The remote ruins of Pumamarca remain a well kept secret compared to the famous neighboring ruins of Ollantaytambo and Machu Picchu. Built on a steep Andean hillside overlooking the intersection of the Patacancha and Yuracmayo rivers, these lesser-visited ruins were once a ceremonial center for the Wari people, becoming a fortress for the later Inca civilization. Pumamarca also holds important historical significance as one of the few places where the Spaniards suffered a military defeat against the Incas.
Today, Pumamarca offers visitors a magnificent panoramic view of the Sacred Valley as well as the chance to explore impressive ancient archaeological ruins uninterrupted, far away from the flocks of tourists found at other sites across Peru. Most visitors to Pumamarca are unlikely to run into anyone except the groundskeeper of the ruins ...and his photogenic llamas.
The most common and easiest way to get to these secluded ruins is to take a 25 minute cab ride from Ollantaytambo and then hike down the Andes on the way back. If you plan on taking the recommended route, allow a half day for sightseeing and trekking. I do not advise hiking the 6km (3.7m) up to Pumamarca unless you are in excellent shape and well adjusted to the altitude. Although the trail is in relatively good condition, hiking through the mountains to Pumamarca could take anywhere from 6-10 hours up and back, depending on your fitness level and preparedness. If you plan on backpacking from town, there is a campground at the top as well as a freshwater stream that runs along most of the trail where you can pump water.
Catching the Taxi There
A taxi to Pumamarca should cost around 40-50 soles and take about 25 minutes. Be aware that taxis in Plaza de Armas will usually try to charge you more than this. The best place to catch a cab is a block from the plaza next to the central market (see map). If you do not want to hike down from Pumamarca, you will need to arrange with your driver to wait for you while you are visiting the ruins which will cost you more. In order to enter the Pumamarca historical site by car, you will need to pay 10 soles per person at a control booth before your taxi can proceed to the highest drop off point.
Your taxi will likely drop you at the trailhead that leads back to Ollantaytambo, marked by a wooden sign with an arrow on it. On the opposite side of the road there is a small trail that leads up to the ruins through scattered corn fields; the walk to the ruins takes about 20 minutes. In case you cannot find the trail, the ruins are visible from the road, so you can take any trail that leads towards them.
History of Pumamarca
Once ceremonial grounds of the Wari people before the arrival of the Incas, Pumamarca is a set of 24 structures built on a steep hillside of the Sacred Valley. The Wari Empire was a political formation that predated the Incas, emerging around 600 AD in the central highlands of Peru and lasting for about 500 years. When the Incas took control of Pumamarca they transformed it into a military fortress because of its advantageous location overlooking the valley below.
Once you arrive at the ruins, there is a kind elderly man who oversees the ruins who may ask you to register in his notebook. Simply write your name, country of origin, passport number, and the number of people in your group. If you speak Spanish, he will happily explain to you about the history of the ruins and the mixture of Inca and Wari architecture found in the plaza, houses, and granaries. If you are lucky, you might even catch a glimpse of the overseer’s llamas majestically grazing among the ruins.
The 6km (3.7m) hike to Ollantaytambo from Pumamarca through the Andes is breathtakingly scenic. You’ll find yourself surrounded by nature, Inca terraces, friendly campesinos, water flowing through irrigation channels, and humble farms. Once you descend from the ruins back to the drop off point in the main road, there is a tall sign labeled Ollantaytambo with a marker for the campgrounds and public bathrooms (see photo). Follow the path for 6km through Andean countryside until you reach Ollantaytambo. At some points along the journey down the trail can become ambiguous, so don’t be afraid to ask the friendly locals for help - the campesinos (farmers) are always happy to lend a hand to anyone in need. When the trail meets the main highway, cross the highway to pick up the trail as it meanders alongside the river.
Things to bring
Hat & Sunscreen
Good walking shoes