Machu Picchu Aguas calientes
Nearly every traveler to Peru passes through Aguas Calientes, also known as Machu Picchu Pueblo, the gateway to South America’s most famous ruins.
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At a glance
Nearly every traveler to Peru passes through Aguas Calientes, also known as Machu Picchu Pueblo, the gateway to South America’s most famous ruins.
Aside from visiting the mysterious ruins, there are several activities in town to keep travelers busy. Soak in the hot springs, visit the Machu Picchu museum, shop to your heart’s content, or find a bar serving pisco sours and toast to your arrival at this world historic site.
The town of Aguas Calientes (Machu Picchu Pueblo) was founded in the 1900s. However, the area around the current settlement was inhabited much earlier. In the colonial period, tenant farmers were settled in the small valley below the ruins. In the early 1900s, a sugarcane farmer named Melchor Arteaga lived here.
1911: Hiram Bingham arrives in search of Inca ruins rumored to be high up on a mountain ridge. The farmer Melchor Arteaga confirms the existence of the ruins and leads Bingham up the steep mountainside to the top of the ridge. Three Quechua families lived among the ruins. They planted corn and other crops on the terraces and the wide main plaza of Machu Picchu.
1913: Peruvian congress passes a law approving the construction of the “Cusco—Santa Ana” rail line through the Vilcanota valley and into the cloud forest near modern-day Quillabamba in order to increase commerce between the provinces of Cusco and La Convención.
1928: Construction of the railway is completed to Aguas Calientes (Km 110). A camp is established for railway workers.
1950—1977: Construction of rail line resumes, reaching Santa Teresa (Km 129) in 1951 and Quillabamba (Km 172) in 1977.
map showing Aguas Calientes, Hydroelectric plant, Santa Teresa and Quillabamba
1970s—90s: Tourism to Machu Picchu begins to increase in the 1970s, but then declines when the Sendero Luminoso (Shining Path) terrorist group becomes active in the ‘80s. In the 1990s, Peru experiences a return to economic and political stability. Tourism to Machu Picchu skyrockets. Machu Picchu Pueblo begins to expand haphazardly.
1997—1998: The El Niño phenomenon causes heavy rains, flooding of the Urubamba River and causing a massive landslide that blocks the rail tracks near Santa Teresa. Instead of clearing the tracks, transportation officials decided to close the route. In the present day, only the 15km route between Aguas Calientes to Hidroelectrica station remains in operation.
2010: 2010: Another El Niño year. In January, flooding and landslides cut off access to Aguas Calientes. Residents and travelers were airlifted out. Machu Picchu was closed until April 2010.
Today: As the gateway to Machu Picchu ruins, Aguas Calientes is one of Peru’s most visited destinations.
Surrounded by tall granite cliffs draped in green vegetation and clouds of white mist, and with the constant roar of the Urubamba River in your ear, you’ll soon understand why Machu Picchu was lost atop a mountain ridge for 400 years.
There are still no roads to Machu Picchu Pueblo. The geography makes it impossible.
The only way to get in and out is by train or on foot. The majority of travelers take the train from Ollantaytambo, passing through breathtaking scenery of deep gorges and a few glacier-capped peaks along the way.
- Aguas Calientes average elevation: 2,040m (6,690 ft)
- Machu Picchu’s main plaza elevation: 2,430 m (7,970 ft)
- Cusco average elevation: 3,400 meters (11,120 ft)
Aguas Calientes to Machu Picchu
Aguas Calientes town is located 9 km from the Machu Picchu archeological site and 400 meters of altitude lower. From the station on the edge of the river, buses ferry passengers between the town and the ruins, using a zigzagging switchback road to go up and down the steep mountainside.
Situated at the intersection of Andes and the Amazon, the town of Aguas Calientes enjoys a mild subtropical climate with warm days and cool nights. Humidity is higher than in Cusco and the Sacred Valley. You will still need warm clothing for the evening, especially in the dry season. See Seasonal Info for more details.
If you’ve just arrived in the Andes, exploring the Inca ruins of Machu Picchu is no easy feat because of the altitude. You’ll probably need to stop to catch your breath, but you can use this time as an excuse to snap more photos. But generally, travelers find the altitude much easier to deal with in Aguas Calientes than in Cusco. Remember to stay hydrated.
