Ollantaytambo is home to some of the most significant Incan ruins in the Sacred Valley, and it’s also a great place to catch the train to Machu Picchu. We knew we wanted to visit the ruins here, and found the perfect private tour from Cusco to Ollantaytambo. This Sacred Valley tour was booked through Taxi Datum, which also offers other tours in the area and taxi services in Cusco and Lima.
Note: This post was not sponsored and we paid for our Sacred Valley taxi tour.
Taxi Datum will pick you up from your hotel in Cusco, or in our case, the airport. You can either do a return trip that will bring you back to Cusco at the end of the day or a one-way option that drops you off in Ollantaytambo. Since we were spending the night in Ollantaytambo before moving on to Machu Picchu, we opted for the one way Cusco to Ollantaytambo option and were dropped off right at our hotel there. You can also customize your itinerary, so if you don’t want to visit one of the sites included, or are shorter on time, you could just ask to drop one of them. We also threw in a special request to swing by the hotel we’d be staying at when we returned to Cusco in a few days to drop off our bigger suitcases in their luggage storage since large bags aren’t allowed on the trains before we headed out of town. This was easily arranged beforehand through the website. (If you’re planning on doing the same thing, check with your hotel first to make sure they’re ok with storing luggage for a few days that way. I had no trouble making those arrangements, so I doubt we were the first people to make that request though.)
We had booked an early morning flight from Lima to Cusco and were pleased to find our taxi waiting for us in the airport parking lot despite landing a little early. Our guide was super friendly and we liked him so much that when we decided to book a second tour with the company a few days later, we requested him. We had picked up empanadas at the airport since we hadn’t had time for breakfast (thanks to Lima’s traffic we were only a couple minutes away from missing our flight) and we stood in the parking lot chatting in Spanish while we ate our food.
One important thing to note for English speakers: Your taxi drivers may not speak English. This is listed on the booking site though, so we weren’t caught off guard. Luckily, my boyfriend and I both speak enough Spanish that we were able to converse with our driver and he even hopped out to tell us a bit about one of the sites we visited. We took a second taxi tour through the same company a few days later and did have an English-speaking guide, though, so it’s just a matter of luck. Since I’d spent years studying Spanish in school and had never actually been anywhere that I could use it, it was actually kind of fun to get a chance to find out how much I’d actually retained.
I really loved the taxi tour from Cusco to Ollantaytambo because it was cheap and convenient and we had more freedom to explore at our own pace than you do with a larger group tour. Their pricing is by the car, so we could’ve had additional passengers for the same price, but even with 2 people, the cost of $65 or 200 soles for a full day’s tour was very reasonable. That broke down to less than $20 per person for a taxi ride that would’ve taken almost 2 hours without the stops we made along the way. It cost me almost that much just to get to the Las Vegas airport from the hotel right across the street when I was there, so I felt like I got my money’s worth here. (Admission to the attractions is not included, so you’ll need to have extra money for that.) We were dropped off at the entrances to each of the places we visited while our guide waited with the car for us to return so we were still able to go at our own pace. Not only was it a cost effective way to get from Cusco to Ollantaytambo, but we also got to see some of the attractions we wanted to hit along the way.
Our first stop was Chinchero, a smaller Andean village. This is where we purchased our tourist tickets that included entry to several of the sites in the Sacred Valley. The historic town featured several shops and some Incan terraces. There was also an old Catholic church that had been built on the site. This was our first taste of Incan architecture, so we were pretty excited, but after visiting the other ruins in the Sacred Valley, these seemed a little less impressive. If you need to save time and skip a stop, I’d recommend choosing this one to bypass. There is also a weekly Sunday market here, if you’re looking for a less touristy experience than the more famous one in Pisac.
Our second stop was my favorite. The salt “mines” of Maras consist of tiers and tiers of pools carved into the mountain that catch water bubbling out of a natural saltwater spring nearby. The water filters down into these pans and evaporates, leaving the salt behind to be collected and put to use. The white salt deposits create a beautiful and unique landscape that isn’t like anything I’ve seen before. This site doesn’t take long to visit, but we very much enjoyed our time there. Visitors have access to a somewhat narrow walkway at the top of the ridge of salt pans, and can make their way across. It’s probably not ideal for someone afraid of heights because there are no railings and the drop can be a little intimidating. Likewise, I’d closely watch small kids if you’re traveling as a family. It was my favorite stop of the day though, so definitely check it out if you can.
After Maras, we drove through a pretty impressive thunderstorm. I’ve seen my share of storms before, but being at such an altitude for one was very different. The thunder rumbling through the valleys and bouncing off the peaks was mesmerizing. We were a little worried that we’d have to skip Moray since running around open areas in the middle of a thunderstorm isn’t a particularly great idea, but we got lucky and the storm blew through quickly so the worst we faced was a light sprinkle at the next stop.
Moray is home to some mysterious circular Incan ruins. Archaeologists aren’t sure what the structures built here were for, but the theory is that they were used to test the effects of different amounts of water and sunlight on crops. Again, this is a shorter stop, but very interesting to walk around. The circular ruins have a bit of a crop circles feel to them, and they inspired my boyfriend to pose for what may be my favorite photo of him ever in which he imitates that “aliens.” meme with the guy from the History Channel show.
Once we finished up at Moray, we made the drive down into the valley to our hotel at Ollantaytambo. The drive itself was beautiful, and our driver pulled over at a couple of scenic overlooks so we could take photos down into the surprisingly lush green valley. I will say that the drive down the winding dirt road making an endless series of switchbacks was a little nerve-wracking, but I figured I liked being in the car better than a bus.
If you start your trip first thing in the morning and keep a good pace, you should have time to visit the Ollantaytambo ruins in the same day. Because we had begun our day in Lima and didn’t get picked up for the taxi tour until almost eleven, we didn’t arrive until too late to really enjoy the ruins there – which was totally fine because we were starting to feel the altitude and we had planned on doing the Ollantaytambo ruins the next morning anyway.
We were dropped off at the entrance to our hotel, where we paid for our full day tour from Cusco to Ollantaytambo and tipped/thanked our driver. We’d had the perfect introduction to the Sacred Valley and gotten to see our first Incan ruins, so even though our heads were pounding from altitude sickness, we’d had a pretty good day. If you’re interested in taking the same tour, you can find out more about it here.
If you’re planning a visit to the Sacred Valley, I’d highly recommend a taxi tour from Cusco to Ollantaytambo to check out some of the unique features there. Ollantaytambo is also an ideal spot to catch the train to Machu Picchu.
Check out these other Peru guides:
- Everything You Need to Know About the New Rules for Visiting Machu Picchu
- Ten Great Things to Do in Cusco
- Relax at the Hot Springs in Aguas Calientes, Peru
- 5 Awesome Day Trips from Lima
- Ten Reasons Not to Miss the Parque de la Reserva’s Circuito Mágico del Agua in Lima
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