Aguas Calientes

Aguas Calientes

Aguas Calientes (now officially Machu Picchu Pueblo) is a small town at the bottom of the valley next to Machu Picchu, and the principal access point to the site. Unless you're on a daytrip from Cusco or plan to spend a fortune and stay at the sole lodge in Macchu Picchu itself, you will need to spend at least one night here.

The town is perched on the bank of the Urubamba river. Across the river are sheer cliffs, and a creek flows down from the jungle into the river, bisecting the town. Several small bridges cross the creek. Virtually all of the streets are pedestrian-only walking streets, making it very easy to get around.

Get in

There are no roads into Aguas Calientes. You must arrive by train or by foot.

By train

Two train companies serve Aguas Calientes. Try to book several days in advance if possible, especially in the high season. Tickets can be purchased online as well as at travel agency and ticket offices in Cusco. Upon leaving the train station you will enter a warren of market stalls. Stay straight to head to the stream running through town where you can get your bearings.

Peru Rail has two stations: Ollanta and Poroy. Ollanta is located in Ollantaytambo, which is a small town 1hr 45min from Cusco. Poroy is a 20min taxi ride from the Cusco Plaza de Armas). There are several departures daily. Pay attention to the station when buying tickets online, as the website presents both stations in the same timetable. There are several departures daily, varying greatly in price. To get to Ollantaytambo, take a collectivo from Calle Pavitos in Cusco, 15 soles per person. They start early, around 3am, and run every half hour. Look for a newish van with seatbelts. Ollantaytambo is a small town with ruins of its own, and one popular route is to take the bus, spend a night in Ollantaytambo, then take the train to Aguas Calientes the next morning. The scenic train journey through the Sacred Valley takes about 3hr 45min from Poroy and 1hr 45min from Ollanta. Tickets should be bought in advance either online or at the Peru Rail office on the Plaze de Armas in Cusco. It is not possible to select your seats online, so if you have a preference, buy them at the station. Printed tickets are required, although they can be printed at the Poroy station at the ticketing office (and likely at Ollanta, although this has not been confirmed). The fares start at US$35 one way in the 'Backpackers' cars, with decently comfortable seats and small snacks provided. The 'Vistadome' cars are the mid-range cars, with more nicer seats and meals served. There is also a luxury option called 'Hiram Bingham', complete with gourmet meals and an observation carriage.

Inca Rail also serves Aguas Calientes. Prices and service are similar to Peru Rail.

Update March 2015: due to flood damage to the tracks over the winter, trains no longer start and finish at Poroy. A new temporary station has been created at Pachar, even nearer to Aguas Calientes. A free bus service is provided from Wanchac station in Cusco, taking about an hour-and-three-quarters to reach Pachar, from where it is 90 minutes to reach Aguas Calientes. If you have pre-booked tickets from Poroy, you need to be at Cusco Wanchaq about 45 minutes earlier than the stated time. Don't worry: there were loads of English- speaking staff around to help (and dishing out free bottles of water).

By bus and foot or train

It's and easy and not so expensive way to get to Aguas Calientes from Cusco. In your hotel in Cusco ask them for the minivan to Hidroelectrica. There are plenty of tourist offices that offers this, they call it "Machu Picchu by car" (for example Machu Pichu express) a round trip is S/.80 (September, 2015) from Cusco to Hidroelectrica (6-7 hours), and then you can walk from Hidroelectrica to Aguas Calientes for 2.5-3 hours. It's a easy walk, you just have to follow the train tracks, but it's also possible to catch a train at 4pm for US$28.00 (May, 2015). The train tickets from Hidrolectrica to Aguas Calientes is not offered on the website of PeruRail, you will have to talk with them at the ticket office or just arrive before 4 pm to Hidroeletrica. Minivans back to Cusco leave Hidroelectrica at around 14:30. Please note that catching a minivan back to Cusco means leaving Machu Picchu at around 11:00. It's just enough time to visit the site, but not enough to climb Wayna Picchu or Montana. It's best to sleep a second night in Agua Calientes to enjoy a full day at the site or bite the bullet and take the train back to Cusco.

By foot

It is also possible to hike downstream along the railway tracks from Ollantaytambo or from the town at km 82, where the Inca trail starts, this is about a seven hour hike (Note - hiking on the train tracks is prohibited).

It's also possible to hike upstream along the train tracks from Santa Teresa (4 hours) or Hydroelectrica (2 hours). You can take a minibus directly to Hydroelectrica from Cusco for S/50 or make the journey by public transport: To reach Santa Teresa, take a bus towards Quillabamba from Cusco and get off at Santa Maria. The bus leaves Cusco at 8am (from the Santiago bus depot - S/20) and passes through Ollantaytambo, Urubumba and Santa Maria. It´s an 7 hour journey from Cusco to Santa Maria. You can also take a Minivan (Colectivo) which leaves next to the buses (S/25-30 - 4 hours). At Santa Maria, take a connecting bus to Santa Teresa (S/6, 1.5 hours) or a taxi (S/10, 1 hour). Walk 2 hours or catch a bus (S/5) to the hydro electric plant (planta hidroeléctrica). From there it's 2.5-3 hours of walking to Aguas Calientes from here, and is a easy walk, you just to follow the train tracks, but it's also possible to catch a train for $28.00 US (May, 2015) to Aguas Calientes, possibly much cheaper if you are Peruvian (leaves hidroeléctrica at 4 PM and for Peruvians is S./10). As the tracks are still in use, be careful, especially when crossing bridges and in the tunnels.

