We were told this town in the sacred valley was interesting and worth a stop on the way back from Machu Picchu, so we opted to get the Peru Rail train there and stay a night.
When we hopped off the train from Machu Picchu, we were expecting to find a small
Archaeological town, which it is, but it is also a thriving little tourist village with cafes, bars and markets.
The following day we secured a taxi back to Cusco, but you could book the train again the following day if you prefer. It’s much of a muchness in price. Since we had some other sites to visit on the return trip, this suited us.
Where to visit
Upon hopping off the train, we were met with a fabulous looking coffee shop, restaurant and hotel. A few questions later, and we found the had a farm and distillery too. The lovely Stephen showed us around. He was extremely enthusiastic about the brand and highly knowledgeable about everything on site.
El Albergue has a hotel and although we didn’t stay here as it was out of our price range, we had a tour through and it’s a good high end option.
This is a property right at the train station with beautiful rustic styling, large rooms and it is built around a garden. With an attached vegetable farm and distillery (where they produce Cana Alta on site), it’s really a lovely place to stay.
Part of this complex is also a cafe: Cafe Mayu and a restaurant: El Albergue farm. You can also have a wonderful Pachamanca lunch for US$40 (we explain this in further detail later). This accomodation is considered to be expensive for the town, between $150-$200.
They also support a school called Kuska on site to promote education amongst local children.
Mayu Torrefaccion and Cafe Mayu
The site has a workshop for roasters and we had the opportunity to see their roaster, beans and learn about their selection and roasting process. These beans are used at the Cafe and you can order your preferred coffee; an espresso, latte or Americano. The cafe also sells beers, wines, snacks and especially a delicious choc chip cookie!
The property also has a distillery on farm, producing Cana Alta. We had a tour to the distillery and learnt about their artisanal distilling methods and also tried a number of different Cana Alta Canazo flavours.
This is not on site at El Albergue, but a sister store. It is located more in the main town of Olltaytambo, which is less than a km from the train station.
We were recommended to visit here for dinner since we were staying in the town, and we were encouraged with free drinks! Newly opened, their rustic styled restaurant is on the upstairs of the property overlooking the main square in Ollantaytambo. The atmosphere and ambience here is cool and casual and the staff made it a great experience. It is a bar and restaurant selling food based on native ingredients sourced from their farm and flavours from the area. The food offered changes based on the season. Drinks are inspired by the Cana Alta flavours.
Food is designed to be shared, and using your hands to eat. We were recommended to share a banquet since it was generous portions. This was great advice since there was so much food!
The banquet involved a number of tasty dishes to share, the food having a rustic style and plenty of flavour. The appetiser was some maize, salt and herbed sauces followed by an entree with potato crisps, cream cheese, potatoes and a tasty vegetable salad. Then came a mixture of nicely seasoned roasted meats including lamb and the local delicacy: cuy(guinea pig). With this was a few salads and quinoa pancakes. The banquet completed with a trio of Andean desserts such as a beetroot chocolate truffle, quinoa rice pudding and poached tomato. You will be so full by this point, you will need to channel your dessert stomach for this.
The bartender/cocktail designer made some brilliant cocktails based around the Cana Alta including the “Quillabandida”: Cana Alta, pineapple syrup, passion fruit, Tahiti lime, garden mint and also their creative version of an old fashioned “Mosoq”: Cana Alta, house bitters, wild mushroom butters, brown sugar, aperitif and wild mushrooms.
We were surprised to find a restaurant of this calibre in a small archaeological town and it made the visit even better.
The highlight of our El Albergue visit was the day on the farm where we experienced the traditional Pacahamanca lunch. It was $40 per person and and you learn about everything from farm to table.
The Patchamanca involved heating rocks using wood, once the rocks hit the right temperature, the marinated meats; lamb, chicken and pork are placed on top and with a hiss, the meat sizzles on contact with the rocks, then some potatoes, sweet potatoes and beans are added. This is then covered with a wet cloth and dirt to retain the heat, sealing the food with in a primitive oven. 15 minutes later the food is ready and the layers are removed to reveal a simple exquisite meal.
The meat served on a long table set nicely, in a serene setting, on the farm where many of the ingredients were source and with tranquil surrounds of the Andean snow covered mountains.
The meal delivered to the table in rustic earthenware, perfectly suited to the meal being served. The meal is served with a mixed salad of ingredients sourced literally meters away, simply not possible for it to be any fresher. Another tasty side of quinoa cheese and vegetables cooked in a sealed cast iron crockpot also provided a great dish. Then there were the inviting chunks of super tender meat served on the bone, very succulent with the skin charred and crisp. This cooking method instils a magnificent flavour to the meat. To wash this down, a jug of their refreshing house made beetroot cordial. It is also possible to order beer wine and spirits to accompany the meal.
Where else to stay
We chose this cheaper hostel style accomodation for our one night stay. Right in town, just off the main square. Check in was easy and a lovely staff work they. They were super eager to assist with anything. Room is a decent size, large bed with warm blankets, TV, charging ports and a cupboard. Hot shower and soap provided. We didn’t need it, but the room doesn’t have a heater. You need to climb stairs and they have a terrace where you can buy breakfast. It’s pretty quiet, though if street side, you hear the running water of the aqueducts. For $25 it’s a bargain.
Where to visit?
You can enter this site at 130 peso as part of your 4 pass ticket if you purchased it with other sites in the sacred valley. However, it’s otherwise 70 peso entry. Your other option is to visit the free site, overlooking the city. It doesn’t give you as many ruins, but certainly a good option if you’re not spending as much time or money.
Cerveceria Del Valle Segrado (Sacred Valley Brewery)
About 5 minutes out of Ollantaytambo, you can visit this brewery for a taste of some of their local brews. We tried a sampler of 5, but you can also try them all if you like. It was reasonably price and they also sell food. Unfortunately they were out of the pale ale when we visited.
We highly recommend a stopover to Ollantaytambo.