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Exploring Aguas Calientes: The Entry Point To Machu Picchu, Peru


Modified: December 27, 2023

by Amelie Majewski



Welcome to Aguas Calientes, the entry point to the majestic ancient city of Machu Picchu. This quaint town, nestled in the Peruvian Andes, is a popular destination for tourists from all over the world who come to experience the wonder of Machu Picchu. Aguas Calientes, also known as Machu Picchu Pueblo, is located at the base of the mountains and offers a charming setting with stunning natural beauty.


Aguas Calientes serves as the gateway to the ancient Incan ruins of Machu Picchu, which is one of the Seven Wonders of the World. The town was originally established as a base for those who wanted to explore Machu Picchu and has since grown to accommodate the influx of visitors. Despite its small size, Aguas Calientes is brimming with character and offers a range of amenities, including accommodation, dining options, hot springs, and shopping.


The history and culture of Aguas Calientes are deeply intertwined with the ancient Incan civilization. The town takes its name from the hot springs that are found in the area, which were believed to have healing properties by the Incas. These hot springs have been a source of relaxation and rejuvenation for centuries and continue to attract visitors today.


Aguas Calientes is not only a convenient stop for those visiting Machu Picchu, but it also has its own distinct charm. The narrow streets lined with traditional shops and restaurants provide an opportunity to immerse yourself in the local culture and cuisine. Whether you are seeking adventure, relaxation, or a taste of Peruvian hospitality, Aguas Calientes has something to offer.


History of Aguas Calientes

The history of Aguas Calientes dates back to the time of the Inca civilization. It is believed that the site was originally used as a resting place for Incan travelers on their way to Machu Picchu. The area surrounding Aguas Calientes is rich in natural hot springs, which were considered sacred by the Incas due to their supposed healing properties.


During the Spanish conquest of Peru, Aguas Calientes remained a relatively unknown and untouched location. It wasn’t until the early 20th century that the site gained attention. American explorer Hiram Bingham, in his quest to find the lost city of the Incas, stumbled upon Machu Picchu and its neighboring town, then known as Mandor Pampa.


In the 1940s, the town was officially established as Aguas Calientes, named after the hot springs that are abundant in the area. The town initially served as a small retreat for those visiting Machu Picchu, but over time, it has developed into a bustling tourist hub with all the necessary amenities.


In recent years, Aguas Calientes has undergone significant development and infrastructure improvements to accommodate the increasing number of tourists. The town has expanded its range of accommodations, restaurants, and shops to cater to the diverse needs of visitors.


Despite the modernization, Aguas Calientes has managed to retain its charm and appeal. Many buildings in the town still feature traditional architecture, and the streets maintain a quaint and relaxed atmosphere. It remains the ideal base for those embarking on their journey to Machu Picchu, offering a blend of convenience, natural beauty, and historical significance.


Today, Aguas Calientes serves as a vital link between the modern world and the ancient Incan civilization. It continues to be a fascinating destination for travelers seeking to explore the wonders of Machu Picchu and experience the rich history and culture of Peru.


Getting to Aguas Calientes

While Aguas Calientes may seem secluded due to its location in the Andean mountains, it is actually quite accessible for travelers. Here are the primary options for getting to Aguas Calientes:

  1. Train: The most popular and convenient way to reach Aguas Calientes is by train. There are several train services available, including the luxurious Belmond Hiram Bingham train, the scenic Vistadome train, and the budget-friendly Expedition train. These trains depart from Cusco or Ollantaytambo and offer breathtaking views of the Andean landscape during the journey.
  2. Trekking: For those seeking adventure and a more immersive experience, trekking to Aguas Calientes is an option. The most famous trek is the Inca Trail, which requires a permit and typically takes four days to complete. There are also alternative treks like the Salkantay Trek and the Lares Trek, which offer stunning views and a chance to explore the surrounding mountains and valleys.
  3. Bus: If you prefer a more budget-friendly option, you can take a bus from Cusco to Ollantaytambo and then catch a train to Aguas Calientes. The bus journey from Cusco to Ollantaytambo takes approximately two hours and offers scenic views of the Sacred Valley.
  4. Helicopter: For those looking for a more extravagant and time-efficient way to reach Aguas Calientes, helicopter tours are available. These tours offer a bird’s-eye view of the stunning Andean landscape and provide an unforgettable experience.

Regardless of the mode of transportation you choose, it’s important to plan ahead and make reservations in advance, especially during peak travel seasons. This will ensure a smooth and hassle-free journey to Aguas Calientes, allowing you to fully enjoy your visit to Machu Picchu.


