Hike Up Pinkuylluna Mountain to Ruins of Inca Storehouses in Ollantaytambo

While Ruins of Ollantaytambo are the main archeological attraction in the town of Ollantaytambo, I left them out of my itinerary, as I did many other major archeological sites in and around Cusco, because the entrance fee to those is 140 Soles ($42 US). I simply refuse to support the rip off practices of this magnitude, unless it’s something I could not, for the life of me, afford to miss out on.

Photo: Inside Pinkuylluna Warehouse Ruins
Photo: Inside Pinkuylluna Warehouse Ruins

Good thing about Ollantaytambo is that on the opposite side of the town from the main archeological site, is steeply towering Pinkuylluna Mountain, on which there are multiple smaller ruins of Inca storehouses and access to those is entirely free. The only challenge is that one must climb on foot the steel slopes of Pinkuylluna Hill in order to access them. But that’s an adventure in its own right that would be worth while even if there were no ruins on Pinkuylluna. Hell yes I was up for it.

And I wasted no time. As soon as I checked in the Inka Wasi Hostal, I put on Shea Butter which I use as purely natural sun screen, and headed out to hit the slopes.

Face of Viracocha

One quickly observable feature of the Pinkuylluna Mountain is the Profile of the Inca (Perfil del Inca). Said to represent the face of Viracocha – the supreme god of the Incas, the father of all other Inca gods and the creator of the earth.

Photo: Face of the Inca Carved Into Rock Next to Storehouse on Pinkuylluna Mountain
Photo: Face of the Inca Carved Into Rock Next to Storehouse on Pinkuylluna Mountain

I was told by a local that the face on the side of the mountain is not an orographic whim, but it was sculpted in the rock, and it fulfills an astronomical function related to the seasons – the cultivation cycles – illuminating itself in the solstices in a certain way.

Access to Pinkuylluna Mountain

From Plaza de Armas, enter the old town of Ollantaytambo by way of the street the nearest to the hill (rightmost when facing the old town from Plaza de Armas). Follow the narrow, cobblestone street until you come across a gate on the right hand side.

Photo: Pinkuylluna Hill Entrance Gate
Photo: Pinkuylluna Hill Entrance Gate

The steep rock steps begin right on the other side of the gate. On the left side of the gate there is a sign informing you that you are at the entrance to the Pinkuylluna Mountain.

Climbing the Pinkuylluna Mountain

The trail up the Pinkuylluna Mountain will get your heart pumping right off the bat. Climbing the hill is basically one major cardio exercise, so by taking the hill on, you’ll get the combination of good heart workout, the best views of the town as well as the main ruins, and the ability to get up close and personal with the storehouse ruins without shelling out a dime.

Photo: Pinkuylluna Mountain Storehouses with Uneven Rock Trail
Photo: Pinkuylluna Mountain Storehouses with Uneven Rock Trail

There were moments during my climb when the gusts of wind were super strong, so not only did I have to hold on to my hat, I had to carefully watch my footing on the narrow rocky trail with deep abyss on its side. If you’re a thrill seeker, you’re gonna love walking the cliff edges of the hill.

Storehouses

The Pinkuylluna storehouses, or mountain granaries, are rectangular structures perched on various parts of the Pinkuylluna Mountain.

Photo: Selfie in Front of Storehouse Ruins on Pinkuylluna Hill
Photo: Selfie in Front of Storehouse Ruins on Pinkuylluna Hill

Although the placement of these warehouses on top of the hill may seems strange, the fact that at that height the air is cooler and it moves faster, would help in preserving the food and keeping it ventilated. I also tend to doubt the exhausting hike needed in order to reach the storehouses would attract many would be thieves.

Photo: Main Ollantaytambo Ruins Are Better Visible from Pinkuylluna Mountain
Photo: Main Ollantaytambo Ruins Are Better Visible from Pinkuylluna Mountain

Overall, even though challenging, I found the hike up the Pinkuylluna Mountain, and the exploring the storehouses to be a rewarding experience that was totally worth the effort.

