Exploring Aguas Calientes: Your Ultimate Gateway to Machu Picchu

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Introduction

Aguas Calientes, also known as Machu Picchu Pueblo, is a quaint town nestled in the mountains of Peru, serving as the gateway to the world-renowned archaeological site, Machu Picchu. Known for its thermal hot springs, bustling markets, and scenic views, Aguas Calientes offers its visitors an immersive experience of the Peruvian culture and lifestyle, making it worth a visit before you head to the iconic Machu Picchu.

Getting to Aguas Calientes

One of the frequently asked questions by tourists is “How do I get to Aguas Calientes?” The journey to this charming town is an adventure in itself. Most travelers start their journey from Cusco, the nearest city to Aguas Calientes.

The Journey from Cusco to Aguas Calientes

  1. By Bus: You can take a bus from Cusco to Ollantaytambo, and then catch a train from there to Aguas Calientes. The bus ride from Cusco to Ollantaytambo takes around 1.5 hours, and the train journey from Ollantaytambo to Aguas Calientes takes around 1.5 to 2 hours.
  2. By Train: Alternatively, you can take a direct train from Cusco to Aguas Calientes. The Peru Rail and Inca Rail are two popular train services operating on this route. The train journey offers breathtaking views of the Andean landscapes and is a truly memorable experience.

Aguas Calientes or Machu Picchu Town: What’s the Difference?

Aguas Calientes and Machu Picchu Town are actually the same place. Aguas Calientes is the original name of the town, which translates to “hot waters,” referring to the local hot springs. However, due to its proximity to Machu Picchu, the town is often referred to as Machu Picchu Pueblo or Machu Picchu Town.

Essential Information About the Aguas Calientes Train Station

The Aguas Calientes train station is located in the heart of the town. It is the final stop for most trains coming from Cusco or Ollantaytambo. From the train station, it’s just a short walk to most hotels, restaurants, and the bus station where you can catch a bus to Machu Picchu.

The Importance of Planning Your Trip to Machu Picchu

Reaching Machu Picchu requires some planning. The site is open from 6 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily, and entrance tickets are required. These tickets often sell out, especially during the peak tourist season (May to September), so it’s advisable to book your tickets in advance. You can purchase tickets online or in Aguas Calientes at the official ticket office.

Things to do in Aguas Calientes

While Aguas Calientes is often seen just as a stopover en route to Machu Picchu, the town has much to offer to its visitors. Here are some of the top things to do in Aguas Calientes.

Exploring the Town of Aguas Calientes

  1. Visiting the Local Handicraft Market: The market in Aguas Calientes is a must-visit for those looking to buy authentic Peruvian handicrafts. From colorful textiles and handmade jewelry to traditional ceramics and alpaca wool products, the market offers a wide range of souvenirs to take back home.
  2. Walking Along the Train Tracks: One of the unique experiences in Aguas Calientes is walking along the train tracks. The tracks run through the center of the town, surrounded by lush greenery and stunning mountain views, making for a perfect leisurely stroll.

Visiting the Machu Picchu Site Museum

The Machu Picchu Site Museum, also known as Museo de Sitio Manuel Chávez Ballón, is located just outside Aguas Calientes. The museum offers a deep dive into the history and significance of Machu Picchu, with a collection of artifacts, maps, and photos. A visit to the museum will enhance your understanding and appreciation of the iconic archaeological site.

Taking a Dip in the Hot Springs

Aguas Calientes takes its name from the thermal hot springs found in the town. After a long day of exploring, there’s nothing more relaxing than soaking in these natural hot springs. The thermal baths are divided into several pools, with temperatures ranging from 38°C to 46°C.

Exploring the Mandor Gardens and Waterfalls

For nature lovers, a visit to the Mandor Gardens and Waterfalls is a must. A short hike from Aguas Calientes, the Mandor Gardens is a private nature reserve that offers a peaceful retreat away from the town’s hustle and bustle. The highlight of the reserve is the beautiful waterfall, which makes for a perfect picnic spot.

Butterfly Watching at the Mariposario de Machu Picchu

The Mariposario de Machu Picchu, or the Machu Picchu Butterfly House, is home to a wide variety of butterfly species. The butterfly house offers a unique opportunity to see these beautiful creatures up close and learn about their life cycle and importance in the ecosystem.

Where to Eat in Aguas Calientes

Aguas Calientes offers a wide variety of dining options, ranging from local eateries serving traditional Peruvian cuisine to international restaurants. Here are some of the best places to eat in Aguas Calientes.

Best Restaurants in Aguas Calientes

  1. La Boulangerie de Paris: This French bakery is a favorite among locals and tourists alike. From freshly baked croissants and baguettes to delicious pastries and coffee, La Boulangerie de Paris offers a delightful culinary experience.
  2. Other Local Eateries: For a taste of traditional Peruvian cuisine, head to Indio Feliz Restaurant Bistro, located in the heart of Aguas Calientes. Another popular spot is the Mapacho Craft Beer & Peruvian Cuisine, known for its locally brewed beers and delicious food.

