A short taxi ride from Urubamba, Ollantaytambo was a more touristy town than the others we had visited in the Sacred Valley, probably because it is the last stop for the train (from Cusco) before going on to Machu Picchu, so gets more visitors. However, it is picturesque with cobbled streets, and some of the houses are from the Inca period. As a result we found that to find a cheap ‘locals’ restaurant took a bit more work than in Urubamba.
We were booked on the 7.15am train to Machu Picchu, so had an early breakfast and walked downhill to the station from our B&B – Munay Punku. Our tickets checked at the station entrance, we headed straight through the small station and joined the queue for our clearly labelled carriage on the train tracks (there is no raised platform). We had booked the ‘Expedition’ train with Perurail, a smart looking and well maintained (you’d hope so given the ticket prices) blue train. We had comfy seats around a table and a large window. There were also windows on each side of the roof (so no luggage racks) which gave the carriage a nice airy feel.
As we travelled along the valley following the river we had a bit of commentary on the villages we passed, and stopped at a couple of places to allow hikers to alight for their onward treks to our shared destination. The 1 hour 50 minute journey was very comfortable and picturesque with ancient terracing and ridiculously steep mountains on both sides, the peaks revealing themselves occasionally through the cloud base.
We arrived into Aguas Calientes and walked through the maze of covered tourist markets that envelop the station, and out into the town itself – our next task was to locate the bus station to buy tickets to take us to the Machu Picchu entrance. After asking around, we were directed down a tiny street to the ‘office’. Fortunately there were only a couple of other people before us in the queue (a huge queue for the buses was forming on the main road and we didn’t fancy being at the back of it) so we didn’t have to wait for long. The tickets for children were cheaper which was a pleasant surprise – we bought one way tickets ($12 per adult and $7 per child) with the intention of walking back down as we had plenty of time before our return train journey. We joined the moving queue (in fact we somehow managed to jump most of it) towards the buses and got on a bus labelled ’10am’ (the time of our Machu Picchu tickets). Perfect!
On arrival at the entrance to Machu Picchu we turned down the offers of guides, preferring to go at our own pace and avoid the crowds. The archaeological site was fairly busy, especially at the designated photo spots, but there were some quieter parts, especially after the main morning rush had dispersed.
It rained part way through our visit and we sheltered in a little natural ‘cave’ (an overhang really) on the main site, but the rain continued, so after donning our rain coats we continued to explore. It did eventually brighten towards the end of our visit though and we got some great photos along the way.
We spent about 3.5 hours there, and stamped our passports just after leaving through the ‘no return’ gate. We found the start of the hiking trail down and had our packed lunches here before heading down. The winding trail down (also the main route up before a road was built to bus tourists up) was in forest and steep – about 1000m change in altitude. Once at the bottom and over the raging river, there was still a bit of a walk to get into the town – but a level one to everyone’s relief!
Once in the town it started to rain hard. We had about 2 hours until we needed to be at the station for our train back. Everything in Aguas Calientes is expensive due to the limited transportation links, but we had a look around and had some drinks in a cafe. The Christmas tree in the square made from green plastic bottles was quite impressive.
The station at Aguas Calientes was chaos and very busy, however, we got on the right train for our return journey – it was nearly dark when we departed, so soon there were no views to look at. Most people seemed to be dozing after their exhausting day out!
Also, whilst in Ollantayambo we visited the archaeological park in the town. There were a lot of guides there with big groups who were doing all the ruins in the Sacred Valley and Cusco area in a day. So once away from the main ruins there were very few people. The views of the valley and the town were excellent from higher up. It’s a big site and you’ll easily spend 2 or 3 hours here.
From Ollantaytambo we left the Sacred Valley and returned to Cusco, where we were staying over Christmas.