Accommodation Options in Aguas Calientes

Aguas Calientes offers a variety of accommodation options to suit every traveler’s needs and preferences. Whether you’re seeking luxury, convenience, or budget-friendly stays, you’ll find a range of options to choose from. Here are some of the accommodation options available in Aguas Calientes:

  1. Luxury Hotels: For a truly indulgent experience, there are several luxury hotels in Aguas Calientes that offer top-notch amenities and impeccable service. These hotels boast spacious rooms, stunning views of the surrounding mountains, gourmet restaurants, and relaxing spa facilities.
  2. Mid-Range Hotels: If you’re looking for comfortable and well-appointed accommodation without breaking the bank, Aguas Calientes has a variety of mid-range hotels. These hotels offer clean and cozy rooms, friendly staff, and convenient locations in close proximity to the Machu Picchu entrance.
  3. Budget Hostels: Travelers on a tighter budget will find numerous budget hostels in Aguas Calientes. These hostels provide affordable dormitory-style rooms or private rooms with shared facilities. They are a great option for backpackers and those looking to socialize with fellow travelers.
  4. Eco-Lodges: For an eco-friendly and sustainable stay, there are eco-lodges available in Aguas Calientes. These lodges focus on minimizing their environmental impact while offering comfortable accommodation. They often incorporate natural materials, renewable energy sources, and organic food options.
  5. Homestays: For a more immersive cultural experience, consider staying with a local family in Aguas Calientes. Homestays allow you to experience the warmth and hospitality of the residents while learning about their customs and traditions.

When choosing accommodation in Aguas Calientes, it’s important to consider factors such as location, amenities, and budget. It’s also advisable to book well in advance, especially during the peak travel season, to secure your preferred choice of accommodation.


Regardless of where you choose to stay in Aguas Calientes, you’ll be able to enjoy the stunning natural surroundings and the anticipation of visiting the renowned Machu Picchu.


Dining and Cuisine in Aguas Calientes

Aguas Calientes offers a diverse culinary scene that caters to all tastes and preferences. From traditional Peruvian dishes to international cuisine, there are numerous dining options available in this charming town. Here is a glimpse into the dining and cuisine experience in Aguas Calientes:


Peruvian Cuisine: Aguas Calientes is a great place to indulge in authentic Peruvian cuisine. Local restaurants serve up traditional dishes such as ceviche (fresh seafood marinated in lime juice), lomo saltado (stir-fried beef with onions and tomatoes), and aji de gallina (creamy chicken stew). Be sure to try a variety of Peruvian flavors and ingredients, including quinoa, corn, and native tubers.


International Cuisine: In addition to Peruvian cuisine, Aguas Calientes also offers a range of international dining options. You can find restaurants serving Italian, Mexican, Chinese, and other international cuisines. Whether you’re craving a wood-fired pizza, a comforting bowl of pasta, or some spicy tacos, you’ll be able to satisfy your cravings in Aguas Calientes.


Vegetarian and Vegan Options: Aguas Calientes has options for vegetarian and vegan travelers as well. Many restaurants offer plant-based dishes that highlight the abundance of fresh vegetables and fruits available in the region. Look for vegetarian ceviche, quinoa salads, and vegetable stir-fries on the menus.


Street Food: For a taste of local flavors on a budget, try some of the street food stalls and carts in Aguas Calientes. You can find delicious snacks like empanadas, anticuchos (grilled skewers), and churros. These affordable and quick bites are perfect for a snack on-the-go.


Pisco Tasting: No visit to Peru is complete without trying pisco, the country’s national drink. Aguas Calientes has a few bars and restaurants that offer pisco tasting experiences. Enjoy different varieties of pisco, from the classic pisco sour cocktail to the straight spirit, while learning about its production and significance in Peruvian culture.


When dining in Aguas Calientes, be mindful of hygiene practices and choose reputable establishments. It’s always a good idea to check reviews and recommendations from fellow travelers to ensure a memorable and safe culinary experience.


From savoring traditional Peruvian flavors to exploring international cuisines, the dining scene in Aguas Calientes adds to the overall cultural experience of your visit to Machu Picchu.


Exploring the Town of Aguas Calientes

While the main attraction of Aguas Calientes is undoubtedly Machu Picchu, the town itself has its own unique charm and attractions to explore. Here are some of the highlights of exploring the town of Aguas Calientes:


Plaza de Armas: Start your exploration in the heart of Aguas Calientes at Plaza de Armas. This lively square is surrounded by shops, cafes, and restaurants. Take a moment to relax on a bench and soak in the lively atmosphere while enjoying the views of the surrounding mountains.


Museo de Sitio Manuel Chávez Ballón: For history enthusiasts, a visit to the Museo de Sitio Manuel Chávez Ballón is a must. This small museum showcases artifacts and exhibits related to the history and archaeological importance of Machu Picchu. Learn more about the fascinating Incan civilization and its connection to the region.