Local Peruvian Cuisine to Try

While in Aguas Calientes, be sure to try the local Peruvian cuisine. Some of the must-try dishes include Ceviche (raw fish cured in citrus juices), Lomo Saltado (stir-fried beef), and Cuy (guinea pig). Pair your meal with a glass of Pisco Sour, a traditional Peruvian cocktail.

Where to Stay in Aguas Calientes

Whether you’re looking for a budget-friendly hostel or a luxurious lodge, Aguas Calientes offers a wide range of accommodation options to suit every traveler’s needs.

Overview of Aguas Calientes Hotels

The town is home to several hotels, ranging from budget to luxury. Most hotels are located within walking distance of the train station and the bus station for Machu Picchu.

Inkaterra Machu Picchu Pueblo Hotel

The Inkaterra Machu Picchu Pueblo Hotel is a five-star lodge located in the heart of Aguas Calientes. The hotel is set in a lush cloud forest, offering luxurious rooms, a full-service spa, and a gourmet restaurant.

The Sanctuary Lodge

The Sanctuary Lodge is the only hotel located right next to the Machu Picchu site. The hotel offers comfortable rooms, a restaurant serving Peruvian and international cuisine, and stunning views of the surrounding mountains.

Other Lodging Options: From Budget to Luxury

For budget travelers, the El Tambo Machupicchu offers clean, comfortable rooms at a reasonable price. Another budget-friendly option is the Supertramp Hostel, popular among backpackers. For those looking for a mid-range option, the Casa del Sol Machupicchu offers spacious rooms and a prime location near the train station.

Day Trips from Aguas Calientes

Aguas Calientes serves as an excellent base for several day trips. Whether you’re looking to explore ancient Inca ruins or take on challenging hikes, there’s plenty to do around this charming town.

Visit Machu Picchu

Undoubtedly, the most popular day trip from Aguas Calientes is a visit to Machu Picchu.

  1. How to get to Machu Picchu from Aguas Calientes: The most common way to get to Machu Picchu is by taking the bus for 30-minute from Aguas Calientes. Buses leave every few minutes from the town’s bus station, starting at 5:30 a.m.
  2. How much time to spend at Machu Picchu: It’s recommended to spend at least 3-4 hours exploring Machu Picchu. This will give you ample time to take in the stunning views, visit the main landmarks, and maybe even hike to the Sun Gate or the Inca Bridge.
  3. What to see and do in Machu Picchu: At Machu Picchu, you can explore the ancient ruins, marvel at the Inca architecture, and learn about the history of this iconic site. Key attractions include the Temple of the Sun, the Intihuatana stone, and the Room of the Three Windows.

Hiking Huayna Picchu

For adventure seekers, a hike up Huayna Picchu, the mountain that towers over Machu Picchu, is a must. The hike is challenging but rewards you with breathtaking panoramic views of Machu Picchu and the surrounding Andean landscapes. Remember, hiking Huayna Picchu requires a separate ticket, which must be purchased in advance.

Taking the Salkantay Trek

The Salkantay Trek is a popular alternative to the classic Inca Trail. This 5-day trek takes you through diverse landscapes, from snow-capped mountains to lush rainforests, ending at Machu Picchu. The trek is challenging and requires a good level of fitness, but it’s a truly unforgettable experience.

Tips for Tourists

Lastly, here are some practical tips to help you make the most of your visit to Aguas Calientes.

Best Time to Visit Aguas Calientes

The best time to visit Aguas Calientes depends on what you’re looking for. If you want to avoid the crowds, the rainy season (November to April) is a good option. However, for the best weather conditions, the dry season (May to October) is ideal.

Climate and What to Pack

The climate in Aguas Calientes is subtropical highland, with warm days and cool nights. It’s advisable to pack layers to adjust to the changing temperatures. Don’t forget to pack rain gear, especially if you’re visiting during the rainy season.

Cost and Budget Considerations

While Peru is generally a budget-friendly destination, Aguas Calientes can be more expensive due to its tourist-oriented economy. Be prepared to pay more for food, accommodation, and souvenirs in Aguas Calientes compared to other parts of Peru.

Health and Safety Tips

Aguas Calientes is located at a high altitude, so it’s important to take precautions to avoid altitude sickness. Stay hydrated, avoid heavy meals, and take it easy for the first few days to acclimatize.

Conclusion

Aguas Calientes, with its charming atmosphere and stunning surroundings, is more than just a gateway to Machu Picchu. From its bustling markets and thermal baths to its natural beauty and local cuisine, Aguas Calientes has plenty to offer for every traveler. So, take your time to explore this enchanting town and soak up all that it has to offer. Safe travels!

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AUTHOR

I have a strong passion for adventure sports and constantly seeking out new experiences. Some of my favorite activities include trail running, mountain biking, stand up paddle boarding, skiing, ice skating, road tripping, and immersing myself in different cultures and environments. Whether it's exploring an indigenous tribe in the Venezuelan jungle, trekking through Chilean Patagonia, taking a dip in ice-cold lakes in the Canadian Rockies, or attempting mountaineering in the Peruvian Andes, I am always up for a new challenge.

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