Trip Date 01/17/2018
Posted On 09/24/2018 17:08:25
Destinations | Peru | Aguas Calientes | Machupicchu Pueblo | What to do in Aguas Calientes | Museo de Sitio Manuel Chavez Ballon | Jardin Botanico | Machupicchu Botanical Garden | Banos Termales de Aguas Calientes
Everything about our 10:32 AM departure aboard the PeruRail Vistadome was perfect ... that is, until the clear skies turned to rain! Our mid-morning departure provided us with some early morning hours to explore Ollantaytambo Ruins. The views from the train were enjoyable and, we had an entire afternoon and evening to get acquainted with Aguas Calientes.
The final stop for those headed to Machu Picchu by train is Aguas Calientes, also known as Machupicchu Pueblo. Those who choose the more difficult (but traditional) transportation arrive at Machu Picchu via foot power. Often hikers spend time in Aguas Calientes after visiting the Inca masterpiece. This post will provide both hikers and riders with low cost ideas for how to spend time complimenting a Machu Picchu visit with time in this nearby city.
Transportation from Ollantaytambo to Aguas Calientes
Riding the PeruRail Vistadome train will transport you from Ollantaytambo to Aguas Calientes in just over an hour and a half. Traveling alongside the Rio Vilcanota and Rio Urubamba during your journey, you can enjoy the view of the lush scenery through the panoramic windows of the Vistadome.
Planning a Partial Day in Aguas Calientes
As the departure city for the bus ride to Machu Picchu, some think of Aguas Calientes as the place to sleep before rising early for a visit to the Inca wonder. Others who plan to tour Machu Picchu in the afternoon, think of the town as a place for dinner and a night of rest before ending their time in this sacred area. There are still others who plan to arrive into and leave Aguas Calientes on the same day that they visit Machu Picchu and see no need for the town - other than just the point to transfer from train to bus and back again.
As there really is more to see than just your pillow, take some time to learn about your options for even a short visit so that you can make the most of your time either before or after your visit to the ruins. Depending on how much time you have, how much walking you are willing to do and how packed you want your day to be, you can easily explore several attractions in a partial day:
- With a large market plus more retail outlets, shoppers will be excited at the possibilities to search for the right gifts for themselves or loved ones.
- For those interested in history or additional education on Machu Picchu, a visit to the inexpensive Museo de Sitio Manuel Chavez Ballon is well worth some time.
- Included in the cost of the museum ticket, a walk to enjoy seeing and smelling the flowers and hearing the sounds in the Jardin Botanico can be an enjoyable way to spend an hour or more.
- If you like butterflies, consider a visit to Butterfly House which you pass by on the way to the museum and botanical gardens.
- A welcome treat for anyone who has hiked the Inca Trail, for those wanting some rest and relaxation either before or after a visit to Machu Picchu or for anyone suffering an ailment, a visit to Banos Termales is a must do.
- Depending on how much time you have left in Peru, a meal in Aguas Calientes may be one of your last opportunities to try some of the local delicacies such as alpaca or cuy.
Shopping in Aguas Calientes
After exiting the train, all passengers are routed on a walk through Mercado de Abastos - in order to get anywhere! Depending on how much luggage you are carrying, you can roam up and down the aisles immediately upon disembarking or you can wait until later in the day. (Don't worry - in order to catch your return train, you'll be required to walk through the market again!) Much like other markets in Peru, you'll find a wide variety of items at this huge handicraft market.
In addition to the market, there are a number of retail stores lining the streets of the city. A one block walk in the direction opposite the Urubamba River will lead you from Avenida Hermanos Ayar to Avenue Pachacutec. You will find plenty of shopping along the avenue as well as on the streets veering off to the left and right. Depending on your desire, you can spend as little or as much time perusing the many stores offering options including food, clothing, souvenirs and much more - including massages!
Museo de Sitio Manuel Chavez Ballon
About 25 minutes long, the walk from the town of Aguas Calientes to Museo de Sitio Manuel Chavez Ballon is flat and relatively easy. Unfortunately, as we neared Aguas Calientes, also known as Machupicchu Pueblo, the sky opened up and the rain began - not just a light rain, but a heavy downpour. A quick stop at our hotel, Casa Andina Standard Machu Picchu, provided a positive response to our request to check in 30 minutes early for our one night stay. Being the troopers that we are, we didn't let the rain hinder our plan to visit the museum - we dropped off our backpacks, grabbed our umbrellas, and donned in our rain gear, we were off.
