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Nestled deep in the Sacred Valley, Ollantaytambo (or “Ollanta” as the settlement is often called) is a wonderfully atmospheric cluster of old stone houses set along very narrow cobbled streets and dominated by soaring mountains on all sides. Ollanta is the last surviving Inca settlement, boasting some of the only Inca houses still lived in today. Many houses retain their solid walls with characteristic interior niches and foundations of huge interlocking blocks, supported by massive cornerstones. More incredibly still, water continues to babble along an original Inca water channel lining one of the streets. Residents still draw water from the channel for washing and cleaning, although no longer for drinking.


A statue of the Inca warrior Ollantay dominates the main square, which remains surprisingly tranquil despite the comings and goings of tourists and their noisy buses. Ancient yellow and cream painted buildings cluster around the square. One of these is the tiny church beside which is a small market with several thatched stalls selling a variety of food and snacks. Moto taxis (covered, motorised tricycles—like tuk-tuks) provide local transport between and around Urubamba and Ollanta, although even these struggle to navigate Ollanta’s narrow streets.


Perched on top of a steep mountainside above Ollanta are the famous fortified Inca ruins, protected by a flight of deep defensive terraces that contour beautifully up the near-vertical terrain. This was the site of an important battle during the great rebellion of 1537, when Manco Inca tried desperately to liberate Peru from the Spanish Conquistadores. There are some 15 terraces, each rising about three metres high. Gazing up from the bottom, the terraces meld into one huge barrier of daunting stonework.


Staring up at this intimidating masterpiece of Inca engineering, it is easy to imagine the terror the Spanish must have felt as they tried to storm the fortress. Discovering the Conquistadores in the act of a surprise attack, native soldiers hurled a barrage of missiles down on them while archers shot arrows from the terraces, before Manco unleashed his final weapon: diverting the river and flooding the plain, forcing the Spanish horsemen to retreat.


An afternoon visit to the ruins is perhaps best capped off with a tasting of the local drink: chicha. As in the rest of the Sacred Valley, many houses in Ollanta display red (sometimes blue) bags on the end of sticks hoisted over their doorways, indicating that the residents sell the maize beer that was once the royal drink of the Incas. A trip to one of these chicha houses makes for a fascinating encounter with the locals and an evening you’re not soon to forget—depending, of course, on how much you drink!

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