of my usual off-trail explorations and some very interesting sites to see along the way.