We are Machu Picchu bound! First stop: Ollantaytambo, where we would catch a train to Aguas Calientes, the town at the bottom of Machu Picchu. I think we were all a little bit excited, nervous, and maybe a little scared of our climb up Huayna Picchu the next day and apprehensive of Aguas Calientes. The small tourist town does not have the best reputation. Prices for everything are super inflated, yet most visitors are forced to pay them if wanting to stay close to Machu Picchu. Andrew had looked up places to avoid, questions to ask before sitting down for dinner, and we generally psyched ourselves up to be on guard for any and all scams upon our arrival. This is when travel wears me down. However, what we didn’t prepare ourselves for were all of the Incan archeological sites en route, surrounding Ollantaytambo, and along the train tracks to Aguas Calientes. It turned my frown upside down and really helped to boost the excitement, outweighing the other negative feelings about the town and apprehension of our climb!
We caught a shared mini-van to Ollantaytambo early in the morning. It was a pretty beautiful ride through the mountains only lasting about an hour and a half. I believe Ollantaytambo is a fairly recent name for the town, in other words, not the name that the Incan Emporer Pachacuti gave to the royal estate that he had built in the center. During the Spanish conquest, Manco Inca Yupanqui, the resistance leader (after the Spanish Incan puppet leader) resided here. It’s all a bit confusing. If you’re interested in learning more about the Incans and the discovery of Machu Picchu, check out Turn Right at Machu Picchu. (Great recommendation, Michelle!) It helped put some of the pieces of the puzzle together for me and also made me realize I probably need to read some more books to understand it all…
Ollantaytambo is also one of the starting points for the Inca Trail. We would have loved to do the Inca Trail, but as it turns out, you need to book your tour six months to a year ahead of time and it’s ‘spensive! We’ll just have to squeeze it into our next year around the world.
Ollantaytambo is small. One central square surrounded by a couple of cafes and tourist shops and that’s about it. We snuck up to the square to have a look around before it was time to get on the train, had a snack, some coca tea, and then hustled it back down to the train station where complete madness broke out. On our way onto the tracks, we passed the employees timecards. I was surprised they were just out in the open like this! They reminded me of a few old jobs I had where I had to punch in.
Ok, so maybe it wasn’t madness, but it certainly wasn’t anywhere near orderly. Once we got onto the tracks, we waited in line. Then had to move to the other side of the tracks for a train to pass through. Then our train (or so we thought what was our train) left. Then we got in line again only to be told to get in a different line by another Peru Rail employee. Madness. But once we got on the train, the ride was pretty gorgeous. The skylights totally helped aid in the experience. What a perfect way to see the countryside and roll into Aguas Calientes.
I didn’t realize until Momma joined us in Peru that I always sit by the window and Andrew always sits in the aisle. This is mostly so he has more legroom and works with me wanting to take pictures or video along the way. I’ve had to share the window seat with Momma throughout Peru, and I’d be lying if I wasn’t starting to get a little pouty about it. I finally opened up about it and she laughed at me, and then shared the window. I probably made everyone on the train nervous holding my DSLR out the window for half of the ride.
Aguas Calientes is as obnoxious as everyone says it is. It’s named for the hot water springs located around the city center, but we were told to avoid them as they have become dirty and overpopulated with tourists. Technically these days the city has been renamed Machu Picchu Pueblo, but no one uses this name. We dropped off our things at our hotel, run by someone who could have cared less that we were there, except when we handed over our money.
When we went out to walk around and eventually find something to eat, we had to constantly consult Andrew’s cheat sheet to see if we sat down at a particular restaurant, would we get ripped off or not. This is such an annoying way to try to enjoy a city in a foreign country and it angers me. If the city weren’t set up this way (to rip every visitor off) it would be more likely visitors would stay longer and enjoy the escape in the middle of the mountains, but noooo everyone gets in. sees Machu Picchu. and gets out.
In case you find yourself in Aguas Calientes, copy Andrew’s cheat sheet before you go out for a bite to eat:
Always ask: No tax, no servicio, no nada mas? Otherwise, you might be lured into a restaurant with reasonable prices listed and then when you get the bill it’s suddenly triple the price because of additional fees they have added on without informing you.
Don’t go to:
-Apu Qoyllur Rit’i
Maybe (a ripoff):
We ended up at a lovely Indian restaurant, Govinda, up the hill towards the hot springs entrance. The owner looked at Andrew like he was crazy when he asked “No tax, no servicio, no nada mas?” We figured it was a good sign and sat down. The food was good, the atmosphere was super calm- especially compared to the other restaurants lining the same street, and I can only hope other restaurants follow suit offering a straightforward menu, good service, and good food! On our way back to our hotel, we encountered these little ones who obviously spent the day climbing Machu Picchu and couldn’t walk any more. Probably not, but it was fun watching them sprawl out on this pedestrian bridge like they owned it. A few minutes later, their mom was reprimanding them and dragging them to one side- taking all of the fun out of it!