There is so much to do in and around the charming old Inca town of Ollantaytambo in the heart of Peru’s Sacred Valley, that we spent a week here. While this town is often treated as just the starting point for visiting or hiking the Inca Trail to the famous ruins of Machu Picchu, it makes a great base to explore the area. Visiting Ollantaytambo with kids is easy as the town is very walkable, and the views of the surrounding mountains are stunning.
In this post, we’ll cover the best things to do in Ollantaytambo, the best day trips you can easily do from this town (including Machu Picchu), and where to eat and where to stay in Ollantaytambo.
We spent a week in Ollantaytambo as part of a month in Peru during our Family Year Out when our kids were 4 and 7. We also recommend spending time in Cusco, a few days in Lima, visiting the floating islands near Puno, and the Peruvian Jungle.
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What is the Sacred Valley?
The Sacred Valley of Peru is a place of stunning natural beauty and immense spiritual power. It lies nestled in the Andes Mountains, between Cusco and Machu Picchu, and is divided by the Patacancha River from the east and bound by the Urubamba River on the west.
The valley has been sacred to the Incas for centuries, and even today many of their descendants still live in the traditional villages dotting the landscape. The Inca considered the sacred valley to be the navel of the world, and it was here that they built some of their most important religious sites.
Ollantaytambo was a religious center for the Inca, and later a fortress. It was also home to one of their most sacred temples, the Temple of the Sun. You can visit the remains of this temple, though much of it was destroyed by the Spanish.
How Long Should You Stay in Ollantaytambo with Kids?
We spent a week in Ollantaytambo, in an attempt to slow our overall travel pace. Most families will not need this much time in this small town. We recommend 3-5 days in Ollantaytambo including day trips to nearby sites. Many of these trips can also be arranged from Cusco if you prefer.
Don’t Miss our complete guide to Peru with kids, which covers 4 weeks in Peru. If you’re short on time, Ollantaytambo can also be visited as a day trip from Cusco. Check out our full list of the best day trips from Cusco, Peru.
Getting to Ollantaytambo
If you are flying to the Sacred Valley you’ll arrive in Cusco. Have a taxi pick you up at the airport and drive directly to Ollantaytambo to avoid the effects of Cusco’s over 11,000 feet of altitude. Ollantaytambo is about 2,000 feet lower than Cusco, giving you time to acclimate to the higher elevations before returning to explore Cusco.
We recommend using Taxidatum to pre-schedule a car to take you to Ollantaytambo. We found that with four of us, it was not only far more convenient but actually cheaper to take a car than to pay for a taxi to the bus station and four bus tickets.
There are public buses running about every other hour from Cusco Centro between 3:00 am and 7:00 pm, but you will still need to get a taxi to take you from the airport to the Centro.
The airport parking lot is currently closed to taxis, so when you exit the airport, head to the right and take the pedestrian walkway up to the main road. The drive to Ollantaytambo from Cusco is approximately 1 1/2 hours.
Reserve a Ride: Taxidatum
The Best Things to Do in Ollantaytambo with Kids
This guide to Ollantaytambo will take you through the best of what the town has to offer, from short hikes to ancient ruins and includes historic and cultural sites nearby. We’ve also included where to eat and where to stay along the way.
Take your first full day in Ollantaytambo to explore the town, get settled, and explore. We arrived after four hot, busy days in the Peruvian Jungle, so we were dirty, tired, and carrying a lot of dirty laundry.
This is a great day to wander the back streets of the town where there are no cars, admire the huge Inca stones on the lower half of the walls, and follow the streams of water rushing through town.
Have lunch at Sunshine Café– they have a great selection of wraps, sandwiches, coffees, and desserts. Sunshine Café used to be Café Abuela, and they still use the old menu, as well as a new one. You will find the coffee options and more traditional items on the old menu.
Just a few doors up from Sunshine Café is an ice cream shop- stop here to try Lúcuma ice cream, and other flavors native to Peru. Lúcuma is a bright yellow fruit that has a unique flavor- S(7) describes it as a bit like maple syrup, though others describe it as similar to butterscotch.
Visit the produce market at the back of the main plaza, across from Market Gabriel. We felt the prices were fair. In other markets, we often feel that the price doubles or triples when they see tourists coming. Here the prices were very reasonable, and we’d be happy to shop there again. We purchased 3 large tomatoes for 1.5 soles, a head of broccoli for 1.5, and a small basket of local small plums for 3 soles.
Visit Moray, Maras and Urubamba
To visit these three sites, you’ll want to arrange a car and driver for the day through Taxidatum. We were picked up at our hotel at 9 am. If you can, we recommend starting a little bit earlier. Because you are starting from Ollantaytambo, you’ll be ahead of the crowds coming from Cusco, and the more you can get ahead of them, the more you’ll have these small sites to yourself.
You will need to buy a Boleto Turistico to visit Moray. You can purchase this tourist pass on-site, but you cannot just buy an individual entrance to the site.
Read our post on all the details of the Boleto Turistico.
