Aguas Calientes On a Budget
The town has developed rapidly to accommodate the major influx of tourists. Prices are high and negotiating is a must!
SightsMachu Picchu is the obvious sight in the area. For most visitors, this is the sole purpose of coming to town. There are also several natural hot baths in the area, for which the town is named. The baths were destroyed by floods but have been rebuilt. You can find the baths by walking up the hill in town. They have the atmosphere of a public pool and they can get quite crowded, but they are still worthwhile for those who are tired from hiking.
Putucusi, meaning "Happy Mountain" is on the same side of the river as the town. You can take a trail to the summit, which is about 2370 meters above sea level. The hike can be steep and quite intense, but the views are amazing and worth the effort. Do ask about trail conditions at the tourist office before you begin the hike.
There is also a Butterfly House in the area that is worth visiting. You can sea butterflies in each of the four stages including egg, larva, pupa, and butterfly.
Also of interest are the Machu Picchu Museum and Botanical Gardens, the Ecological Centre, and the Gardens of Mandor.
NeighborhoodsAguas Calientes is just 6 kilometers, or an hour and a half hike from Machu Picchu. The town has developed specifically for tourists, and as such, you'll find plenty of hotels and restaurants in the area.
The town has a main square. Avenue Pachacutec is the only thoroughfare through town and it connects the main square to the baths. Next to the train station, where trains arrive from Cusco, there is a sheltered souvenir market. There is also a big market along the road to Machu Picchu.
ActivitiesMost people spend their time in the area exploring Machu Picchu. It is also worth enjoying several other hikes, or taking a dip in the hot baths while you're in town. Hikes can be variable in difficulty so inquire at the tourist information office about the distance, elevation change, and trail condition before you begin.
Food and DiningAguas Calientas is a tourist town, and as such, prices are incredibly inflated. This is true for food as well. Confirm the price on your bill before you pay because scams are not uncommon. Ask the prices before you order and only pay what has been quoted to you.
There are plenty of restaurants around town that cater specifically to tourists. Pizza restaurants are plentiful and usually decent. If you're looking for the best deal, head up the hill a little ways where you'll receive twice the food for half the price.
TransportationPeople head to Aguas Calientes and Machu Picchu by one of two ways. Either you walk, or you take the train. Peru Rail offers several rides daily from Ollantaytambo, which is almost two hours from Cuzco. The best way to Ollantaytambo is by collectivo, which can be picked up on Calle Pavitos for 15 soles a person. It's worth spending a night in Ollantaytambo and visiting its sights before traveling on to Machu Picchu. The trip to Aguas Calientes is just under two hours and you should purchase your tickets in advance. Prices begin at US$35 and jump up dramatically from there. If Peru Rail is full, there are alternative services offered by Inca Rail and Machu Picchu Rail for comparable prices.
A more adventurous alternative is to hike to Aguas Calientes. Ask around town and consult your guide book to fully understand the route you must take as there are a handful of different options. The hike from Santa Teresa is about four hours and from Hydroelectrica it's 2 hours. There are also hiking trails from Mollepata, Cachora, and Huanicapa.
Once you're in town, the area is compact and easily walkable. There are no buses in town with the exception of the buses that travel to Machu Picchu and a few work vehicles.
You can catch a bus up to Machu Picchu from Aguas Calientes for about US$17.00. This includes the return trip. It's a steep hike to walk up to the ruins so be prepared if that is your plan. You must purchase a ticket to the ruins at the Cultural Centre in Aguas Calientes. The ticket is good for one entry during a three day period. Be sure and bring some snacks and water with you because once you're inside the grounds the prices are extremely expensive and overpriced.