97km (60 miles) NW of Cusco; 21km (13 miles) W of Urubamba

A tongue twister of a town—the last settlement before Aguas Calientes and Machu Picchu—this historic and lovely little place at the northwestern end of the Sacred Valley is affectionately called Ollanta (Oh-yahn-tah) by locals. Plenty of outsiders who can’t pronounce it fall in love with the town, too, and the town, which was oh-so-quiet just a few years ago, is now firmly on the tourist trail, fast on its way to becoming a tiny version of Cusco. New cafes, restaurants, and hostales now ring the main square and line the street that connects the old town to the ruins, but Ollanta is trying to negotiate its newfound popularity and is doing its best to avoid being overrun with shoddy tourist establishments, as happened in Aguas Calientes. Despite its quick transformation, though, Ollantaytambo remains one of the most enjoyable places in the Sacred Valley, the one place (other than Machu Picchu, of course) not to be missed. The scenery surrounding Ollantaytambo is stunning: The snowcapped mountains that embrace the town frame a much narrower valley here than at Urubamba or Pisac, and both sides of the gorge are lined with Inca stone andenes, or agricultural terraces. Most extraordinary are the precipitous terraced ruins of a massive temple-fortress built by the Inca Pachacútec. Below the ruins, Ollantaytambo’s old town is a splendid grid of streets dating to Inca times and lined with immaculately carved stone walls, blooming bougainvillea, and perfect canals, still carrying rushing water down from the mountains. Though during much of the day tour buses deposit large groups at the foot of the fortress (where a handicrafts market habitually breaks out to welcome them) and tourists overrun the main square, the old town remains pretty quiet, a traditional and thoroughly charming Valle Sagrado village.

Ollantaytambo is one of the best spots to spend the night in the Sacred Valley—although accommodations are limited to mostly small inns and simple hotels—especially if you want to be able to wander around the ruins alone in the early morning or late afternoon, before or after the groups overtake them. With the town’s expanding roster of traveler services, it’s now a good place to hang out for several days, not just an overnight on the way to or back from Machu Picchu.