As you begin your walk along the nicely paved trail from the town of Machupicchu Pueblo toward the Inca city of Machu Picchu, you'll pass by a fountain as you near the edge of town.
If you are like us, the sign spelling out "M-A-C-H-U-P-I-C-C-H-U" may make you feel like you are nearing the citadel itself. In actuality, you still have most of your walk ahead of you - and that's just to reach the museum which is at the base of the path that leads up to Machu Picchu.
The round-trip walk along Avenida Hermanos Ayar which follows alongside the Urubamba River flowing through the mountains is enjoyable - and even more so when it is not raining. After passing Puente Ruinas (the old train station) and crossing the footbridge, you will need to veer to the right toward the museum and garden. (Walking left will eventually lead you up to the entrance to Machu Picchu.)
Located at the base of the mountain of Machu Picchu, the museum is small, yet even for those like me who may not find museums as interesting as we probably should, it is well worth a visit - either before or after exploring Machu Picchu. Tickets for the museum can be bought online when buying entrance tickets for Machu Picchu at the Ministry of Culture website, or can be bought at the desk just to the right after entering the museum. We opted to pay the S/.22 per person entrance fee (about $7.75 USD) for a look around both the museum and gardens on the day of our visit, just in case we were unable to squeeze in the time to explore the museum.
The four exhibition rooms house artifacts, graphics, maps and photos from various archaeological excavations.
While it is interesting to see some of the artifacts found while excavating the ruins, reading and learning more about the very purposeful planning for the site as well as the process to transform the granite stones into buildings, terraces and walls is also very intriguing. If you've had the opportunity to see some of the area ruins in Cusco, Pisac or Ollantaytambo, you may comprehend and relate to one of the quotes inside the museum:
"Only the Inkas could do that. . . who else could do it? Nowadays, the people of our times wouldn't have a clue how to do it, not even the grandfathers or the old folks could do it; only the Inkas were able to do that."
The video playing in the final room of the museum helps to tie together everything that you read and see - hopefully the museum will have 3D glasses available during your visit to truly enjoy the movie as it is intended.
Following your museum visit, plan to spend some time exploring Jardin Botanico (Machupicchu Botanical Garden) where you can see and smell the flowers as well as hear the chirping birds and sounds of rushing water. The easiest way to enter the gardens for a self-guided tour is through the main entrance that you pass on your way to the front door of the museum. A second, albeit a little trickier, entrance is by descending the Inca steps (a very old, dilapidated and uneven stone staircase) which is accessible from the museum.
This "center for the conservation of plants" is home to over 135 species of orchids. Spend some time wandering along the stone pathway which weaves in, out and around the beautiful gardens. If you have more time, enjoy sitting on one of the benches where you can more easily take in the sights, sounds and smells prevalent in this rainforest within the Andes Mountains.
The same path that leads from the town of Aguas Calientes to Machu Picchu, the museum and the botanical gardens also leads to the Butterfly House. About 1/2 of the distance from the city to the museum, you can't miss the signs advertising the sanctuary which is home to over 100 species of butterflies. We had learned that the rainy season months of October through March often prohibit good viewing of the butterflies as they often seek shelter from the rain, plus, we didn't have the time for a visit.
Banos Termales de Aguas Calientes
Walking along Avenue Pachacutec past the retail establishments and restaurants in Aguas Calientes, you will eventually intersect again with Avenida Hermanos Ayar. Continuing uphill along the road will lead you to Banos Termales de Aguas Calientes, the hot springs for which the town is famous. If you didn't bring one along, it's very easy to rent towels at the shops closest to the hot springs entrance at a cost of S/.3 (about $1.05 USD) per towel.
Open seven days a week from 5:00 AM to 8:00 PM, a S/.20 entrance fee (about $7.00 USD per person) provides entrance into the park for the remainder of the opening hours in the day. Paying your admission at the ticket booth allows you to continue on your rather long walk uphill, across a bridge and up some stairs before you will eventually make it to your destination. At least there is some intricate stone decor that makes the walk more interesting.
You will finally reach a point in your journey where you can actually peer down at the pools.
Although the springs will be in view, your walk will continue up more stairs until you reach the building at the end of the path. Walk through the building until you see the counter where lockers are available (included in your entrance fee). Before requesting a locker, you need to first get fully prepared to enter the springs. To do so, proceed to the changing rooms located around the corner just past the counter.
Once you are in your swimwear, you will be assigned a locker (one per person), your belongings will be placed inside, and after it is locked, you will be given a key on a wristband that will be very handy to keep with you while soaking. When you finally make your way down the stairs to the level of the first group of pools, you should be able to find an empty shelf for your towel. You will also easily be able to locate the two shower options - one group of showers is quite frigid while the other has hot water.