Moreover, with the amazing views of the main Inca fortress, I was happy to be on the hill where there were hardly any other people around, and not within the overcrowded main ruins overrun with thousands of tourists.

Photo: Pinkuylluna Ruins with Town of Ollantaytambo in the Background
Photo: Pinkuylluna Ruins with Town of Ollantaytambo in the Background

If you continue all the way to the top, the ever fainter trail will take you around the hill where you will find a small cave. Few people, including locals, even know about the cave.

Photo: Cave in the Back of Pinkuylluna Mountain
Photo: Cave in the Back of Pinkuylluna Mountain

If you’re easily spooked, or suffer from vertigo, a climb up the Pinkuylluna Mountain may be hazardous, but in every other case I would certainly recommend it as an alternative to the overpriced and overcrowded main ruins of Ollantaytambo.

Photo: Bird's Eye View of Ollantaytambo Town with Section of Storehouse Ruins on Pinkuylluna Mountain
Photo: Bird’s Eye View of Ollantaytambo Town with Section of Storehouse Ruins on Pinkuylluna Mountain

Here’s a video of bits and pieces I filmed while hiking the Pinkuylluna Mountain. At times the wind gusts were extremely strong:

Phimeanakas Temple, Angkor Thom

Phimeanakas was the state temple of king Suryavarman I. It was built in late 10th to early 11th centuries which means it was at its location long before the royal city of Angkor Thom was built around it. When king Jayavarman VII had the plan for Angkor Thom laid out, he made Phimeanakas part of his Royal Palace area. Because none of the carvings on Phimeanakas survived, this temple is artistically characterless, however it’s easily scalable and provides interesting views from the top. Perhaps when Baphuon is restored and made accessible by public, the views from up there will be even better, but for now the top of Phimeanakas is the highest you can get at Angkor Thom.

Photo: Phimeanakas Temple Located Within the Royal Palace Area of Angkor Thom
Photo: Phimeanakas Temple Located Within the Royal Palace Area of Angkor Thom

Yes I did climb on top of Phimeanakas and yes it was not particularly easy. The climb itself is not too bad, the western side of the temple (the back of it) has a wooden stairway built alongside the original stone stairway to make for an easier ascend but as is the case of everywhere in Cambodia, it’s not the climb that’ll destroy you, it’s the heat. A few minutes climb up the steep staircase directly exposed to the dilapidating sun will wear you down like a marathon run. The sun will suck out the last drop of energy you had in your body by the time you made it through the initial few steps. Each time you take a breather, it will only get worse. And as if the extreme heat from the sun was not enough, the temple blocks radiate it back at you from below giving you absolutely no way to escape the destructive heat.

Photo: Staircase on the West Side of the Phimeanakas Temple is Steep, but the Easiest to Scale
Photo: Staircase on the West Side of the Phimeanakas Temple is Steep, but the Easiest to Scale

Reaching the summit doesn’t make it any better. There is nowhere to escape the heat, only the rays of the sun within the blocks of stone where it seems to be hotter than in direct sunshine. The feeling of reaching the top is satisfying even though you will be entirely out of juice. The sanctuary on top is currently empty but was likely used to house a divinity while the temple was in use. According to the Khmer legend, Phimeanakas was crowned with the golden tower within which dwelt a nine-headed naga serpent which transformed into a woman every night. The king was obliged to make love with the serpent every night or else the kingdom would fall into ruin. I guess one of the kings failed in the task as once powerful Angkorian kingdom did eventually fall into ruin.

Photo: View from the Top of the Phimeanakas Temple
Photo: View from the Top of the Phimeanakas Temple
Photo: Phimeanakas Central Sanctuary Located on Top of the Temple
Photo: Phimeanakas Central Sanctuary Located on Top of the Temple
Photo: East Face of the Phimeanakas Temple Is in Much Ruin
Photo: East Face of the Phimeanakas Temple Is in Much Ruin
Photo: Phimeanakas Temple West Stairway is the Best Way on Top
Photo: Phimeanakas Temple West Stairway is the Best Way on Top