14 Apr 2017

The Pumamarca ruins lie about four miles up the Patacancha Valley northeast of Ollantaytambo. You go here for two reasons: to see the ruins and to hike back to Ollanta. And the walk back might be the better reason.

The 20 minute taxi ride from Ollanta dropped us near the bottom of the ruins. We did not use a guide and didn’t regret not having one. Accounts that I had read mentioned the path up starting from the valley floor, so I was happy to have the extra elevation. We walked up the hill through the ruins to the highest point within the walls to better see the overview it all.

Pumamarca Ruins from the High Point of the Site

Pumamarca Ruins from the High Point of the Site

The ruins themselves are fairly extensive and in good condition. Pumamarca was a hill fort — there’s a wall that surrounds it and it sits on top of a ridge that gives it commanding views if two valleys. In location and construction it reminded me of the Warq’ana site near Huchuy Qosqo, and for good reason.

Pumamarca: Buildings Around the Main Plaza

Pumamarca: Buildings Around the Main Plaza

Who built Pumamarca? It’s a short walk from Ollantaytambo, so the Inca come to mind first. But Pumamarca doesn’t line up with traditional Inca architecture

  • it has a non-standard Inca overall site design (proportions are off, orientation unusual, lack of terracing)
  • nearby sites ARE standard Inca site design
  • the Inca details it has are strangely rendered
  • it has non-standard Inca details (2 stories, asymmetrical interior niches, lack of fancy water features)

Additionally, the carbon-dating of the wood gives dates of 1261 & 1390 CE, close to but before the Inca period. So if they are not Inca, who built Pumamarca? The Killke inhabited the Sacred Valley before the Inca took over, so the theory is that the Killke built Pumamarca and the Inca took it over with little new construction. The Killke also built the Warq’ana site near Huchuy Qosqo — but Pumamarca is in MUCH better condition.

There’s a variety of buildings and a large plaza. Although a hill fort, it wasn’t military only. Some of the buildings have small rooms with double jamb niches & windows, a sign of high status for Andean cultures. And as you can see, the views were spectacular.

We saw maybe six people at the ruins, so if you’d like a break from the popular ruins in Ollantaytambo you should check out Pumamarca.

The next part of the outing took us to the trail back to Ollanta. It took a couple of minutes for us to find the trail, but it was obvious for the rest of the way.

It really is a beautiful trail. Easy, too, with a mostly gentle 1,500′ decline into Ollanta. There are three elements that interplay throughout the trail that make this hike really special: the Patacancha Valley, the Inca terraces, the Inca irrigation.

The Patacancha Valley

Pumamarca Trail: Patacancha Valley

The Inca terraces

Pumamarca Trail: Terraces

Pumamarca Trail: Terraces

The Inca irrigation

Pumamarca Trail: Irrigation Channel

Pumamarca Trail: Irrigation Channel

The local farmers still use the Inca terraces and irrigation. And as you pass through terraced fields and by houses that are thoroughly off of the tourist track, you can feel a connection with the past. This same place before the Conquest could not have been much different than it is today: water flowing, crops growing, all within the dramatic mountain landscape.

Eventually the trail turns to road and you arrive back at the Inca town of Ollantaytambo, which — in some quarters — continues the feeling strolling through history.

  • Distance: 4 miles
  • Time walking: 2:00
  • Elevation: -1,500′

All the archaeological details I could find came from Pumamarca; A Late Intermediate Period Site Near Ollantaytambo by Susan Allee Niles from 1980.