Southern Peru is a big touristy attraction and Let us give you this advice: it’s always cheaper to do it on your own. Though it might be difficult sometimes, because of the lack of information on internet. If you speak Spanish, ask locals about alternatives, use micro buses and collectivos.We had a lot of experience with local transport when we came to Cusco, but the bus ride on the way to Vicho was really something different. When we caught the bus it was already full, however everybody was sitting.
We thought that since it’s so full we go directly and stop just when somebody wants to get off. Reality was, we were stopping every few minutes for more people to get in. Nobody was getting off and the micro bus was for maximum 12 people. After a while it seemed impossible that more people would fit in. Half an hour into the ride, finally some people started to leave the bus. Not really… one person got off and three got in. Every time when someone wanted to get off, ten people had to step out to make room.When the bus was taking a turn, people were moaning and pushing each other. It was impossible to fall though, because we were pressed in that bus like sardines in a can. Andrea had a child’s leg embedded in her belly. Igor was holding someones backpack and another small kid was sleeping on his shoulder drooling on him. This was real Peruvian bus experience! 🙂
Ollantaytambo is an ancient city located 60 km from Cusco. It is a good starting point for treks to Machu Picchu, Moray or Maras. During the Inca Empire, Ollantaytambo was the royal estate of Empero Pachacuti who conquered the region. Manco Inca, another Inca leader, won a major battle with the Conquistadores here. The most popular attraction in the city are the ruins, which are also included in the “Boleto Turistico”.Many say that Sacred Valley, the sacred place of the Incas, is one of the most beautiful places in the world. We can agree. The views that we had on the way from Moray to Salinas and on the way to Machu Picchu were spectacular.
How to get to Ollantaytambo
We wanted to save time, so we visited Chinchero on the way to Ollantaytambo, also included in the “Boleto turistico”. To get to Chinchero, take a bus from Av. Grau 525 in Cusco. It costs 6 PEN p.p. After a few hours of sight seeing, we stopped a collectivo for 3 PEN p.p. on the main road and we got to Urubamba. At Urubamba we stopped another collectivo for 3.5 PEN and we finally got to Ollantaytambo.
We described above, how to get there. You will find extensive Inca ruins here, beautiful colonial church and handcrafts market. The Inca ruins consist mostly of terraces, but you can also admire carvings made by Incas in caves and rocks. Surely they had religious purposes.
The white colonial church is built on Inca foundations. The altar and decorations are made out of wood. We liked the architecture, although it looks that the statics of the church are in bad condition and it is somehow crooked.
We bought also some souvenirs on the market. The prices were good, so we bargained a sweater for Igor, decorated ceramic mug and winter hat for Andrea for 70 PEN (21 USD). Because of the characteristic animal smell, we are pretty sure that at least Andrea’s hat is made of alpaca.
We had troubles finding cheap transport to Moray. When we asked in Ollantaytambo, they told us 70 PEN for a direct transport. Then somebody advised us to go first to Urubamba and then take a collectivo. We went to the market from where all the busetas leave to different directions. We took a buseta to Urubamba for 1.50 PEN p.p. to Urubamba terminal. From there they tried to rip us off again, they wanted 40 PEN for a ride to Moray. We decided to go with regular buseta to Maras for 3 PEN p.p.. Maras is a village close to both of the sights, salt lands Salinas Maras and Moray. Then we could walk 8 kilometers to Moray but we tried to hitchhike and we made a deal with a local for 10 PEN. He also showed us which walking path to take back to Maras.
The terraces are in the circular shape and they are about 30 m deep. The purpose of these holes is uncertain but we like the idea that Moray used to be an Inca laboratory. They were trying to grow crops from different regions of the empire. Each terrace has its own micro-climate and the difference in temperature between the top and the bottom can be up to 15°C.
Salinas de Maras
We decided to walk from Moray and we can really recommend you to do so, as the views over the mountains and the valley are amazing. When you walk from the entrance of Moray go a while along the road. After the first canyon take a left and head to the fields. It is a dirt road and it will lead you straight to Maras. On the left is a small hill, on the right are remains of a wall. There is one intersection, take the road to the left, you will see agaves on the side and after 800 meters there will be a small farm house and you will cross a water channel and a reservoir. Continue to Maras. Once in Maras, get to the main plaza and continue to the main road out of Maras. After the village take a left to the dirt road and you will see a sign on a post and you will continue to Salinas. From that point it is 4 km more. The hike is definitely worth it you need to start early in the morning.
Since pre-Inca times they were obtaining salt by evaporating water from a subterranean stream. There are few hundreds of salt ponds where Peruvian families are working till nowadays.
We have to say that the salt is delicious and the whole system looks spectacular especially when the sun is shining and the salt is glittering. From the Salinas you can continue down to the river and the main road to Urubamba or Ollantaytambo. Just take the dirt road right above the Salinas and walk about 30 minutes down the road. You will come to the river, then turn right and look for a bridge. When you get over the bridge try to go straight and you will come on the main road, where you can stop a micro bus.
This sight is not included in “Boleto Turistico”, it costs 10 PEN p.p.
They are located just on the edge of the city. When Inca Pachacutec conquered Ollantaytambo, he rebuilt the city and it served like an administration center for the empire. It also helped Manco Inca to defeat the Spanish conquistadores. From high above in the terraces of Ollantaytambo the Incas managed to hold back and defeat the Spanish, in addition they flooded the plain below, forcing the Spanish to withdraw. Plan few hours for visiting this site. They have also alpacas and llamas over there.
Food festival in Urubamba
We were again lucky and had the chance to visit yet another food festival. Unlike the Mistura festival in Lima, this one was for free. The festival is organized annually, at the time of our visit (2015) it was the weekend of 25.-27. September.
First we tried a ceviche and cocktail from the Tambo del Inca resort. Ceviche was really delicious well prepared and unusual because it was made from tuna fish. You can find this resort on Avenida Ferrocarril in Urubamba. The restaurant is a part of luxurious spa resort so be prepared for higher prices. We paid 15 PEN for a portion of ceviche.
We tried this amazing twelve hours cooked pork in local herbs, served with four different kinds of home made bread. The meat was melting in our mouthes and we couldn’t be happier. This is a must. They have also a restaurant in Cusco. The restaurant is located on Carretera Calca – Urubamba Km 57.2. Again we paid 15 PEN per portion.
Ollantaytambo is a touristy place, the restaurants are overpriced and not particularly good. On the main square almost every place serves pizza (how peruvian). Blue Magic was our favorite restaurant in Urubamba. Try their menu del dia or the alpaca steak for dinner. It was fresh and well prepared, traditional Peruvian food. For a lunch we paid 35 PEN for both of us. The staff is very friendly and the interior is cozy. You can find this restaurant in the city center on Av. Patacalle 115.
Quechua blues bar cafe
There is almost nothing to do after dark. We explored this bar with a terrace and were happy to come back. They play reggae or indie music and the prices are more then ok. This bar is located very close to the ruins on the calle Q’era. Try the “macerados”, they have different kinds, we like the coca macerado and “canoso” made out of cane. One shot costs just around 7 PEN, but don’t over do it like we did because the hangover is very strong and it is pretty difficult to get any sleep after the coca liqueur.