I visited Aguas Calientes in May 2022. I hiked in after a Salkantay trek and got the train out to Ollantaytambo in Sacred Valley. Aguas Calientes is a really interesting place and here are the best things to do there to enjoy your time as much as possible.
Why Visit Aguas Calientes
Aguas Calientes is famed for being the gateway to Machu Picchu so a must visit during your trip to Peru. As well as Machu Picchu, Aguas Calientes has lots to offer as one of the tourist hotspots in Peru.
How to get to Aguas Calientes
One of the most interesting things about Aguas Calientes is that it is not accessible via road. There are many scenic trains that depart from Ollantaytambo and Poroy. The trains tend to get booked up far in advance so make sure you reserve. The alternative is to get a bus from Cusco to Hidroelectrica and walk from there. The walk to aguas calientes from hidroelectrica is alongside the train tracks and is completely flat and takes about 2 hours. The Bus from Cusco to Hidroelectrica can take up to 7 hours so this is quite a long way to do the journey.
1) Machu Picchu
Machu Picchu is the highlight of most tourist’s visit to Peru and is probably Peru’s most well known attraction. Aguas Calientes is the town that is the gateway to this historic site. No trip to Aguas Calientes would be complete without a visit to Machu Picchu. There are busses that run all day to the entrance point of Machu Pichu or the walk up to this site is about 1 hour long.
Machu Picchu is not in a rainforest but a ‘cloud forest’. Machu Picchu is in and out of the clouds most days so you might need to wait for the perfect shot. There is now a 1 way route so you must wait at the view point before exploring the ruins up close if you want the full view photo. I was very unlucky when I visited and the clouds did not pass, apparently this is very rare. I was drenched by the end of my visit so don’t forget a raincoat!
Once you are in the Machu Picchu site, there are no information panels as you might expect in some other sites. I would definitely recommend a guide so you can understand what the ruins are and what they mean. There are different areas of the town ranging from agricultural to ancient temples.
2) Thermal Baths
Ranging from cold to 37C, this is a great way to relax and unwind. There are 6 different pools with that are naturally heated and have minerals in them. Because of these minerals the pools are not clear. Also be careful with white or light coloured swimwear as I wore a white bikini that came out orange afterwards. There are no towels provided so don’t forget to bring one.
I went to the thermal baths after a 4 day Salkantay trek and even ordered a cocktail to the pool! It was the perfect way to relax but also celebrate the achievement of completing the trek.
3) Artisanal Market
There is an enclosed market in the main centre of Aguas Calientes selling local crafts and souvenirs. You walk in and it feels like you could be in a Turkish Bazaar in Istanbul with colours and products in every direction you look.
4) Butterfly House
Down the road from the centre of Aguas calientes is a butterfly sanctuary, Mariposario of Machu Picchu. Machu Picchu valley is home to a huge variety of butterflies. In this butterfly sanctuary you are shown the whole process from egg, cocoon to finally a beautiful butterfly. I even got to release a butterfly that had left it’s cocoon a few hours earlier! They are still discovering new species of butterflies and one of them the cocoons were shiny and gold plated – it was amazing!
Also one of my other highlights of the butterfly sanctuary was that there was a litter of 3 weeks old puppies wondering around. As there are a team of biologists there, they also look after some of the street dogs of the area.
5) Walk along Urubamba river
Urubamba river passes directly through Aguas Calientes and the strength of the rapids is impressive. Take a stroll down the banks of the river to see the beauty of it. I visited in 2022 and there was still evidence of significant floods that happened in 2020. There were bridges that had been ripped away and I even saw a cement mixer!
6) Watch the Train from the street
You can’t visit Aguas Calientes without noticing the train-line. There are no cars in the city centre however there are trains that go down the main street. The platform for the main station is a pavement. As well as this you can walk down the pavement and be next to a train. I have never been in a place where the trains were like this before and really enjoyed the novelty.
To leave Aguas Calientes, I highly recommend taking the train. It is a beautiful route with specialised trains with windows in the ceiling to appreciate the valley.
7) Eat in a nice Restaurant
There are a great range of restaurants to enjoy in Aguas Calientes. Many of the restaurants have balconies overlooking the Urubamba river to add to the atmosphere. I had a delicious blue cheese and fig pizza at the restaurant Full House and it was delicious.
8) Relax with a Massage
There are many spas offering massages in Aguas Calientes. If you have done a multi-day trek such as the Inca Trail or Salkantay, this is a great way to deal with the sore muscles and take time to relax.
9) Hike Huayna Picchu
If you want a challenge and a different view of Machu Picchu, hike up Hyana picchu. This is the peak just next to Machu Picchu and gives a great view of the whole site as well as the surrounding hills. The number of visitors to Huayna Picchu is limited to 400 people per day so best to buy tickets in advance to avoid disappointment.
Now you know everything to do in Aguas Calientes!
Have the best time exploring Aguas Calientes and let me know what you loved most in the comments.