There are some places where once you’ve spent a day, you won’t need to visit again. There are other places where once you’ve spent a couple hours, you’re ready to move on. Aguas Calientes is one of those places. It’s a place where there’s an infinite number of travellers passing through, most of whom will never return. Its transitory nature is due to its location so it is highly likely that you’ll have to visit Aguas Calientes if Machu Picchu is on your radar. The question then is, how to pass the time?
Don’t get me wrong – I’m not saying Aguas Calientes is a crappy place. I actually found it pretty interesting. There just isn’t a whole lot to do there; in fact, it has been purposely built for the passing-thru traveller. For example, there are a million and one restaurants and hotels, all of varying types and costs. You’ll definitely find something suited to your budget, if not your tastes.
Aguas Calientes got its colloquial name after its hot springs (auga = water; caliente = hot). Its proper name is Machu Picchu Pueblo. It is the closest town to the Incan ruins (6km away) and is situated at the bottom of the mountain. It’s here that you’ll arrive if you take the train from Cusco or Ollantaytambo and it is from here you’ll depart if you walked to Machu Picchu via the Inca Trail.
So what is there to do?
What I enjoyed most about Aguas Calientes was the frontier town feeling. No lie! Perhaps I have an overactive mind but my imagination was in happy overdrive conjuring up images of the gold rush or 19th century labour camp towns. Also, Aguas Calientes is built in a gorge so not only does it have a rushing river running right through it, the town is surrounded by tall mountains and cloud forest. The combination of frontier and landscape makes it a pretty atmospheric place! So this is my first recommendation on how to pass the time in Aguas Calientes – wander the streets.
The second thing to do in town is partake in the hot springs. Not my cup of tea so I passed on that. But it is a popular thing to do, probably because of all the Inca Trail pummeled muscles! If you’re like me and have no interest in the hot springs, or because you really have a lot of time to kill, the third option is the covered souvenir market. Prices here aren’t too bad and people are willing to bargain. There is a decent variety of items ranging from little lama key chains to textiles and carvings.
By now you may be feeling a little peckish so my fourth recommendation of things to do in Aguas Calientes is to have a leisurely meal at a restaurant. I won’t recommend one in particular but check out ones along the train tracks that have views of the river. We found one along the river and stopped for a drink. That drink turned into appetizers and then actually lunch. The quiet restaurant with its fairly pretty view made for a relaxing couple of hours.
The way to enjoy Aguas Calientes is to accept the fact that you’re there for a reason – access to Machu Picchu. Just take the town at face value. And have absolutely no expectations. Who knows – it may turn out to be one of those weird blips in your travel memories that is actually a good one! In the words of my sister, just enjoy the weirdness!