The drive to Moray is stunning- most of this drive is along red dirt roads winding around as you climb about three thousand feet up into the mountains. You’ll see snow-capped mountains, agricultural fields, and the rushing Urubamba River. Stop at the mirador near the top of the mountain to look down on the Sacred Valley below you.
This small site is eye-catching- you’ll see terraced fields set within a natural bowl in the mountain the Inca used to create micro-climates and experiment with growing different crops. The fertile soil here is ideal for farming and the porous nature of the ground in the bowl lets the water drain out so that it does not fill or flood.
There is very little signage, so you may want to hire a guide at the entrance. At 11,500 feet high, you may find yourself feeling the altitude climbing back up the terraces.
You’ll probably spend about an hour here, walking around the circles, down to the bottom, and then back up. Our kids loved examining the salt patches in the rocks, the different flowers, and the cactuses along the path.
Salineras de Maras
On your way to the salt pools of Maras, you’ll pass through the town of Maras. If you have time, you can stop to visit the market in the square here. You’ll find indigenous women with produce stretched out on blankets in front of them. The market occurs every day, but the largest market is on Sundays.
Make sure to stop at the lookout above the parking lot for views of the salt flats before you actually enter the site.
Once you arrive at the Salineras de Mara, you’ll need to pay an entrance fee of 10 sols per adult (2022) in cash as your vehicle enters. Hold on to the receipt as you will need this to enter the site.
You’ll follow the signs to walk down along the edge of the salt pools. You can see the underground salt spring rushing into the area, and look over the salt pools. A few years ago, you could actually walk alongside the pools and down to the bottom of them, currently, you can only view them from the top viewpoint.
As you start back up toward the parking lot, keep an eye out for the covered area packed with white bags full of salt- this salt is hand-harvested and exported around the world. Of course, the vendors at the top of the stairs would be happy to sell you some salt in various colors and sizes to take home with you.
This small town makes a pleasant place to stop for lunch on your way back to Ollantaytambo. The central Plaza de Armas has a fountain in the middle decorated with an ear of corn, and a beautiful Spanish-style church at the north end.
We recommend lunch at Monkey Coffee, just a few blocks from the center. They have a selection of sandwiches on homemade focaccia bread, wraps, bao buns, and of course delicious coffee and pastries.
Climb the Ruins of Ollantaytambo
Ollantaytambo is called “The Last City of the Incas”. The Inca town is situated at the base of three valleys- with the coast in one direction, the highlands of Puna in another, and the jungles around Machu Picchu in the last direction. As such, this was a meeting place for trade, a focal point for religious ceremonies, consulting the solar calendar, and a storage place for food.
The ruins here involve climbing to the top of what was once the Sun Palace, an astronomical observatory that became a fortress when the Spanish attacked. The Spanish tore down much of the structure, looting it for gold and silver, and moving many of its large stones to newly built Catholic churches.
The ruins are easily reached by walking from the center of town. Head west from the main square, and follow the pedestrian bridge across the rushing river to find a handicraft market in front of the entrance to the ruins.
The entrance fee to the Ollantaytambo Ruins is part of the Boleto Turistico, you can buy your ticket here, or just show your ticket and pass through the gate. Once inside you can hire a guide if you wish.
There is a map showing three different recommended routes through the ruins: circuito corto, medio, and completo. We hired a guide at the entrance to take us through the circuito medio, for 100 soles.
We spent two hours at the ruins before the kids were tired of listening and ready to go get lunch- and there were still some ruins in the lower areas that we didn’t have time to visit. Our guide advised us that we could re-enter the ruins later if we wished, although they may ask for the name of your guide.
The ruins are very kid-friendly- there were rope barriers along steep edges, so we weren’t worried about anything being unsafe.
If we hadn’t had a guide, we would have moved through the space much faster. The views of the mountains and looking down over the town is lovely, and you can easily see for yourself how the large polished stones have been cut to fit together like puzzle pieces.
We learned a lot about the Inca culture from our guide, including how they divided their world into three sections- the snake representing our connection to Mother Earth, the puma representing the power of our world, and the condor which connects Earth with the heavens. It’s also great to have someone to ask questions of, from “what’s growing in those fields over there” to what the Inca traded for currency.
Climb the (free) Pinkuylluna Ruins
The Pinkuylluna Ruins are several Inca structures that were used for food storage. From town, you can see a large castle-like structure up on the hill. These structures were designed to allow the air to circulate through the building and cool the food being stored. They have found evidence of all sorts of foods from grains grown in the valley, to dried fish that would have been brought in from the coast.
To enter the Pinkuylluna Ruins, head northeast from the main plaza. You’ll find the entrance door on Lares Calle. You’ll see a wooden door that says “Horario de Visita” right next to a ceramics shop.
These doors are open for hikers from 7:30 am to 4:30 pm. From here you’ll climb a few steep stone steps until you find a registration desk. There is no fee to hike to these ruins, but you’ll need to sign the register.
The Climbing Route
We recommend climbing to the larger structure first and then visiting the smaller structures off to the right on the return. This hike has a lot of high stone steps, with a few bamboo railings to help you. There is a bit of scrambling over rocks as well. E (4) has the shortest legs in our family, so she needed a hand on some of the larger steps and steeper areas. S(7) had no problems.
