The main railway station that serves Cusco and therefore on to Machu Picchu is a small town called Ollantaytambo about 1 hour 45 from the city.
As such, throughout the morning minibuses and taxis rush through the narrow streets towards the station and most tourists don’t give the town a second thought. However, Ollantaytambo is a beautiful place in itself, a site of great importance in the Inca empire and also the location of many hugely impressive ruins, it’s unique in Peru as well as it was built by the Incas over 500 years ago and has been inhabited to date.
We took a collectivo from Puente Grau for 10 soles (3 dollars) at around 4am after getting off the night bus from Puno and headed straight there. The minibuses go straight through the main square so we hopped out and headed to our hostel. Most hostels allow early check is as so many visitors get up super early to head on to Machu Picchu.
You can spend a few hours just wandering around the town and it’s cobbled streets. The main square itself is lovely and lined with little cafés where you can sit and take in the view.
There are 6 or 7 alleyways leading off the square that have retained a very old timey vibe and we came across some quite picturesque scenes.
Ollantaytambo was originally a pretty effective fortress and in 1536 the Spanish were defeated here when Manco Inca flooded the plains with previously prepared channels. The very well preserved terraces and fortress walls sit high up on hills either side of the town and combined with the clouds sitting on top of the mountains, Ollantaytambo is a magnificent place to spend a day and perhaps an evening on a rooftop as we did, watching the sun go down with a beer.
There’s a few nice eateries in town including a tiny ice cream shop on the street leading down to the station. For 5 soles ($1.50) you can get some great flavours including local chocolate, black corn/maiz & passionfruit.
Obviously if you do want to explore Machu Picchu, which if you’re in Peru then you probably do, then you’re perfectly located ready for an early morning train and you can avoid the rushed collectivo alongside all the other tourists and leisurely stroll from your hostel to the station whilst leaving your bags to collect later in the day.