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Travel Guide > South America > Peru

Peru Districts

  
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AGUAS CALIENTES

 

Everyone except those hiking the Inca Trail to Machu Picchu must go through the village of Aguas Calientes (AKA Machu Picchu Pueblo) to get to the sacred Inca site.  Aguas Calientes (Hot Waters in Spanish) is at the base of the mountain atop which sits one of the Seven Wonders of the World, as selected in an international survey.

Aguas Calientes is the last stop on train service that begins in Cusco, Urubamba or Ollantaytambo. (See “Getting To…”, below.)  The village straddles the Urubamba River, one of the headwaters of the Amazon.  Founded in 1901 by some farming families, it became a workers’ camp, called Maquinachayoq, during construction of the railroad in the late 1920s.  After completion of the railroad, the settlement was renamed Aguas Calientes for the hot springs located on its northeast side.

The train station lies on the west side of the river, which is crossed on two foot bridges.  The station is disproportionately large, relative to the size of the village—an indication of the number of visitors who pass through it every year.  Outside the station is a small plaza where porters from the various hotels await their guests.  They will have signs identifying their respective hotels.  They place suitcases in 2-wheel carts that they push or pull to the hotel.  Guests may follow behind or linger in the large artisans’ market that lies between the station and the river. 

This indigenous market is worth wandering through before the return trip to Cusco.  There is a wide array of goods, from rugs to sweaters, bags, jewelry, blankets, and reproductions of Inca artifacts and weapons.  The shopkeepers will invite you to look but, unlike market vendors in other countries, they are not pushy or overbearing.  They are also very helpful; for example, if you see a pair of drop earrings that you like but you don’t like the colour stone on the post, they will change the posts for the colour you prefer. It is also possible to bargain although the prices tend to be close to market value.  Just ask “What is your best price” (in Spanish: “¿Cual es su mejor precio?)

There are no taxis but all lodging—with the exception of the Sanctuary Lodge outside the entrance to Machu Picchu—the only hotel at the site) is more than a 500 meter (5 block) walk. For many the walk will be up hill on a cobblestone road.   Depending on how they are counted, there are no more than eight streets in Aguas Calientes; the main street runs parallel to the river and continues up to Machu Picchu’s parking lot.  The other principal street turns off at a right angle and continues straight for about a kilometer (.6 mi.), leading to the hot springs.  The other streets are pedestrian walkways.  All hotels, restaurants, shops, and travel agencies are grouped in this small area. 

All lodging establishments offer breakfast; the larger hotels have restaurants.  There are also a number of independent restaurants, including several pizzerias, grouped around the 2-3 blocks near the market.  They all display their menus or will provide one to peruse on request.  Many menus are bilingual, in Spanish and English. 

Note that almost everything is more expensive in Aguas Calientes than in Cusco or Ollaytaytambo because everything has to be brought in by train. Space permitting, pack a few bottles of water and snacks.

SIGHTSEEING

Aguas Calientes lives on tourism but, as the major focus is Machu Picchu and space for expanding is limited (the town sits in a narrow valley), most space has been dedicated to lodging, restaurants, Internet cafes, and s few stores.

Still, there are a few places worth visiting, depending on time and interest. 

The Main SquareThe closest point of interest is the small, newly renovated main square or plaza, just a few steps up from the main corner across from the market.  The entrance is angled across the corner.  Walk up the steps and be greeted by a larger-than-life statue of Pachacutec, Machu Picchu’s founder. His outspread arms seem to embrace the area and welcome the visitor.  He is guarded by life size Inca guards—a man and a woman.  On the square is the small Catholic Church, whose Sunday mass is beamed via loudspeaker into the square.  It seems that, almost 600 years later, the religion of the conquerors is still trying to dominate indigenous culture. 

On the far side of the square a pedestrian road leads up with a school, small hotels, restaurants and shops lining both sides.  At the top of the hill, a right turn leads to the foot bridge across the river at the south end of the artisans’ market. 

The Hot Springs These thermal waters were closed as a result of flooding a few years ago but have been rebuilt and opened.  Entrance costs 10 Peruvian soles; towels and bathing suits can be rented.  The baths are often crowded; take a shower before entering them. 

Butterfly House.  This is close to the campground.  If you reach the bridge, you’ve missed it.

Ecological Centre.  Located on the road to Machu Picchu, near the bridge, this centre offers paths through the rainforest that take about an hour to complete.

