Ollantaytambo is a walk back in time - a town and fortress laid out as it was in the time of the Incas. And a steppingstone to Machu Picchu, just a 90 minute train ride away...
After touring the Sacred Valley, you will arrive in Ollantaytambo town / fortress. Site of one of the big battles where the Incans were able to hold off the Spanish conquistadors. Ollantaytambo is where you catch the train to Machu Picchu, but it is a gem in and of itself. The town itself has narrow alleys and streets and looks just as it did hundreds of years ago when it was laid out. Stone aqueducts channel the water from the mountains through the streets, and many of the houses have been occupied by the same Incan families for generations. We entered one home that had a courtyard that also served as a shop to sell tourist goods and food. One of the rooms housed dozens of guinea pigs and no, they are not pets. They are food (more on that later).
Next you can march up the 200 or more steps of the Ollantaytambo fortress that overlooks the town and valley to see the same views the Incans had when they awaited the Spanish soldiers. You can see how it was a formidable obstacle for the Spaniards to overcome. The views from the top are spectacular also - though you will feel the altitude again while climbing the steps.
After our tour of the town and fortress, we boarded the train finally for Machu Picchu Pueblo (formerly Aguas Calientes). The hour and a half ride on the Vistadome train was quite pleasant and the scenery was amazing. Many snow-capped peaks including stunning mount Veronica.
In Machu Picchu Pueblo, we got in line to board the buses that would take us from about 6,600 ft to 8,600 ft above to reach our goal - Machu Picchu. The lines can be quite long (we waited about an hour) as we went during the high season (July). But once you get off the bus and enter Machu Picchu - finally - it will take your breath away. You are standing in one of the new Seven Wonders of the World and an International World Heritage Site. You can scratch a big one off the bucket list.
We spent the next 2.5 hours touring the site and learned all about how it was built, and by how many workers. How many people lived there, and what occupied their time. What rituals they may have carried out, from the purely religious and spiritual, to the practical and precise observations of celestials bodies like the sun, moon and stars. TAKE A LOT OF PHOTOS.
Then do yourself a favor and make sure you've booked tickets and transportation for a return the next morning.
TIP OF THE DAY: The baggage logistics for Machu Picchu by train can be a bit unclear. But here is a strategy that worked out very well for us. We left ALL our suitcases with our driver in Ollayntaytambo, who was instructed by our guide Alex to take them back to our hotel in Cusco. This is standard operating procedure. We each kept a backpack which served as an overnight bag for our time around Machu Picchu. When we arrived in Ollantaytambo, someone from our hotel in Machu Picchu Pueblo was there to take our backpacks to the hotel. So we were able to tour Machu Picchu site with a simple day pack (for water and snacks). You want to tour Machu Picchu carrying as little as possible, and Adventure Life / Lima Tours arranges the logistics to make this possible. The next day, after overnighting in Machu Picchu Pueblo, we left our backpacks with the hotel again to be picked up directly at the train station for our return to Ollantaytambo.
HOTEL: Casa del Sol in Machu Picchu Pueblo. Cute boutique hotel overlooking the Urubamba river. Very friendly and helpful staff, good breakfast. We accidentally left a phone charger in one of the rooms and thought it was long gone. The next day we found that one of the staff had labeled it and stuffed it into one of our backpacks. Spotty wifi in rooms.