Travelers' Tips for Machu Picchu
About Machu Picchu
Aguas Calientes is named after its hotsprings, thermal baths of varying temperatures. If you're hiking to Machu Picchu, think about bringing your swimwear, a small towel and some sandals to unwind at in the warm water and soothe your weary muscles. (If you didn't remember to bring these items, they're available for rent.) They're only 10 minutes from the main square and cost S/.10.00 to enter.
Guarding Your Budget
Expect prices in Aguas Calientes to be higher than those in Cusco. This is because all goods must arrive by train to this remote location, and because the town itself sprung up purely to act as a base town for visitors to the Inca ruins of Machu Picchu Archeological Complex. In addition to higher prices, many restaurants tack on a service charge of S/.2.00-S/.3.00 (soles) despite this information not being stated upfront, so ask first because the price offered may not be the price you get. Prices are higher in Aguas Calientes, so if you´re on a very tight budget, you can bring snacks, water, and other supplies from Cusco. If you´re planning to use a credit card for hotel or purchases note that most places only accept Visa and there will be surcharge for the service.
Getting There: Trains
For the train, you can buy your tickets from a reputable agency or directly from Peru Rail at their offices in Wanchaq or the Plaza de Armas, or through the Peru Rail website. Most people buy the return trip in advance, but you can buy the return ticket in Aguas Calientes at the boletería on Imperio de los Incas. However, if your schedule isn't flexible play it safe and purchase your ticket the day before your planned departure, or further in advance if possible.
Getting to Machu Picchu: Buses
Shuttle buses ascend to the Inca ruins of Machu Picchu Citadel from 5:30am to 4:30pm, leaving every 10-15 minutes. Buses descending from the ruins back to Aguas Calientes also leave at regular intervals. The frequency of departures means you don't really need to buy tickets in advance- unless you want to be on that first bus. The line starts forming early for the first bus from around 5:10am, and grows quickly. If you wish to save time, buy your ticket in advance at the Consettur Offices on Avenida Pardo in Cusco or at the Aguas Calientes bus station the night before. Tickets cost US$9.00 one-way and US$17.00 roundtrip. (One-way descending bus tickets purchased at the ruins themselves will cost a little more.)
Hiking to Machu Picchu
There's only one way to see the sun rise over a Machu Picchu still bathed in morning mist, and that's to hike up. It takes an hour and a half and can be a steep climb at times, but is free and if you leave around 4:00am you can beat the buses and get those elusive photos of Machu Picchu without the crowds.
On the left side of the entry to the Inca ruins of Machu Picchu Archeological Complex, immediately inside the turnstiles, there's a little office counter where you can get a commemorative stamp of Machu Picchu for your passport as a souvenir of your visit to "Inca Country".
On the upside, Aguas Calientes is has no shortage of dining choices. The best places in town are considered to be El Indio Feliz, a locale owned by a French expat and his Peruvian wife which serves up Andean fusion dishes, and Tree House. Lower down on the price scale, Toto's House is the choice for those with large appetites, offering big portions at mid-range prices and a huge midday buffet. Descending further, there's the Cusco-based Chez Maggy serves Italian, Mexican and Peruvian dishes and offer a delivery service for those still recovering from the Inca Trail to Machu Picchu. If you're worried about your budget, you don't have to go hungry- the hidden-away market passageway between Plaza Manco Capac and Calle Mayta Capac hosts a variety of inexpensive local specialties.
Aguas Calientes Nightlife
Despite Aguas Calientes wee size, it does offer some nightlife options. For bars, try Big Brother and Ampu, which are located right across the street from each other. For dancing afterwards, there's Wasicha. The bar located next to Wasicha, El Uno Más, is a popular locals' hangout. If a quieter night is more your style, for quality brandy in a grown-up bar, try Capitán Bar, part of Indio Feliz Restaurant.
Enjoy the spectacular high-altitude rainforest setting of Aguas Calientes by exploring some of the trails at the Ecological Center or at the privately owned Mandor Gardens, which has a S/.10.00 (soles) entry cost but boasts a variety of tropical orchids and waterfall. You can find either of these by walking along the train tracks in the direction of the bridge. Walking in the same direction, near the camping ground, you'll find the Butterfly House, where they even offer short tours, although only in Spanish. If you visit the Machu Picchu Museum (highly recommended despite its small size- it'll provide some good context for what you'll see at Machu Picchu), the Botanical Gardens are included.