$15 Extra per Night for A Lot More Comfort in Ollantaytambo
We are staying in Ollantaytambo, Peru and we originally booked a hostal called Janaxpacha Backpackers for US$35 per night including breakfast. (In Peru, small inns are called hostals but they have private bathrooms and often include breakfast.) I had read very positive reviews on Trip Advisor and Booking.com but I still wasn’t too sure it would be the right place for us. Well, I decided to go for it for 3 nights. As soon as we arrived at the place, we knew it wasn’t the place for us. My instincts were right. It wasn’t horrible but the double bed was small and creaky, the floors were old wooden and creaked, no outlets worked and it was extremely cold. I know that sounds horrible but it wasn’t the worst place we have ever stayed. We put our backpacks in the room and went into town to search out another place. Three nights there would be three too many although we were committed to the first night.
We walked about town and passed more than a dozen similar hostals. We finally came across Tunupa Lodge, which ironically was the other hostal I was considering booking. Tunupa Lodge and Janaxpacha Backpackers actually get the same rating on TripAdvisor so I wasn’t sure if the extra cost of Tunupa Lodge would be worth it. We went in the lobby and asked how much it cost for a double per night. He said US$60 (which is what I found on the internet) but I asked if he would take $45 and we settled on $50 including breakfast. We were lucky he had extra rooms to fill. We reserved the room for the following nights!
Our night in Janaxpacha Backpackers was mostly sleepless as we both tossed and turned waking each other up as the bed creaked. Breakfast was basic but good—fried eggs, fresh rolls, juice, tea and coffee. The owner is a nice guy and didn’t give us any hassle about leaving early.
Our stay at the Tunupa Lodge was the best $15 extra per night we have ever spent. We have a twin room since the “matrimonial” rooms were sold out, but the beds were firm, the bathroom a bit nicer, it’s extremely quiet at night, and the room has a huge picture window looking out to snowcapped mountains and Inka ruins. Breakfast is scrambled eggs, rolls, fresh fruit, yogurt and cereal. Tunupa Lodge is exactly the kind of place we like to stay…locally owned, perfectly comfortable and affordable.
$28 For a Private Guide of Historic Ruins
Unfortunately, Ollantaytambo isn’t set up for tourism like Cusco. In Cusco there are numerous guided day trips to choose from for $25-50 per day. But in Ollantaytambo there aren’t any guided day trips of the ruins. You can only take a private car (from $40-65 for 3 hours) and hire a guide to go along with you (about $75). Our first day we went to the local ruins within walking distance of the town and we hired a private guide for $25 to give us a tour of the major site for about 2 hours. (Admission is included in the General Ticket) We have never hired a private guide because we enjoy group day trips for the comradery of other tourists but in this case it was definitely worth the money.
$42 for a Private Driver in the Sacred Valley
You can easily take collectivos in between towns and villages for a few dollars, but they don’t go to ruins off the beaten track. So, the following day we hired a private car for 120 soles (US$42) for a half-day trip to the Inka ruins of Moray (included on the General Ticket) and Moras (salt harvesting operation—admission 7 sole). It is impossible to take local public transportation to these sites so $42 is worth the money because it was a fascinating excursion.
The driver just took us to the entrance of each site and I had searched Google for information on these sites the day before and took photos of the internet pages on my phone so we understood what we were looking at. Considering this is probably the only time we will visit Peru, the extra money to see these sites that are off the beaten track are well worth it.
Splurging on Fine Dining
Normally we like to eat where the locals do when traveling, and we have somewhat here in Peru. We started our stay in Cusco with a huge platter of pickled pigs’ feet, roasted pork fat, dried corn and some other local specialties. But because the dollar is so strong, we are doing more fine dining than we would normally. Our best and one of the most-expensive meals was at El Albergue in Ollantaytambo. For US$53 we split a huge delicious organic salad for a starter, Bob had Alpaca tenderloin, I had lamb medallions, and we both had glasses of Argentinean wine; the same meal in Los Angeles would easily be over $130. In contrast, our best cheap meal was roasted chicken and fries, a great fresh salad bar and sodas for US$15 (for two people) at El Pollo Los Toldos in Cusco.
We have both had some minor issues with diarrhea so we went to the pharmacy and purchased Pevitrel. We got 10 tablets for US$4 and a single dose solved the problem so now we have extra for the rest of our trip. We also purchased 10 tablets of Acetazolamida for US$7 to help with altitude sickness. This will cover the rest of our trip in Machu Picchu and back to Cusco. There are Farma all over town and it’s easy to act out various medical conditions without needing to use Spanish.
A Warning about Using Collectivos to Travel in the Sacred Valley
We used collectivos (small passenger vans) from Cusco to towns in the Sacred Valley. They were cheap and efficient…until we tried to get from Ollantaytambo back to Cusco. The vans leave the station when they are full. In a big city like Cusco, they fill up pretty fast, but in a small town like Ollantaytambo you might end up waiting a long time before you get a full van. We had to wait over an hour at the station (really, it’s just a dirt parking lot) before the driver left. There was another couple who had waited 2 hours! The only way for them to fill a van is when the trains arrive from tourists visiting Machu Picchu. We had to wait for several trains before we had enough passengers for the driver to go. If you have to catch a plane in Cusco you need to give yourself plenty of time to get back.
Next, our visit to Machu Picchu…