The biggest downfall to guided tours that I have is that I rarely pay attention that what I am seeing. I am mixed on if it is a good thing or a bad thing. If I wasn’t on the tour then I probably would not have made the initiative to see anything but the bad thing is I don’t take notes and I can’t remember anything later on. Like now.
After landing in Cusco the day before, we were out of town bright and early the following day, on our drive and tour through The Sacred Valley. We ended up in Ollantaytambo at night but in between, we saw stuff. We drove by Sacsayhuamán (pronounced “Sexy Women”) but entry to the site was not included in the tour. We stopped at various other look outs (and there were always locals selling their crap, everywhere) and a village where women did a lot of knitting. We got teased by llama’s and bought scarves. We stopped at another site that was overran by tourists from all over the world. Even though it was winter, it was very hot.
We stopped for lunch at a buffet place in the middle of nowhere that was actually quite good and not to expensive. We made it to Ollantaytambo by the late afternoon and toured another site, which included a steep hike up an amphitheater type ruin. We joked that we were tired and how were we going to make it on the Inca Trail? The view of the whole area and town was fantastic from the top.
After a whole day of touring, we finally had some free time to wonder around the small town. It was the perfect place to feel safe in Peru. While Lima is huge and wild and Cusco is overrun by tourists, Ollantaytambo still has tons of tourists, but is just way way smaller. I always felt safe. Also be aware that there are only two ATM’s in town, so bring money if you can. The main one wasn’t working one night and the other one, which is located in one of the fancier hotels in town didn’t dispense USD (which unfortunately I needed at the time, but otherwise shouldn’t be an issue).
Gap sets you up at the cutest little hostel. No heaters, but tons of blankets. No tv and the walls were very thin, but otherwise clean and comfortable. Plus I felt like we had the run of the place, so it’s not like we were bothering people with our rowdiness. Since the train to Machu Picchu starts in Ollantaytambo, I would recommend this place as an alternative to staying in Aguas Calientes but know that the place is small and Gap uses it for their groups.
For dinner, we all headed out to the Blue Puppy Café, which was very good too. Peruvian and pub grub, which is kind of odd in the middle of nowhere Peru, but welcome none the less. Portions were HUGE and ideally shared.
Moral: Once again, are tours good or bad? For me, I like sprinkling my travel with tours because sometimes it’s nice to be told what to see, especially in a country were you do not speak the language or the infrastructure is a little third world or you are short on time. I was very happy with what Gap provided in way of sights along the Sacred Valley, especially since it was only our second day at that elevation and a good intro for those having problems adjusting.