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Ollantaytambo, nestled in Peru's Sacred Valley, is far more than a stopping-off spot on the way to Machu Picchu. Its setting is awe-inspiring in its own right, with the ruins of a large Inca fortress rambling over the hillside above the village: you can see it from almost every vantage point in the area. Ollantaytambo has a welcoming, laid-back vibe, with open-air coffee shops spilling out into the cobbled streets and warm and friendly locals.
You can stay in a traditional adobe house with wood-beamed ceilings and carved furniture. There are also Ollantaytambo hostels with picture-perfect views of the ruins from the rooms and outdoor terraces. Cactus-filled gardens are relaxed places to chill out, while common areas with bright murals make a colourful backdrop to evenings spent mixing with other travellers. An Ollantaytambo hostel serving free tea brewed using leaves gathered from the locally grown coca plant will help you get to grips with the altitude.
The village is centred around the main square, with a handful of streets leading off it. Just behind the plaza is the indoor Mercado San Pedro vegetable market, which has a bustling, local feel. But the main draw here is the ruined temple and fortress above the village, which served as the Incan people's final stronghold in their fight against the Spanish invaders. If you're ticking off other sights in the Sacred Valley, try the small village of Chinchero about an hour's drive away, which has its own set of ruins and market stalls where Quechua women sell colourful knitwear.
The Incan granary ruins of Pinkuylluna sit opposite the Ollantaytambo fortress: the steep 30-minute hike up to this archaeological site gives you impressive views over the town and valley. It's also worth wandering the atmospheric 15th-century backstreets of Ollantaytambo itself. Visit the ChocoMuseo to discover Peru's history of harvesting cocoa and join a chocolate-crafting workshop. In Maras, around a 30-minute drive away, check out the striking sight of tiered Incan-era salt pools stretching as far as the eye can see.
Ollantaytambo is about an hour by bus from Cusco Airport. You won't want to nap during the journey: you'll have views over the serene, green Sacred Valley and the Andean mountain landscape behind. You can also get the train to Ollantaytambo and then on to Aguas Calientes, the village at the base of the Machu Picchu. Ollantaytambo is very small, so you won't need any transport to explore it.