Arrival in Ollantaytambo and recommended accommodation
Our first impressions of Ollaytambo were not good – we arrived late at night on the train (see my Cusco blog for information about trains) , the taxi drivers tried to overcharge us for the short transfer to our hotel (20 soles) and there appeared to be barking feral dogs everywhere! However, I am happy to stay that we were proved wrong – Ollantaytambo is a must-visit destination.
Rather than accept the price quoted by the taxi drivers, we called Alex at the hotel we had booked – Tierra Inka Sacred Valley. I cannot recommend Alex or the hotel highly enough and the location is absolutely perfect as you are a 5 minute walk from the ruins. The hotel is set in a lovely lovely garden with hammocks and with the mountains in the background, has a distinctly alpine vibe! The rooms are large and were clearly recently decorated, with comfy beds and hot water. The breakfast was excellent – made to order eggs, toast with butter and jam as well as cereal, coffee and teas. Although this is a simple breakfast, the quality and hygiene standards outstripped many of the places we stayed in. The wifi was good and even worked in most areas of the garden. Alex and the team were incredibly courteous and helpful, explaining the history of the area and ruins and arranging a private taxi to take us to Moray, Salinas and Chinchero before taking us to Cusco bus station for our onward bus to Nazca (I would not recommend going to Nazca by bus – read my Nazca blog here!).
The ruins are a 5 minute walk from the hotel. You will need to buy the boleto turistico (tourist ticket) from the ticket office at the ruins. There are two different types – one costing 130 soles which provides access to a large number of sacred valley sights and a smaller ticket costing 70 soles which grants access to Pisac, Chinchero, Moray and Ollantaytambo. There is an official website for the boleto but unless you can read Spanish, it is of little use.
The ruins are amazing – the steps through the terraces are quite steep but there are lots of places where you can stop to catch your breath if you need to. I would recommend walking along the pathway that leads around the cliffs to the storehouses on the left hand side of the ruins, as the views across the town and to the store houses on the other side of the mountains is impressive. You can also see a face in the mountain, located just to the side of the storehouses, which we were told was an Inca protecting the food kept in the stores. On ground level, there are some interesting water features, demonstrating how impressive Inca engineering really was – and of course, lots of llamas and alpacas milling about!
There is also a lovely market in the square outside of the ruins. We found that the vendors were much more willing to haggle than in Cusco and the market was nice and quiet, so shopping there was an enjoyable experience.
For lunch, I would recommend Hearts Cafe, which had a wide range of veggie options – the burrito was particularly good.
Trip to Moray, Chinchero and Salinas
Our private taxi picked us up from the hotel, took us to each destination before driving us to Cusco. The cost was 240 soles, which was expensive but much easier than arranging public transport to each location – especially when you only have a day to do it all! The car was very comfortable and the driver was friendly. He also took us on a bit of a bonus trip, to a place where they make Inca clothes. We were given an explanation of how the dyes are made and a demo of how the fabric is woven. Obviously, you get the hard sell (of clothes and silver) at the end but we didn’t feel under any obligation to buy anything.
Salinas is very cool – looking down on the salt plains is like looking at fields covered in snow. Once you get down there, you can observe traditional ways of baking and collecting the salt in the sun. Entry costs 10 soles. There is also a good market where you can buy salt (of course) as well as pottery and clothing.
Moray is south of Salinas and you get there by driving through the village of Maras. It is an agricultural site but looks like a giant sophisticated crop circle! You can see deep terraces that were designed to create different micro-climates in which a variety of crops were grown. If you have had your fill of amazing Inca temples, Moray offers something different.
From Moray, we went on to Chinchero, which is another market town with ruins and a church. Having been to Cusco, Machu Picchu and Ollantaytambo, I have to confess to being underwhelmed by Chinchero and would only recommend it as a brief stop off.
Once we left Chinchero, we returned to Cusco for our onward trip to Nazca (where there is a separate bus station for the tourist buses)- read my Nazca blog here!