Since it was rather cold outside during our visit, it's easy to guess which showers were getting the most use!
After showering, it's time to select which of the six pools you want to enter first - the coolest pool (with water that was quite brown during our visit) has a water temperature of 57 degrees Fahrenheit. During our visit, we (as well as everyone else) passed on the cool water option.
The remaining pools are all much warmer with temperatures ranging from 93 to 99 degrees Fahrenheit - we settled on the most popular 99 degree pool.
Relaxing in and enjoying the warm water is especially nice after several consecutive days filled with lots of walking. If your biggest days of walking are still ahead of you, hopefully your future muscle aches will also be alleviated by the therapeutic waters! Take some time to learn more about the pools by reading the posted signs, some of which describe the benefits of the springs.
A third posted sign includes a partial list of available beverages. Look at the deck surrounding the pool to find one of the more detailed menus which include prices. As the sign suggests, all that you need to do is wave your hand and a server will come by to take your order. Your drinks will be quickly delivered, but payment (local currency only; no credit cards) is not required until after you exit the pool area.
When you are ready to leave, rinse off in the showers and make your way back up the stairs to return your key and retrieve your items from your locker. The same rooms that you dressed in before entering the pools are again available for you to change back in to your street clothes. When you are ready to leave the complex which houses the lockers, shop and bar, never fear - your server will remember that you owe money and will be ready and waiting for your payment!
Fortunately, exiting the pool is all downhill! Once you cross the bridge over Rio Aguas Calientes on your descent from the hot springs, you will finally be able to see the town once again. Our time in the hot springs was quite enjoyable; in fact, we wished that we had more time to relax in the pools.
Dining in Aguas Calientes
There are plenty of restaurants in Aguas Calientes where you can enjoy breakfast, lunch or dinner. In addition to dining establishments lining Avenue Pachacutec in the center of town, you'll also find restaurants on the street alongside the train tracks.
We headed for a restaurant that Julia found which offered various alpaca options on the menu and promised a 30% discount. I bucked the trend with my alpaca chimichanga order, while everyone else ordered a grilled alpaca meal. Although, based on our final tab, I'm not sure how (or if) they calculated the discount, we all enjoyed our meals and were glad that we sampled a meat new to us.
Tips for Visiting Aguas Calientes
After doing quite a bit of pre-trip reading, here's a few tips from our experiences after spending nearly a full day that will help you plan for and enjoy your time in Aguas Calientes:
- If you are visiting Peru during rainy season (October through March), make sure that you pack rain gear. Although we enjoyed near perfect weather during the majority of our time in the country, we were definitely glad that we had rain suits (jackets and pants) as well as umbrellas.
- Wear comfortable walking shoes - especially if you plan to walk to the Butterfly House, museum or botanical gardens. Although the road is not steep, the walk is rather long and you'll be happy to have good walking shoes.
- Make sure that you have cash (Peruvian Sols) for entrance fees, souvenirs, drinks and towel rental. While some locations may accept credit cards, the museum and thermal pools (entrance, drinks and towel rental at nearby store) require local currency.
- If you plan to relax at Banos Termales, bring along a swimsuit, towel (or plan to rent one) and some sort of small bag for use while relaxing in the water. We each had a small book bag which held almost everything that we didn't take into the pools (cameras, clothing, wallets, etc.).
- Bring darker colored swimwear as the water in the hot springs is definitely not crystal clear. After over an hour of relaxing in the pool, we did not have any impact to the color of our swimsuits, however if we do return, we would again avoid light colored swimwear.
- If you plan on a morning visit to Machu Picchu, plan for an early nights sleep. We headed straight to bed after dinner and set our alarms for a 3:15 AM wake-up!
- In Aguas Calientes, as with all of your time in Peru, you should be prepared for the higher altitudes. Although we all fared well during our visit, we heard about plenty of others who were less lucky so we traveled with prescription medicine just in case.
If your plans have you spending any time in Aguas Calientes, you are most certainly planning to visit Machu Picchu. Take a look at our post titled A Gloomy Day at Machu Picchu for an overview of our arrival at the citadel of Machu Picchu, finding a tour guide and our time spent visiting one of the seven wonders of the world.
With so many places to see in Peru, those planning and preparing for their first visit to Machu Picchu often rely on suggestions from people who have previously visited the area. What tips and must see sights in Peru would you recommend to those making their first visit?
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