Aguas Calientes is a small city in Ollantaytambo and is a quaint place to catch one’s breath before heading over to Machu Picchu. Widely known for its hot springs, it is also the closest city and entry point for the famous Machu Picchu.
Aguas Calientes, also known as Machu Picchu Pueblo, is the closest town to Machu Picchu, and you’ll probably pass there on your way to the sacred sanctuary. Even though most people just pass by the town to go visit the Inca citadel, most of us stay there at least one night, in order not to rush too much their experience.
Here are a few recommendations about what to do during your stop at the Machu Picchu Pueblo!
How to get to Aguas Calientes from Cusco
Aguas Calientes is a very small and remote city in which the economy relies solely on tourism. As soon as you’re in the city, you’ll notice that the railways run right through the center of the town. You can take a train ride from Cusco from two available train companies, PeruRail or IncaRail and depart from the Poroy station or the Ollantaytambo station. The companies often take you by bus to the departure station.
I recommend departing from the Poroy station as it is only 20 minutes from Cusco by taxi and the total train ride will take three and a half hours. However, if you want to enjoy the Sacred Valley before heading off to Aguas Calientes, the Ollantaytambo station is two hours from Cusco and will take an hour and fifty minutes to reach Aguas Calientes.
If you’re traveling on a lower budget, reaching the Machu Picchu Pueblo by bus is also a good option. In Cusco, a majority of tourism companies offer to take you to Hidroeléctrica, the closest town reachable by bus to Aguas Calientes. You’ll depart from Cusco around 7:00 am, and reach Hidroeléctrica around 12:00 am. From this town, there’s another 12 km to walk along the railway before reaching Aguas Calientes, which takes around two hours and is actually a pretty nice walk in the Peruvian forest.
Stay in Aguas Calientes to acclimate before going to Machu Picchu
If you plan on enjoying your visit to Machu Picchu, Aguas Calientes is the best place to acclimate yourself, if you aren’t used to higher elevations or long travels.
We’ve told you before which are the best ways to get to Machu Picchu.
For acclimatization, coca leaves will be your best friend during this trip, whether it be chewing them or drinking it in a tea. Aguas Calientes is around 6,500-7,000 feet above sea level and Machu Picchu is around 7,800-9,000 ft., so you could get altitude sickness, but it is completely avoidable.
It is recommended that day one should be localized to explore Aguas Calientes while day two can be reserved for Machu Picchu. If you want to make your trip memorable and pleasurable, I highly recommend that you utilize Aguas Calientes as your before and after relaxation portion of your getaway.
What to see and do while you’re in Aguas Calientes
Aguas Calientes is the epitome of a tourist town and with that, the price here is much steeper than the rest of Peru. The city has an array of restaurants, shops, and artisanal markets at its center that are easily accessible by walking.
The city also has an assortment of restaurants that can cater to any pallet. The Tree House Restaurant offers a multi-cuisine menu while Aguas Calientes has an assortment of food to offer.
If you’re a fan of craft beer and of good Peruvian cuisine, Mapacho Craft Beer Restaurant is the place to go to, as it offers some of the best craft beer of the country!
For your first day in Aguas Calientes, I highly recommend that you visit the Museo de Sitio Manuel Chavez Ballon which is a small but very informative museum over the conservation and preservation of Machu Picchu. A little off the beaten path, twenty-two soles will allow you to enter this museum (note that this small museum is often called the Machu Picchu museum). The museum is about a mile away from the center but worth visiting before making the famous trek yourself.
If you have extra time to spare, there is a mariposario or butterfly sanctuary that is only 30 minutes from the city center. Ten soles or $3 US dollars will grant you admission into the Mariposa de Machu Picchu sanctuary and a helpful guide can give you an educational tour. This honestly is a must see in Aguas Calientes and its website offers more information on the conservation effort.
Are you interested in flora and fauna? Then, Los Jardines de Mandor is just what you are looking for. Located at four kilometers or 2.5 miles from the city center, it is only 45 minute past the butterfly sanctuary, so you can visit both on the same day. Be considerate with time as you can easily spend a few hours walking around. Los Jardines de Mandor also offers accommodations with a view and its own restaurant if you want to relax and dine in paradise. This place contains its own waterfall as well as beautiful views of the Urubamaba River and Huayna Picchu. If you stay at the garden, the waterfall is only a 20-minute walk, and it is definitely a picture worthy excursion before heading off to Machu Picchu.
Did you also know that Aguas Calientes is known for its hot springs that can range from 100 to 105 degrees Fahrenheit? Nevertheless, I would recommend that you enjoy the relaxing hot soak after you have already trekked the famous Machu Picchu. For foreigners, the admission to the hot springs is around 20 soles, Peruvian is ten soles and for locals is five soles.
You will have to hike a little bit in order to get to the springs, but once you are there, all you will need to do is relax and enjoy yourself! This is why this activity is well worth at the end of your Machu Picchu trip so you can relax your sore muscles. Aguas Calientes also has many massage parlors to help you unwind and destress ade-stress strenuous trip. For around $35-45 US dollars you can get a hot stone ‘Inca’ massage and unwind before heading back to Lima.
Even though Aguas Calientes is a small city in Peru that caters to tourists, it has a lot to offer, so don’t hesitate to save time for exploring it when you’re visiting Peru! Whether you explore the town at the beginning or end of your trip, be sure to save time for this city as it has its own uniqueness.ç
By: Ermelinda Maglione
Cover Photo: Diego Delso