In 1983, the Machu Picchu Historical Sanctuary was established to protect not just the archaeological site, but also the rare Andean cloud forest environment that surrounds it. If you find yourself in Aguas Calientes with time to spare, you can a few options to explore this small section of jungle, including exploring the gardens of the Inkaterra hotel or hiking to Mandor waterfall.
Aguas Calientes Train Station
The train station is one of the central nodes of Aguas Calientes where hundreds of people shuttle through on their journey to and from a tour of Machu Picchu. From the train station to the bus stop where you catch a ride to Machu Picchu, it’s a short 300-meter walk. Note that there are stairs on this path. A second, longer path has no stairs. From the bus stop, it’s 9 km (5 miles) by road to the entrance of the ruins.
All hotels within Machu Picchu Pueblo are within walking distance of the train station. In fact, everywhere in town is walking distance from everywhere else. Typically, if you’re spending the night in Aguas Calientes, a porter from your accommodation will meet you outside the station gates and escort you to the hotel or directly to the bus station depending on your itinerary.
Hot springs (Banos termales)
Aguas Calientes literally means “Hot Waters.” The name comes from the natural thermal springs that are located at the very end of Avenida Pachacutec. It’s a favorite attraction of hikers seeking a bit of relaxation after finishing the Inca Trail, the Salkantay trek, or the 15 km hike from Santa Teresa.
The best part of the hot springs is the gorgeous granite cliff scenery that encloses them. The pools themselves have been recently renovated but they look like public swimming pools. There are pools of different temperatures ranging from 38 C (100 F) to 46 C (115 F), as well as an icy cold one. Towels and bathing suits are available for rent. Facilities include changing rooms, toilets, and a small bar serving drinks and snacks.
- Address: Top of Av. Pachacutec.
- Fee: S/.10
- Opening Hours: 05:00 hrs to 17:00 hrs
Manuel Chavez Ballon Museum
The Museo de Sitio Manuel Chávez Ballón qualifies as one of the must-see attractions in Aguas Calientes with exhibits that explore the history, culture and rediscovery of Machu Picchu. Especially interesting are the explanations of Inca building methods. An adjacent botanical garden is planted with various species of orchids, coffee and coca plants, and other fauna native to the cloud forest. The only way to get to the museum, located 2 km (1 mile) from Aguas Calientes, is on foot.
- Address: Puente Ruins, base of footpath to Machu Picchu
- Fee: S/.22
- Opening Hours: 9:00 – 17:00 hrs
The Rio Urubamba goes by many names. After Urubamba, the most common is Vilcanota. In Quechua, its name is Willkamayu or “sacred river,” and in Aymara, it’s Willkanuta or “house of god.” From Machu Picchu, the river flows north and west into the central jungle of Peru where it joins the Ucayali River a major tributary the Amazon River.
On the way to and from Aguas Calientes, you’ll travel along a narrow canyon carved by the river. Near the ruins, the river wraps a half-circle around the Machu Picchu mountain ridge, creating the high promontory where the ruins rest as if on an eagle’s nest. The roar of the river is audible even from the Machu Picchu citadel, perched 500 meters.
Located directly opposite the Machu Picchu mountain ridge, the jungle-covered granite peak of Putucusi or Phutuq K’usi (2370 m) rises like a headstone in the middle of the Andean cloud forest. Travelers with an adventurous spirit, moderate fitness levels, and at least 4 hours to spare can hike to the top for a perspective on the Inca citadel that few people ever get to see. Be warned that the hike is not for people who are scared of heights. The first section of the hike requires climbing up nearly vertical ladders.
- Photo: view of Putucusi from Machu Picchu, or view of Mapi from Putucusi
- Photo: Putucusi steep ladders
This small but beautiful waterfall is located within Jardines de Mandor (Mandor Gardens), a privately operated ecological conservation and reforestation project on the banks of the Urubamba River.
To get there, take the road from Aguas Calientes in the direction of Machu Picchu. The road and the buses go across the bridge and up the switchback road to Machu Picchu, but you’ll continue on the path to the right. You’ll pass a few small houses along the way. Looks for signs announcing “Mandor” and if in doubt ask the locals for directions.
