We purchased our train tickets with PeruRail at their offices on the Plaza de Armas in Cusco for $198 return (for 2 people and paid in USD). As we were on our way to board our Lima to Cusco flight there was a Perú Rail stand after security selling tickets from Ollantaytambo to Machu Picchu (or Aguas Calientes – it’s the same place) for $66 return. If we had done any research we would have realised that that was a deal and a half. The only catch is that you have to take the earliest train to Machu Picchu and the latest train back – which we did anyway! Not so savvy. If you’re not going on an Inca Trail trek then you also need to get your entrance tickets to Machu Picchu. You can buy these at the site but it’s mayhem and there’s a daily limit to the number of visitors so we decided to pre-purchase in Cusco. You need to go to the Dirección Regional de Cultural office at 238 Avenida La Cultura and bring your passport with you. It’s about a 20 minute walk from the Plaza de Armas and the office is open until 7.30pm. You can also buy your tickets online but the website barely functions. Basic entrance costs S/.126.
We caught a collectivo/mini-bus to with Real Inka from Avenida Grau for S/.10 for the nearly 2 hour journey to Ollantaytambo (via Urumba although we didn’t stop there). The locals call Ollantaytambo Ollanta so I’m going to go with that as it’s easier to type…We were dropped off in the main plaza of Ollanta, spotted a hostel that looked ok and had our balcony overlooking the plaza in about five minutes. We stayed at the Hostal Plaza Ollantaytambo for S/.50 per night for 2 nights.
The town of Ollanta has been immaculately preserved; open Incan canals still carry water through the streets and there are a few things to keep you occupied for a day or two. There are two major ruins within walking distance of the town. The main Ollantaytambo ruins can only be visited with a Boleto Turistico or Tourist Ticket which costs a minimum of S/.70 (but includes a couple of sites). This is really only useful if you’re in a tour or have your own transport which is why we decided to climb up Ollanta’s other ruins, the Pinkullyuna ruins (also, they’re free) to have a view of Ollanta and the main ruins. We climbed up and had a look around over about an hour and a half. Perfect for those only in town for a day!
We ate at Hearts Café (on the way to the Ollantaytambo Ruins, just before the bridge), which is run by a nutritionist from Britain. I had a really tasty sandwich here with some homemade almond mayonnaise – need to look in to how to make that! Delicious ice cream was had at Tutti Amore (just around the corner from Hearts).
Ollanta’s train station is about a twenty minute walk from the main plaza. It’s a pretty dark walk at night though – there’s nothing but a few restaurants to light the way but there are plenty of taxis. Café Mayu at the train station is supposed to have good espresso but alas we had no change so our tough luck.
Our train left for Aguas Calientes at 6am and took just over an hour. The train was very comfortable and we just had the basic level. We were provided with tea and a small sweet cake for breakfast – you definitely need something warm at that hour of the morning. There were only about 3 places open in Aguas Calientes for food so we had a quick breakfast in a 24 hour place called Pisco and Coffee and started our walk about 8.45am. You don’t have to walk – there are buses leaving constantly (just follow the queue of people by the river) but we felt like we needed to do some work to get there. Since they went and put it so high up and all. It took about an hour to climb to the entrance of Machu Picchu. It was very wet and slippy but signposted very well. It went a little something like this:
We spent about 3 hours exploring the ruins; they are huge and there’s lots to see. It was absolutely packed, by far the most touristy thing we’ve seen so far in South America, so I’d definitely advise trying to get there as early as possible if you want to have it to yourself. It got very cloudy about 10am so there’s a lot of waiting around and watching the slowest moving clouds on the planet to get that picture. There are two mountains you can climb (you’ll need to pay extra when purchasing your ticket) called Machu Picchu mountain and Wayna Picchu. People say that Wayna Picchu gives a better view but it’s supposed to be very dangerous and slippy. The Incan Bridge is definitely worth an excursion; it’s about a twenty minute walk from the ruins proper along a cliff-side dirt track so it’s a little unnerving. Absolutely nobody you pass will volunteer to walk on the outside either so it’s a bit like a Wild Wild West stand off.
I was very surprised at the lack of llamas at the ruins. Judging by all the selfies people get right next to llamas all over Pinterest and the web you’d think they were everywhere. I counted 10 and only at the very end. Guess they don’t like the rain much either then…
Because we booked the cheap seats we had to wait back in Aguas Calientes for hours upon hours. There’s a train around 4pm you could easily make if you’re looking for the cheaper options but we thought we’d need way more time at Machu Pucchu. Nope! While it’s not the worst town I’ve ever been to, waiting for a 9.30pm train in the ice-cold station is not recommended. There’s a huge handicraft market at the station which could keep you busy for a while though but things are a lot more expensive here than Cusco. La Boulangerie de Paris is a top spot to hang around. Wifi and hot chocolate? Sold! John had a pizza at Incontri del Pueblo Viejo, an Italian restaurant on the towns main thoroughfare, and absolutely loved it. Salami from Italy…
Next stop: from Cusco to Puno in Perú and across the border to Lake Titicaca, Bolivia