- Encounters with locals
- Hiking / Trekking
The town of Aguas Calientes has undergone very rapid development, mainly due to its advantageous location below the famous Machu Picchu. With the site one of the essential places to see when visiting Peru, tourists flock to Aguas Calientes in large numbers. The town is today one of the most expensive in Peru and unfortunately no longer possesses the kind of charming authenticity offered by other destinations in the country. I personally don't consider the town to be worth going to see in itself. It's instead simply somewhere you have to go to if you want to visit Machu Picchu.
If, like me, you arrive at the town after a long trek, with your muscles sore after kilometres of walking, you'll really appreciate taking a dip in Aguas Calientes natural hot baths. In fact the town's name means "Hot Waters" in English. The entry price to the baths is very reasonable, and if you haven't brought your swimming costume, don't worry: you can hire them at the site!
Because you basically can't avoid coming to this town, you may as well get the most out of it while you're here! I discovered an excellent restaurant here when I last visited called Indio Feliz, which is located very close to the Plaza de Armas. It's a little more expensive than what you normally find in Peru, but the food is simply delicious.
To reach Aguas Calientes, you can take a train from Hydroelectrica. For those on lower budgets, or for the more adventurous it is also possible to go on foot, simply by following the train tracks. This I recommend since it allows you to go at your own pace and to make the most of the countryside as you slowly but surely approach Machu Picchu. By choosing this option I was able to walk along the Rio Urubamba riverbed, surrounded by the imposing mountains that hide the ancient city of the Incas. Allow a good three hours walk if you take your time, being careful to not delay too much to avoid having to find your way at dusk; the sun sets early here!
After a day exploring Machu Picchu, Aguas Calientes has a big surprise in store: open air hot springs at the top of the village. It was just perfect! After climbing the mountain at Machu Picchu, I was able to enjoy a lovely hot bath, whilst gazing at the stars, for just 10 soles! As I crossed the village to go to bed and get some rest at last, plenty of little bars were still open. So I allowed myself a Pisco Sour as I sat and contemplated this fantastic day.
My opinion of Agua Calientes is mixed to say the least. Obviously, it's very touristy. Honestly the main, (and, as far as I am concerned, the only,) reason to go there is Machu Picchu. Period. The village just looks like a long succession of hotels and souvenir shops.
Having said that, the covered market is pretty and perfect for doing your souvenir shopping. It's incredibly colourful! So the stop over isn't unpleasant. But, that said, it is just a place to stop on your trip to Peru ! Nothing more.
From a geographic point of view, it is 400 metres below Machu Picchu, in the heart of the green mountains. It's an idyllic setting. The advantage of its situation is that you feel like you are at the ends of the earth...which makes the visit to the Inca city even better.
There is only one way to get there. By train. It's the most expensive train in the world...to say the least. So, unless you want to trek to Machu Picchu, get ready to get your wallet out.