Putucusi.  The “Happy Mountain”—its meaning in Quechua—offers a spectacular view of Machu Picchu across the valley.  Getting there is not for the faint of heart or limb: a July 2010 mudslide hid several ladders that were part of the trail, so reaching the summit is now a venture only for experienced rock climbers who can haul themselves up a steel cable.  To get there, head south along the train tracks (toward Cusco) to a trail on the right that leads uphill.   As implied, “uphill” is the operative word, as the trail is steep, but the view of The Lost City on a clear day is worth the 300 m. (1000 ft.) climb.  The hike takes about an hour each way.

Gardens of Mandor.  Hike along the train tracks beyond the turn-off to Putucusi to km. 113.  Here the gardens and waterfall of Mandor are located.  This is private property; there is an entry fee of 10 soles.  The walk features orchids, some rainforest, and trails to a small waterfall. 

GETTING TO AGUAS CALIENTES

There are two ways to get to the village; train is, by far, the most popular.  Hikers who have traveled the Inca Trail must descend from Machu Picchu by foot or shuttle bus (US$7 one-way).    

TRAINS 

By train there are three options: from Cusco, from Urubamba (with a new train station), and from Ollantaytambo.  The road stops at Ollantaytambo, half-way between Cusco and Machu Picchu.  Ollantayambo is a small city built partially, then abandoned by the Incas but it is one of the few towns where Inca city planning remains intact.  This small city is worth a day’s visit but the important point for those heading the Machu Picchu is that, in high season, the trains from here may be the only transportation available.  Trains from Cusco sell out quickly, especially since reservations can be made on line.  So, plan ahead or think about taking a bus to Ollantaytambo, then the train to Aguas Calientes.  Ollantaytambo is also the beginning of the Inca Trail so back-packers are a common sight around town.

From Cusco there are two classes of trains.  The Hiram Bingham is ultra-luxury. It departs from Poroy Station just outside Cusco.  It carries 84 passengers on a one-day trip that includes round-trip fare, brunch and dinner on board, an exclusive bus to Machu Picchu, entrance fee, a guided tour and afternoon tea in the Sanctuary Lodge at the site.  Cost is $558.00 per person with a 50% discount for children between 3-11 years. 

First-class VistaDome service operates from Cusco and Ollyantaytambo.  From Cusco there is one departure and return per day; return cost is US$142.  

From Ollyantaytambo there are 11 trains per day on the VistaDome.  There are three return fares;  for US$120 there are 6 departures between 06:40 and 10:32.  At US$106 there are 4 departures between 13:57 and 16:40. The least expensive fare, US$86, is the last train to depart, at 16:03.   

Backpacker trains also operate daily from both cities but there is only one departure from Cusco, at 07:42 with a cost of US$112 return.

There are many more options from Ollyantaytambo.  Though billed as “economy” several reviewers on line have written that the seats on the Backpacker are more comfortable than the VistaDome.  Return fares range from US$62 to $112 depending on the departure hour in each direction. 

HELICOPTERS – Not!

A helicopter company, Heli-Cusco, offered flights in the past between Cusco and Aguas Calientes for a return fare of US$480. In June 2010, however, the national government banned helicopters for 210 km. (125 mi.) around Machu Picchu to protect the spectacled bear and red-plumed Andean cock of the rock. The company is trying to have the ban lifted.

LODGING

There are a range of hotels and hostels in the town. The luxurious, at more than US$200 per room per night, include the Sumac Machu Picchu Hotel, Inkaterra Machu Picchu Hotel, and Libertador Tambo del Inca.

There is a wide range of mid-range lodging (US$55-200): La Cabana Hostal, Rupa Wasi Eco Lodge, Hostal Presidente, Wiracocha Inn Hotel, Hostal Muyurina, Jardin Real Hotel, Hostal Continental, Gringo Bill’s Hotel, and the Hatuchay Towers.

There are also several budget hotels or pensions that cost under $50 per room; they include the Hostal Machu Picchu, Pachacuteq, Terrazas del Inca, Inti Wasi, Los Caminantes, and Las Bromelias.  Finally, there is a campground for backpackers. 

The mid-range and above hotels include breakfast; some also include dinner.  Confirm which meal(s) are included before making a reservation. 

Checking on-line reviews of any of these hotels before making a reservation is strongly recommended, especially for economy lodging. 

N.B.: This list is not exhaustive but is intended to provide an idea of the range of accommodations available.





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