The chances are that you’ve spent much time, money, and effort getting to the ancient Incan City of Machu Picchu, so why would you spend only a few hours exploring it?
Whether you’ve opted for the train from Cusco to Aguas Calientes, or you’re hiking the Inca Trail (or taking the less common Inca Jungle Trail), you’ll want to get the most out of your visit to this spectacular ancient site.
After all, it might be a once in a lifetime experience!
Where is Aguas Calientes, Machu Picchu?
Well, did you know that Aguas Calientes is the closest town to South America’s most famous Inca ruins? That is just about 5.5m (9 kms) away from the famous Mach Picchu mountains. This perfectly located town is bustling with life as it is the perfect spot for your journey – whether you are in transit or looking to stay overnight. Better yet, all of the shops, restaurants and hotels all look to do one thing: serve the more than 1 million travellers that visit this area every single year.
We recommend staying a night in Aguas Calientes (or two)
My thoughts: You can’t possibly do justice to Machu Picchu in a few hours. Instead, choose to stay in the village of Aguas Calientes for two or three nights and visit Machu Picchu a couple of times, perhaps at different times of the day. Sure, you have to pay for each visit, but think of the expenses you’ve already incurred just to get there. Surely, an extra few Sols are worth the sublime experience? We definitely thought so!
As a photography enthusiast, I like to plan my visits to iconic sites according to the direction of the sunlight and the time of day. In addition, I have learned through experience to give myself plenty of “wiggle room” for unpredictable happenings, such as bad weather (like rain or fog) or transportation delays. Again, you’ve expended a great deal of money and energy to get there, so take the extra time.
Taking the train to Aguas Calientes
We left Cusco (check out this post on things to do in Cusco) early morning on the PeruRail VistaDome train to Aguas Calientes. After dumping our luggage at our hotel where we were spending the night in Aguas Calientes, and having a bite to eat, we went straight up to Machu Picchu for the rest of the afternoon. We were fortunate to have great weather and I was very pleased to be there for the “golden hour” of sunlight just before sunset. In addition I was able to scout out where I should plant myself on the following morning to photograph Machu Picchu at sunrise.
On the next morning, we were, again blessed with perfect weather. From our reconnaissance the day before, we knew where to go and set up my tripod for that iconic shot of Machu Picchu. Granted, we could also have opted for a guide as many travelers do, but we prefer to wander around, on our own time, with our guidebooks.
We even had time to rest on the grass in the central plaza, munch on some granola bars for energy, and play with the llamas.
By the time we left, mid-afternoon, we felt we had really explored Machu Picchu.
Things to do in Aguas Calientes
One of the many pleasures of our visit to this picturesque town was the fact that there is so much to do here! Whether you are more of a leisurely traveller or enjoy mode adventurous thrill-seeking moments, there truly are enough activities in Aguas Calientes for everyone to enjoy.
Below are a few of our personal favourites:
The Aguas Calientes hot springs
Soaking off from a day of adventuring in one of the famous local hot springs is a definite attraction – especially after a major track up Machu Picchu. The best part is that all of the hot springs have varying temperatures, so you can find one that is comfortable enough for you. There are also bathrooms, changing rooms and a small on-site bar or you to make use of.
Musueams in Aguas Calientes
If you are into exploring the cultural scenes when you are on holiday (which I highly recommend) then you will enjoy that there are many museums in Aguas Calientes for you to explore. One of my personal favourites was the Museo de Sitio Manuel Chávez Ballón. This absolute must-see attraction exhibits all of the cultural and historical significance of Machu Picchu in the most innovative and creative ways.
Keep in mind that the only way to actually get to this museum is by foot. But before you panic about having to trek to this location, it is only a 1-mile (2km) walk!
You cannot leave this town without going to the Aguas Calientes market, which is known as the Mercado Artesanal. Here, browse collections of stone and wood carvings, alpaca wool sweaters, silverware and jewellery, clay sculptures, embossed leather, paintings, and even antiques. Not only can you find souvenirs here but also engage with the friendly locals too.
Come and witness a town that comes alive with the presence of travellers when you visit Aguas Calientes. This will be an experience that you will never forget but also prove that some of the best adventures are in the most unlikely spots!