Butterfly Sanctuary: Visit the Mariposario de Machu Picchu, a butterfly sanctuary located within Aguas Calientes. Wander through lush gardens that are home to a variety of colorful butterflies. Gain insights into the life cycle of butterflies and their ecological importance through informative displays.


Local Markets and Shops: Explore the local markets and shops in Aguas Calientes to discover unique souvenirs and handicrafts. From alpaca wool products to traditional Peruvian textiles, you’ll find a variety of items that reflect the rich cultural heritage of the region. Don’t forget to practice your bargaining skills to get the best deals.


Inti Mach’ay: Take a short hike to Inti Mach’ay, a natural cave located near Aguas Calientes. This mysterious cave was once used by the Incas as an astronomical observatory. Explore the cave and immerse yourself in the ancient history and spirituality that surrounds it.


Walk Along the Vilcanota River: Enjoy a leisurely stroll along the banks of the Vilcanota River, which runs through Aguas Calientes. Admire the scenic beauty of the rushing water and the surrounding lush vegetation. The soothing sound of the river provides a peaceful escape from the hustle and bustle of the town.


As you explore the town of Aguas Calientes, take the time to interact with the locals and experience their warm hospitality. Engage in conversations, taste the local cuisine, and appreciate the unique blend of ancient traditions and modern influences that make Aguas Calientes a vibrant and captivating destination.


Hot Springs in Aguas Calientes

Aguas Calientes, true to its name, is famous for its hot springs. These natural thermal baths have been attracting visitors for centuries due to their supposed healing and therapeutic properties. Here’s everything you need to know about the hot springs in Aguas Calientes:


Mandor Hot Springs: Located just a short hike away from Aguas Calientes, the Mandor Hot Springs offer a secluded and tranquil setting. Surrounded by lush greenery and beautiful scenery, these hot springs provide a perfect retreat to relax and unwind. The pools vary in temperature, allowing visitors to find their preferred level of warmth.


Cocalmayo Hot Springs: Also known as Aguas Calientes Hot Springs, the Cocalmayo Hot Springs are nestled in a picturesque location along the banks of the Urubamba River. Accessible by a short bus or taxi ride from Aguas Calientes, these hot springs offer a soothing experience with pools of varying temperatures and stunning views of the surrounding mountains.


Benefits of Hot Springs: The hot springs of Aguas Calientes are believed to have numerous health benefits. The warm mineral-rich waters are known to relax muscles, improve blood circulation, and alleviate stress. Many visitors enjoy soaking in the hot springs after a long day of exploring Machu Picchu as a way to soothe tired muscles and rejuvenate the body.


Tips for Visiting: If you plan to visit the hot springs, here are a few tips to enhance your experience. First, check the operating hours and any entry fees beforehand. It’s also a good idea to bring a towel, extra clothes, and a swimsuit. Some hot springs provide lockers for storing your belongings, while others may require you to bring your own lock. It’s important to respect the rules and regulations of the hot springs, such as not wearing shoes or loud conversations to maintain a peaceful and relaxing atmosphere.


Visiting the hot springs in Aguas Calientes is a wonderful way to unwind and reconnect with nature. Whether you choose to visit the Mandor Hot Springs or the Cocalmayo Hot Springs, take the time to embrace the therapeutic benefits and soak in the serenity of these natural wonders.


Shopping in Aguas Calientes

Aguas Calientes offers a delightful shopping experience, with a variety of options to cater to different tastes and interests. Whether you’re looking for souvenirs, handicrafts, or local products, you’ll find plenty of opportunities to indulge in some retail therapy. Here’s a guide to shopping in Aguas Calientes:


Markets: The artisan markets in Aguas Calientes are a treasure trove of unique handicrafts and souvenirs. Explore the bustling stalls and browse through a wide range of items, including alpaca wool products, colorful textiles, pottery, jewelry, and traditional Peruvian musical instruments. Bargaining is a common practice in these markets, so don’t be afraid to negotiate for the best price.


Local Shops: Take a stroll through the streets of Aguas Calientes to discover small, locally-owned shops. These shops often showcase the craftsmanship of local artisans and offer a more curated selection of products. Look out for paintings, wood carvings, leather goods, and other handcrafted items that reflect the rich artistic heritage of the region.


Peruvian Textiles: Peru is renowned for its vibrant textiles, and Aguas Calientes is a great place to purchase them. From intricately woven blankets and scarves to beautifully embroidered garments, the town has several shops dedicated to showcasing and selling traditional Peruvian textiles. These textiles make for unique and meaningful souvenirs or gifts.


Chocolate and Coffee: Aguas Calientes is home to artisanal chocolate and coffee shops where you can indulge in delicious treats. Take the opportunity to savor high-quality Peruvian chocolates made from locally sourced cacao beans. You can also sample aromatic Peruvian coffee and purchase freshly roasted beans to enjoy back home.


