Our time in Cusco was coming to a close, and we prepared to head to our next stop, which would take us one step closer to Machu Picchu: the village of Ollantaytambo.
Although we could have taken the Peru Rail, a tourist-focused train that takes visitors to Aguas Calientes, just shy of Machu Picchu, we opted for a less-conventional method of transportation: a local taxi-van.
Of course, we didn’t exactly know that we were opting to take a local taxi-van …
We were told we could take a bus to Ollantaytambo. Sounded easy enough. That morning when our taxi arrived at our hotel, we asked our driver to take us to the bus station. So when we turned down an empty alley and stopped at a small dirt parking lot, we were a bit confused. Where was the bus station?
“Where is the bus station?” we asked our driver. “It’s here, it’s here,” he replied and pointed to the aforementioned parking lot.
“Oh. Ok.” Pause. “Well, where’s the bus?” we asked. “It’s here, it’s here,” he replied, pointing to a small van, and hurriedly removed our bags from his trunk and placed them on our backs.
“Is this the bus that goes to Ollantaytambo?” we asked, as we reluctantly approached the van.
“Of course, of course. Get in. Get in,” a man we assumed was the driver replied as he climbed on top of the van to secure our backpacks to the roof-top luggage rack.
Peering into the van, we asked the other passengers, “Ollantaytambo?” – just to make sure. They nodded and glanced away, no doubt a bit annoyed that we needed continued reassurance.
We climbed in, secured our seat belts, and readied my vomit bags (courtesy of Target) for the 2-hour, switchback-filled ride.
“When do we pay?” I whispered to Justin. “When do we pay?” Justin asked the driver. “Oh don’t worry. You can pay when we get there,” he replied. Uh oh …
Our experience traveling in the developing world has taught us enough that we began to question when exactly we would reach Ollantaytambo and how much it might cost us when we got there.
Were we on a local bus that would take all day to reach our destination? Were the prices pre-set, or would the driver decide how much to charge us once we got there – that is, when we had no choice other than to pay up? Would we, the tourists, be charged the same amount as the locals?
We were soon to find out …
The van departed, and we navigated our way up the twisty mountain roads encircling Cusco.
Our concerns over the journey’s cost and duration soon subsided as we became distracted by the beauty of the Sacred Valley. Snow-capped mountains followed our path; farmers tended to their livestock in hillside fields; children in uniform scurried off to school; quaint villages allowed us a glimpse into a more rural side of life in Peru. The scene was truly breathtaking.
As we entered the town of Ollantaytambo, we were jostled up and down, side to side, as we drove through the charming cobblestone streets, a tangible reminder of the Incas who had constructed this village over 500 years ago.
The impressive Inca fortress at Ollantaytambo towered over the village as water flowed through centuries-old irrigation channels running along the streets.
Before we knew it, we had arrived at our final destination: the local bus station (which, coincidentally, was filled with dozens of other taxi vans).
Although we made a few quick stops along the way to deposit and acquire passengers, we had arrived in Ollantaytambo two hours later, as anticipated. And I didn’t even need to use a Target bag!
And how much we were charged in the end? A mere 20 soles for the two of us (about $6.50 USD), showing that our original concerns of being overcharged were unfounded.
So, what did we learn from this experience?
Well sometimes it really pays for one to step off the beaten path, and other times one just pays a lot less by doing so.