There are also hiking paths coming from Mollepata, Cachora and Huanicapa for the extremely adventurous. You will want to get your hands on some topographical maps beforehand, Hiking and Trekking around Cusco is available for around S/.25.00 to S/.30.00 and has details on the routes you can take.

Get around

The town is compact and walkable, and there are no vehicles apart from the buses to Machu Picchu and a few work vehicles.

See

Do

Aguas Calientes is located in the cloud forest, and there are a several hikes in the jungle and along the river. The town also offers the usual activities for a tourist location, as well as the thermal baths that give the town its name.

Birdwatchers can find Torrent Ducks and White-Capped Dippers in the river, and Andean Cock-of-the-Rocks--the national bird of Peru--can be found in the jungle outside of town. Several books are available discussing the bird life near and around Machu Picchu and Aguas Calientes that also discuss birds that can be found in the cloud forest.

In town:

Going downstream towards Santa Teresa, you can follow the train tracks or follow the road along the river. This road runs until it reaches a bridge that crosses the river where the road winds up to Machu Picchu. At this point you can turn right and cut up to the train tracks and continue to follow the river along the tracks. Note that it is prohibited to walk on the tracks themselves. In the downstream direction you can find:

Going upstream towards Ollantaytambo;

Following the train tracks upstream from Machu Picchu Pueblo towards Ollantaytambo you will see some other ruins and a waterfall.

Buy

Prices on most things are relatively high, if you´re on a very tight budget, bring some snacks and water from Cusco. If you´re wanting to use a credit card for hotel or purchases, note that most places only accept Visa. However, prices on basics such as snacks and water are not much higher than Cusco and the Sacred Valley.

There is a big market along the road to Machu Picchu, and a big handicraft market in front of the railway station.

Some shops sell hand-painted t-shirts, which are far more expensive than other t-shirts in Peru but are a little more creative.

Eat

There are many restaurants catering to travelers. Prices can be expected to be somewhat higher due to the isolation of Aguas Calientes and the difficulty of importing supplies. Some travelers have reported incorrectly calculated bills and hidden charges on bills. One ploy to be aware of is for the bill to be 10-15% more than advertised due to "tax" and "servicio". This is fairly easy to avoid if you are aware of it - when the tout is inviting you into the restaurant, he or she will name a price. Agree to the price and say, "No tax, no servicio, no nada mas." When they bring the bill, you may have to remind them of this agreement, but there is usually no problem if it is agreed up front. The waiter may tell you he earns no wages, and the service charge is his only pay, but this is not true. Only ever pay what is advertised.

The town is full of pizza restaurants, which are a safe option.

There are also a number of Chifas restaurants (Chinese food) and Peruvian restaurants serving set menus. These will usually run S/.10.00 - S/.15.00 and depending on where you go will be something along the lines of Palta Rellena (Stuffed Avocado), Soup, Main Course (generally trout, beef or chicken), Tea, Coffee, Fruit Juice, Wine or Pisco Sour.

The smaller restaurants up the hill will often offer more food for half the price of the larger establishments, and the quality is usually the same.

There are two cafes outside the entrance to Machu Picchu that have decent cafe-style food and are surprisingly reasonable.

Drink

Many bars try to lure in customers with 4 for 1 happy hours lasting the whole evening. Beware that the price is fourfold of the normal prices in Cusco. These "four" cocktails are also each about the size of one normal-priced cocktail. It is often not a terrible deal, but it is not truly four for one.

Signs warn that it is not allowed to sell and/or consume alcoholic beverages after 11pm. However, it's not too hard to find a place to drink some beers after this time.

Sleep

There are many sleeping options in Aguas Calientes. There is one very expensive hotel right next to the Machu Picchu entrance.

Budget

Midrange

Splurge

Connect

Internet cafes are spread around the town with slow connections. They offer local and long-distance calls as well. They charge about S/.3.00 to S/.4.00 per hour and there are also CD and DVD burning facilities to store your photos. DVD's cost S/.15.00 each to burn.

Stay healthy

There is a 24-hour pharmacy "Multiservicios Botica Carita Feliz" in Calle Collasuyo, North-West of the main square Plaza Manco Ccapac.

Go next

This article is issued from Wikivoyage - version of the Friday, February 05, 2016. The text is available under the Creative Commons Attribution/Share Alike but additional terms may apply for the media files.