It's hard to imagine how anything will live up to Machu Picchu once you've been there. But somehow Ollantaytambo and Pisac managed to amaze me in the exact same way.
Ollantaytambo is the town that the Inca Rail will drop you in when returning from Machu Picchu. It's a tiny place that I would not have thought anything about until my guide said we were stopping. There are Inca ruins there that are absolutely worth visiting but that's not what charmed me about the town. Aguas Calientes, which is where most people stay when visiting Machu Picchu, is a lovely town. But somehow it feels like a place that is filled with and also tired of tourists. Much in the way that all towns who have tourists 24/7, they end up catering to a population that is fleeting and the town becomes less real in the process.
Ollantaytambo has managed to avoid that trap. It feels like a place where people live their lives as they please without worrying about the tourist's gaze. My guide took me through narrow, untouched, streets that have been around since the Inca constructed them so many years ago. We went into a house that has been turned into a makeshift museum of the Inca culture, It has been preserved by the people who live it everyday. No historians, no anthropologists. Just an old man who wants people to experience things the way they were and how they have evolved.
This display contains skulls from ancestors, a condor's wing for luck, a baby lama used as an offering to the gods,ceremonial dolls and vessels.
Original streets built by the Inca still in use in Ollantaytambo.
I could go on and on about Ollantaytambo, but I don't want you to think I've forgotten about Pisac. Pisac is further away from Machu Picchu and has a different feel. It was run by the same group of people as Machu Picchu but is older and more established. For years, thieves dug into the mountain graves looking for gold or other treasures. By the time the anthropologists got to the scene, most of the graves had been pillaged for their valuables. However, they were able to salvage the remains and preserve the graves so that we can see their arrangements.
The holes in the rock look like they might be natural, but they are actually graves that have been opened by thieves.
The more obvious features of the Pisac remains are the fields that were carved out of the mountain for farming. The current town is in the valley, but the remains of the original Pisac looks over the current town as a constant reminder of why people live here.
Both Pisac and Ollantaytambo are worth the time to see. Even though they are a little out of the way of the standard tourist haunts, if you are interested in how cultures evolve these 2 are the best examples I've seen so far!