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Ollantaytambo is one of the region's main hotspots, and a well-used overnight stop on route to Machu Picchu, it can get very busy here in high season, making it hard to escape being around scores of other travellers. At heart, though, it's a small but very traditional settlement, worth enjoying over a few days, particularly during its highly colourful fiestas (the Festival of the Cross, Corpus Christi and Ollantaytambo Raymi fiesta – generally on the Sunday after Cusco's Inti Raymi), or at Christmas, when locals wear flowers and decorative grasses in their hats. Many local women still wear traditional clothing and it's common to see them in the main plaza with their intricately woven manta shawls, black and red skirts with colourful zigzag patterns and inverted red and black hats.
Ollantaytambo was built as an Inca administrative centre rather than a town and is laid out in the form of a maize corn cob: it's one of the few surviving examples of an Inca grid system, with a plan that can be seen from vantage points high above it, especially from the hill opposite the fortress. An incredibly fertile sector of the Urubamba Valley, at 2800m above sea level and with temperatures of 11–23°C (52–73°F), with good alluvial soils and water resources, this area was also the gateway to the Antisuyo (the Amazon corner of the Inca Empire) and a centre for tribute-gathering from the surrounding valleys. The valley here is hemmed in by steep and very high mountains, many with snowcapped peaks. Beyond Ollantaytambo, the Sacred Valley becomes a subtropical, raging river course, surrounded by towering mountains and dominated by the snowcapped peak of Salcantay; the town is a popular base for rafting groups.