Arequipa & Ollantaytambo, Peru
Arequipa is known as the “Rome” of South America. The reason why? There’s a large population of devout Catholics here and the monasteries and churches are a grand dedication to Jesus and the Virgin Mary.
We flew into Arequipa from Lima and were immediately met by the lights in the airport going out. Everyone remained pretty calm and things continued how it was. We arrived at our hotel, La Hosteria. It’s a very charming place that looks like we’ve traveled back in time to the Spanish conquistador times. The room was very modern and large and really shocked us considering how “old” the rest of the hotel looks.
A favorite place that we stumbled upon at Arequipa is the Mercado de San Camilo. It’s an indoor market where local vendors sell a myriad of fresh local items such as fruits, vegetables, meats, cheese, bread – I can go on and on. The main reason why we like this place so much is the food is extremely fresh and cheap. It’s a huge market and you could easily spend hours here.
Check out our video passing through the Plaza de Armas and tour of the Mercado de San Camilo
We had lunch here by just walking around and buying whatever that looked good. 1 sole ($0.30 USD) for papa rellena, 7 soles ($2.20 USD) for a huge fruit salad where the lady cuts up all the fruits on the spot, a pork sandwich (torta) where meat is sliced on the spot and assembled in front of you for 6 soles ($1.85 USD). It’s definitely a place to check out if you’re ever in Arequipa and looking for fresh and cheap eats.
The center of the city itself is a historical town. Historical buildings, churches, and monasteries dotting around the Plaza de Armas. Every city we’ve visited has its own Plaza de Armas and the one at Arequipa is said to be the most beautiful. We only had about 2 nights at this city so majority of the time was wandering around just sight seeing and wandering into random churches. It was a good spot before we went to Machu Picchu since it’s a really slow city.
A funny incident happened the day we departed the city. It was a Sunday and there was a huge parade at the Plaza. Traffic was to a crawl and someone decided to just park their car in the middle of the street than to drive around looking for parking. It created such a traffic jam where people could not leave the Plaza or come in to park. We saw a man letting air out of that car’s tires and other people tagging the car with phrases such as “burro” and “animal”. I guess everywhere you go there will be jack asses and there’s really no language barriers for those type of phrases. It’s also amusing because the police also joined in and kicked the car’s tires to set off its alarm!
The final stop before Machu Picchu was the small Inca town of Ollantaytambo. This town is the last stop of the Inca king who retreated during the Spanish conquest of the Inca’s. It has to be one of the oldest towns we’ve visited and smallest for that matter. Getting to Ollantaytambo is a lot of work and there’s many ways of getting there. Because we were arriving late, we hired a taxi from the Cusco airport. However, for the most part, people get to Ollantaytambo from the airport using collectivos (shared buses) that run around all the Cusco and the Sacred Valley. More to come with collectivos in our future adventures throughout Cusco.
So as I was saying the taxi took us from Cusco airport to our hostel at Ollantaytambo. It took about 1.5 hours. On our way out of the airport, we passed a police road block and apparently our taxi driver was not a licensed taxi driver! He pleaded with the officer to let him go and was at it for a good 10 minutes going back and forth before she finally let him go. I later read that unlicensed taxi drivers are fined up to $300 USD for transporting passengers unlicensed. No wonder he was pleading and begging so much.
We arrived to Ollantaytambo and he dropped us off at a really shady looking alley. He tells us that our hostel is 50 meters straight down and to the right. It was such a nerve racking moment as the alley was extremely dark and we had no idea where we were. We just did what he told us to and after walking 50 meters in a dark and almost deserted alley, we saw some foreign faces come out of a wooden door that said “Hostal Iskay”. What a relief!
We had dinner at a nearby local restaurant with a sign Pollo a la Brasa. The waiter did not know any English and he made out that there was no menu! The only thing they served there was chicken and fries. Okay, we ordered half a chicken to share which was not bad.
The following morning we woke up to such a magnificent sight of Ollantaytambo temple right outside our room’s doorstep. It was so dark the previous night that we had no idea it was there.
First stop, the Temple of Ollantaytambo. Machu Picchu is not the only ruin site you can find around Cusco. There are literally hundreds of them dotting around Cusco and the Sacred Valley. Of all the ones within Sacred Valley, the Temple of Ollantaytambo is one of the best.
Here is a POV of the hike up!
We then took a collectivo (shared bus) to Chinchero, another archeological sight. These buses are 12+ passenger minivans that are privately owned and managed that run regular routes throughout Cusco and the Sacred Valley. The buses queue up at a spot in the city and just wait for people to fill up the vehicle, once they have enough passengers they begin their route. It cost us roughly 5 soles ($1.55 USD) per person to get to Chinchero which was a 50 minute ride. It’s kind of a gamble on what type of vehicle you’ll end up with when taking a collectivo. You can end up riding in an old minivan with makeshift seats and handlebars to hold onto, a large tour bus where you end up standing in the aisle for 45 minutes, or a nice modern and spacious van where everyone has a plush seat and seat belt. We experienced all 3 in one day alone.
It’s incredible to see how much of an influence a Spanish conquistadors had on the Incas. They built a Catholic church right on the top of their Inca construction. I’d have to admit that the religious art found inside this Church was really amazing. Unfortunately, they didn’t allow any photography inside the Church. If you guys ever find yourself in Peru, this is definitely a worth while trip to see.
The town of Arequipa is a laid back town where it is fun to walk around and explore all the religious historical buildings Peru has to offer. In contrast, Ollantaytambo is on the other spectrum where it’s also small and quaint but has more archaeological Inca ruins to explore and be immersed in. I’d highly recommend either places if you find yourself ever in Peru.