Aguas Calientes, sometimes called the City or Town of Machu Picchu, is the obligatory passage to reach the famous Machu Picchu, whether one goes by train or on foot.
Here, travelers should not expect to find a typical small town, as it is a tourist town. There are many restaurants and hotels, but they generally offer very poor value for money.
While it is true that this is somewhat daunting, the journey to reach the place is truly magnificent and once in the place, there is nothing else to do but marvel at the imposing mountains that surround it.
Also, if you are patient, you will find many activities to do in Aguas Calientes that will make it worth a slight detour, which are little known since everyone goes directly to Machu Picchu.
Without further ado, here are the best things to do in Aguas Calientes + my selection of the best hotels based on your budget.
Here I share with you all the activities to do and places to see in Machu Picchu Town and its surroundings:
The town of Aguas Calientes just gets its name from its hot springs.
A complex of 5 pools of sulfurous water (many think that the water is dirty because of its yellowish color, but it is the sulfur that gives it its peculiar color) with a temperature that ranges between 38˚C and 46˚C.
The waters are natural and come directly from various sources of volcanic origin and have numerous therapeutic properties.
It is the perfect environment to relax after the visit to Machu Picchu while waiting for the return train.
Important: in the place you will find lockers and showers to wash before entering the bathrooms, but do not forget your sandals, towels and robe, because you will not find them in the place.
Visit the hot springs of Aguas Calientes:
Walking about 50 minutes through the humid forest, following the train tracks to Santa Teresa, we arrive at a magnificent green oasis called Jardines de Mandor; where Hiram Bingham is said to have started his expedition.
This nature reserve is a true paradise for strolling and admiring the wild flora and fauna, which will also amaze you with its impressive waterfall.
Also a great place for bird watching, where you will find numerous orchids and hummingbirds, in addition to the famous cock of the rock, the national bird of Peru (also called cock of the mountains, rooster of Peña Andino or Tunqui).
If you like bird watching, you should know that the best time to do it is the dry season, from April to October.
Definitely a must-see in Aguas Calientes for all nature lovers and therefore little known by tourists: all the better!
Visit the nature reserve:
Okay, maybe I exaggerated a bit by saying that the Manuel Chávez Ballón Museum is hidden, but for being the Museum of Machu Picchu, it is surprising how unknown it is.
It has two exhibitions and a botanical garden:
An exhibition on the Inca remains found in Machu Picchu and surrounding areas: around 250 objects, including ceramics, bronze and copper tools, bones and different objects used in Machu Picchu.
An exhibition of Inca artifacts for construction that allow us to understand how the citadel was built.
A botanical garden with more than 200 types of orchids, most of which are endemic to the region.
It is a very interesting visit, and it is even more so if you have not taken a guide for your visit to Machu Picchu.
Visit the Museum of Machu Picchu:
A 25-minute walk from Aguas Calientes, taking the bus route to Machu Picchu, is the Mariposario, a butterfly farm that houses an interesting collection of live butterflies, in addition to the different stages of development.
The site is run by volunteers and aims to protect the 300 species of butterflies found in the surrounding area.
Visit the Aguas Calientes Butterfly Garden:
There is a place that is completely off the beaten track and easily accessible: the Allcamayo waterfalls. I know it's a little hard to believe that this exists in a place as touristy as Aguas Calientes, but it's true.
There you can enjoy a walk among the trees, orchids, butterflies and birds, which will finally lead you to three natural waterfalls; the last one, Allcamayo, which is also the highest (30 meters).
Without a doubt, a fantastic environment to discover and enjoy in peace within the heart of nature. If you want to bathe in its waters, do not forget to bring a towel and a bathing suit.
Visit the Allcamayo waterfalls:
Access to Machu Picchu is highly controlled, so it is not possible to visit it for free, but it is possible to take a good look at the beautiful landscape of the citadel from Putucusi.
Phutuq K'usi, happy mountain in Quechua, also known as the guardian of Machu Picchu, is the only free mountain that is part of the historic sanctuary of Machu Picchu.
But beware: it is quite a feat to get to the top! You have to be in shape, be agile and, above all, not suffer from vertigo, because you have to climb, and descend!, a completely vertical wooden staircase.
As its access is free, it is not exactly well preserved. Before undertaking the ascent, it is necessary to be well informed about the state of the trails in Aguas Calientes.
Huayna Picchu, "young mountain" in Quechua, is the famous mountain that is behind the citadel and that can be seen in all the typical photos of Machu Picchu.
The ascent is quite short (1.30 – 2 hours round trip), but very steep and allows you to have a magnificent view of the place and its surroundings.
A truly unique experience, which makes it so popular. Its access is quite restricted and it takes several months in advance to get a ticket.
If you do not find places available for Huayna Picchu (which happens frequently), or if you just want to do a slightly less crowded hike, Machu Picchu Mountain is an excellent alternative for you.
It is the mountain located on the other side of the citadel, in front of Wayna Picchu, and its ascent is a little longer (2 to 3 hours round trip), but less demanding.
But beware, although it is less popular than Huayna Picchu, you will also need to book at least several weeks in advance.
Hidden between the high mountains of the green Urubamba Valley, the famous citadel of Machu Picchu, seat of the highest administrative and religious functions, and home to the palace of the Inca Pachacutec, thanks to its location, was surely of vital importance during the empire.
Because it is so hidden in the mountains, the Spanish, who had already conquered Cusco and other strategic places in the Sacred Valley, never found it.
The Inca city was revealed to the world in 1911, thanks to the Hiram Bingham expedition, and today it is considered the greatest symbol of Peru.
Obviously, Machu Picchu is a very popular attraction and places fly, so I recommend you avoid buying your tickets at the last moment.
As I said before, it is essential to buy your ticket in advance to be able to enter Huayna Picchu or the Machu Picchu mountain.
Many are the routes that take you to Machu Picchu, but none is like the Inca Trail Tours, the most famous pedestrian path in the Americas. After flying from the capital of Perú, Lima, you will arrive in Cusco to walk for four days along a path through forests and dense fog, millenary stone steps and discovering the ruins of ancient fortifications and Inca cities, and all the time enjoying majestic views.