Aguas Calientes: gatekeeper to the Lost City of Machu Picchu

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AGUAS CALIENTES aka Machu Picchu Pueblo

If a visit to Machu Picchu is on your itinerary, and if you haven’t been there it should be, then you will almost certainly find yourself in the town Aguas Calientes, which is located just under four miles from the “Lost City”, and is the junction for all trains arriving from Cusco, and Ollantaytambo in the Sacred Valley, and Santa Maria to the west. There are no roads into Aguas Calientes, and no airport, so most people will  arrive by train with the xception of those who trek the legendary Inca Trail , a spectacular 4 day excursion from the sacred valley, or drive to Santa Maria, and hike the 15k from the Hidro Electrica.  There is also a train from Santa Maria but it only runs once a day, and is therefore not very convenient.  

This small town, which exists primarily to accommodate visitors to the ruins, is a convenient location for travelers who want to spend time exploring the lost city in the morning before the onslaught of tourists. Also known as Machu Picchu Pueblo, Aguas Calientes offers a wide range of restaurants and hotels for visitors, in addition to the popular hot springs for which the town is named. The outdoor springs, which are believed to  posses medicinal qualities are a 15 minute walk from town. The entry fee is around $3, and there are changing facilities and a small café. There are a number of different pools with varying temperatures including one filled with freezing cold mountain water so make sure you know which one you are umping into. If you’ve arrived here on the Inca Trail you’ll be happy to find the rejuvenating springs, and the relaxing environment, and they are typically open from 5:00am – 09:00pm.

Travelers who choose to spend the night in Aguas Calientes are rewarded with the serenity of Machu Pichu in the morning when it is easier to contemplate the magnitude of this incredible Incan achievement, and imagine the what must have been going through Hiram Bingham when he came upon this simply indescribable site in 1911. Another option here is the Sanctuary Lodge, the only hotel adjacent to the ruins, providing privileged access to the ruins during certain off hours, and an unparalleled experience of the Lost City.

In July 2011, the Dirección Regional de Cultura Cusco (DRC) introduced new entrance rules to the citadel of Machu Picchu. The tougher entrance rules were a measure to reduce the impact of tourism on the site. Entrance was limited to 2,500 visitors per day, and entrance to Huayna Picchu (within the citadel) was further restricted to 400 visitors per day, in two allocated time slots at 7am and 10am.

The economy of Aguas Calientes is supported solely by it’s access to Mach Picchu, and as such provides all the necessary hotels, restaurants, souvenir shops and related services.  Although the town is somewhat picturesque there is no vibrant nightlife or much to do with the exception of the thermal springs which are claimed to have believed to possess medicinal powers.

The ruins can be reached from town by buses that leave throughout the day and cost $17 round trip.  It’s a 20 minute ride on the bus, or if you want some exercise the meandering switch backs can be hike in around one and a half hours, but it is quite a steep climb, so be sure you are up to it.  If you are hearty, and want a more adventurous experience, the 4 hour climb of the breathtaking Putucusi tail might be for you. Putucusi is on the other side of the Vilcanota River and offers magnificent views views of Machu Picchu. The trail was recently discovered and cleared, and the ascent can be quite challenging with a series of vertical ladders and a steep incline on the way to the top. The trailhead is a 10 minute walk from Aguas Calientes along tracks.  The most difficult section of the climb comes after on about 15 minutes where most people will turn around, but if you are ready to scale the wooden ladders up the rock face, get there early when the weather is best good and do not go alone. 

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