The ruins look quite far away when viewed from town, but the hike is actually not long. It took us about half an hour from registration to reach the largest structure, taking some breaks along the way.
Just after you start your hike you’ll come to a fork in the path. Stick to the left to head up to the larger storage building. Farther up you’ll come to another divide, which can be a bit confusing as the arrows point left and right, but you’ll want to head straight up.
After exploring the main structure, and appreciating the views of the valley and Ollantaytambo Ruins below you, head back down to the divide in the path. The way that the path curves it is easy to miss when you are passing this intersection. Continue down and to the left and you’ll reach the smaller set of ruins. The path curves down through these smaller structures before joining the original path just above the registration desk.
Heading Out: Take the Train to Aguas Calientes or Cusco
From Ollantaytambo you can take the train to Aguas Calientes and visit Machu Picchu, or head towards Cusco and the additional ruins and museums that await you there.
Where Should I Eat in Ollantaytambo with Kids?
There are a ton of restaurants in Ollantaytambo catering to tourists, each with lots of colorful signboards, and yet it’s hard to tell many of them apart. Everyone offers wood-fired pizza, burgers, and pasta. None of these are native to the area and you will likely find that the local cuisine offerings are far better and also more affordable.
This café has wraps, sandwiches, good coffee, and expensive beer. The kids liked their yogurt, fruit, and granola bowls. Be sure to ask to see both menus- Sunshine Café and Abuela Café. Located after the pedestrian bridge heading toward the ruins, at the far corner of the block.
Rest. Pizzeria Inti Killa
We didn’t actually like the pizza here, despite their homemade clay oven. Of all the soups we tried, the pumpkin soup here was the creamiest, and thus the kids’ favorite. Located on the south side of the main plaza.
Restaurant Las Ñusta
The menu of the day is a great, inexpensive lunch. Choose an entrada, a Segundo (chicken, meat, or vegetarian), and a lemonade. Also, don’t miss the pancakes here! We had the corn and banana, and the apple pancake and both were really delicious. Located right on the main square, next to Chaupi Calle.
We actually ate here twice, because the chicken soup here was S’s favorite. It has noodles and sliced fresh veggies in it. Located on the Northeast corner of the main square.
Cafe Mayu is a coffee shop with pastries, salads, and sandwiches that is a part of the El Albergue Restaurant. This cafe is actually on the platform of the train station. This is a great place to head before your train if you have a little extra time, or just to watch the trains come and go.
The main restaurant is widely considered the best restaurant in town- they offer a fresh, farm-to-table experience.
Where to Stay in Ollantaytambo with Kids
The whole town of Ollantaytambo is very walkable, so you can’t go wrong as far as location. We preferred to be closer to the main square, rather than close to the railway station.
Recommended Hotel: Casa Don David– We stayed here, it’s an easy walk from the main plaza and has lovely interior gardens. Our family room had a large king bed on the main floor, an interior staircase to a loft, and two full beds upstairs. The kids loved having their own space to play and sleep in.
Our only complaint was the Wifi was barely accessible. The town in general does not have strong internet, and even when we were able to connect to the hotel network, the speeds were super slow.
Check Rates: Casa Don David
When is the Best Time to Visit Ollantaytambo with Kids?
We visited in April and found snow-capped mountains, blooming wildflowers, and fields of wheat that were just beginning to grow- and glowing almost neon green. The rainy season runs from January through March, so in April, everything is blooming. The busy season start coincides with the summer holidays in July and August which is when you’ll find larger crowds, but also more sun and less rain.
What are the Symptoms of Altitude Sickness?
At around 9,000 feet you will probably not feel much altitude sickness in Ollantaytambo, but you may feel a bit short of breath. When hiking, you may get winded faster, and feel more tired in the evenings than you normally would. You are more likely to feel the effects in Cusco, which is almost 2,000 feet higher than Ollantaytambo.
Those affected by moderate or more serious altitude sickness may experience nausea or dizziness and need to be removed to a lower altitude to recover.
What is the Weather Like in Ollantaytambo and the Sacred Valley?
If you are coming from Lima, you’ll find Ollantaytambo much cooler. We arrived from Puerto Maldonado, and after 90-degree days in the jungle, the cooler weather in the Sacred Valley was a shock. Very few hotels are heated, so expect cool evenings and extra blankets. We found ourselves sleeping in pajamas and socks in April.
The weather is very changeable- you can have strong sun in the morning, followed by a sudden afternoon rainstorm. Be sure to apply sunscreen, even on cool, cloudy days, as the sun is quite strong and you can get burned before you realize it.
There You Have It: Ollantaytambo with Kids
The five-night itinerary for Ollantaytambo with kids includes some of the best things to do, see, and eat in this small town full of indigenous charm. Visiting Ollantaytambo with kids is easy as the town is very walkable, and the views of the surrounding mountains make this a peaceful and refreshing destination in Peru’s Sacred Valley.