Supermarkets: If you’re in need of everyday essentials or snacks for your visit to Machu Picchu, there are supermarkets in Aguas Calientes where you can purchase food, water, and other supplies. These supermarkets are also a convenient option for picking up last-minute items before embarking on your Machu Picchu adventure.


When shopping in Aguas Calientes, it’s important to support local businesses and artisans by purchasing authentic products. Look for shops that are certified as fair-trade or those that have a reputation for ethical practices. By doing so, you contribute to the preservation of traditional craftsmanship and help sustain the local economy.


Shopping in Aguas Calientes is not only an opportunity to find unique souvenirs, but it is also a chance to connect with the rich cultural heritage of Peru through its vibrant arts and crafts. Enjoy exploring the shops, savoring the flavors, and taking home a piece of Aguas Calientes with you.


Tips for Visiting Machu Picchu from Aguas Calientes

Visiting Machu Picchu is a once-in-a-lifetime experience, and proper planning and preparation will ensure that you make the most of your time at this incredible archaeological site. Here are some important tips to keep in mind when visiting Machu Picchu from Aguas Calientes:


1. Purchase Tickets in Advance: Machu Picchu has a limited number of tickets available each day, so it’s essential to book your entrance ticket in advance. Be sure to check the official website or work with a reputable travel agency to secure your tickets well ahead of time.


2. Plan your Timing: Machu Picchu is most crowded during the peak hours of 10 AM to 2 PM. Consider visiting early in the morning or later in the afternoon to avoid the crowds. This will allow you to enjoy a more peaceful and serene experience amidst the ancient ruins.


3. Engage a Qualified Guide: Hiring a knowledgeable guide will greatly enhance your understanding and appreciation of the history and significance of Machu Picchu. They can provide insights into the architecture, Incan culture, and intriguing stories surrounding the site.


4. Wear Comfortable Clothing and Footwear: You will be doing a fair amount of walking and climbing stairs at Machu Picchu, so it’s important to wear comfortable shoes and clothing. Dress in layers as the weather can be unpredictable, with cool mornings and potentially hot afternoons. Don’t forget to bring a hat, sunglasses, and sunscreen for protection from the sun.


5. Stay Hydrated and Bring Snacks: It’s important to stay hydrated during your visit to Machu Picchu, especially considering the high altitude. Carry a refillable water bottle and bring healthy snacks to keep your energy levels up throughout the day. Keep in mind that food is not allowed inside the ruins, so plan your snack breaks accordingly.


6. Pack Essentials: In addition to water and snacks, be sure to bring a backpack with essentials such as a camera, extra batteries, a rain jacket or poncho, insect repellent, and a valid ID. It’s also advisable to bring a small first aid kit with basic supplies.


7. Respect the Rules and Preserve the Site: Machu Picchu is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and it’s important to respect the rules and regulations to help preserve its integrity. Stay on designated paths, do not touch the ruins, and dispose of any waste responsibly. Be mindful of other visitors and allow everyone to have a meaningful and enjoyable experience.


8. Take Your Time and Enjoy the Moment: Finally, remember to take your time and savor the experience of being at Machu Picchu. Find a quiet spot to sit and take in the awe-inspiring views. Capture photos and create memories, but also take moments to simply immerse yourself in the beauty and history of this incredible ancient site.


By following these tips, you’ll be well-prepared for your visit to Machu Picchu and can make the most of this extraordinary journey.



Aguas Calientes, the gateway to Machu Picchu, offers a fascinating and vibrant experience for travelers. From its rich history rooted in the ancient Incan civilization to its stunning natural surroundings, Aguas Calientes has much to offer beyond its primary attraction.


Exploring the town of Aguas Calientes provides an opportunity to immerse yourself in its unique atmosphere. Whether you’re wandering through its markets, dining on traditional Peruvian cuisine, or relaxing in its hot springs, you’ll find the town brimming with charm and cultural richness.


As you venture from Aguas Calientes to the iconic Machu Picchu, proper planning and preparation are key. From securing your entrance tickets in advance to considering the timing of your visit, these tips will help you make the most of your experience at this incredible archaeological site.


Remember to take your time, engage with local guides, respect the rules, and appreciate the beauty and significance of Machu Picchu. Capture the memories, indulge in the local cuisine, and bring back a piece of Aguas Calientes with you through unique souvenirs and handicrafts.


Aguas Calientes truly embodies the spirit of Peru, with its rich history, breathtaking scenery, and warm hospitality. Whether you’re seeking adventure, relaxation, or cultural immersion, this incredible town is a destination that will leave a lasting impression on your heart and mind.


As you plan your visit to Peru, be sure to include Aguas Calientes in your itinerary. Prepare to be captivated by its charm, enchanted by its surroundings, and inspired by the awe-inspiring wonder of Machu Picchu.