The property also hosts a small restaurant called Mama Angelica as well as private rooms and dorms at Geo for travelers who prefer to relax away from the bustle of Aguas Calientes.
Step beyond the train station gates and you’ll find yourself in a labyrinth of market stalls selling stone and wood carvings, vicuña and alpaca wool sweaters, silverware and jewelry, clay sculptures, embossed leather, paintings in the Cusco School style and even antiques. This is the perfect place to kill time before catching an outbound train; prices are comparable to what you’ll find in Cusco and the Sacred Valley.
Aguas Calientes weather
Warm and humid during the day. Cool at night, though usually warmer than Cusco. Evening temperatures in the rainy season are warmer.
- Day: 20-27 C (68-80 F)
- Night: 10-18 C (50-64 F)
Rainy season versus dry season
- Rainy season: November to March
- Dry season: April to October
Note that in this part of Peru, there’s no strict separation between the rainy and dry seasons. On the one hand, rain is possible at any time of year. On the other, even in the rainy season, clear blue skies are not uncommon after a rainstorm.
Peak season and low season at Machu Picchu
- June, July and August are the busiest months at Machu Picchu. Peruvians on holiday join in with higher numbers of foreign travelers to swell the total number of visitors. Hotels, train tickets, and other services fill up quickly. Make your reservation well in advance.
- December to February is the low season. In February, the Inca Trail is closed for the entire month. Heavy rains bring increased chances of canceled flights, train delays, and other transit problems. It’s important to remain flexible if you’ll be traveling during this time.
Best time to visit Machu Picchu
Travel during the shoulder months of April, May, September, and October for smaller crowds and generally good weather.
- Visit Machu Picchu: Most travelers arrive in Aguas Calientes with a single objective and that is to see the majestic Inca citadel in the sky. Multiple itineraries are possible for a Machu Picchu tour, ranging from a day-trip to the classic 4-day Inca Trail trek. Your choice will depend on time and budget. For travel during the peak season (June to August), be sure to buy all your tickets and permits as far in advance as possible.
- Soak in the hot springs – Take a dip in the therapeutic thermal waters of Aguas Calientes, located at the very end of Av. Pachacutec.
- Hike in the cloud forest – For hiking around Aguas Calientes, you have two options: the 3-hour Putucusi peak with spectacular views to Machu Picchu or the Mandor waterfall located about 30 minutes (4 km) down the road from town.
- Shop in the market – If you’re running out of time on your Machu Picchu trip and you’ve still got a few items to check off your souvenir shopping list, head to the Mercado Artesanal next to the train station. You’ll find a mix of standard items like “Peru” t-shirts and alpaca sweaters as well as one-of-kind crafts and jewelry.
- Get a massage – Traveling in Peru can be hard. When you’re ready for some pampering, go to one of the many spas in Aguas Calientes. Some hotels have facilities on site or provide in-room service. In town, the standard price is around S/.40 for 1 hour.
The majority of travelers get to and from Aguas Calientes by train. The second most popular option is hiking the Inca Trail to Machu Picchu. Some travelers departing to Cusco by train after a tour of the ruins, while others opt to spend the night in Aguas Calientes in order to visit the ruins on the next day. The third option, for travelers with more time than money is to travel by bus from Cusco to Santa Teresa and walk 2 hours or take the train from Hydroelectric station. This requires a full day of travel (one-way). The Salkantay trek also ends at Santa Teresa.
Aguas Calientes has just three major streets. Avenida Imperio de los Incas shares space with the railroad tracks past the train station. Avenida Pachacutec connects the main plaza to the Hot Springs. Avenida Hermanos Ayar runs parallel to Av. Pachacutec along the edge of the river, continuing south past the town until it reaches Puente Ruinas and the zigzag road to Machu Picchu. Apart from the shuttle bus to/from the ruins, there are no motor vehicles in Aguas Calientes. Walking is the only way to get around. Be prepared to climb up and down stepped paths.
To/from Machu Picchu
There are two ways to get to/from the ruins: by shuttle bus or on foot.
- Bus: From the bus stop at Av. Hermanos Ayar, buses depart frequently (as soon as a bus is full or every 15 minutes) from 5:30 am to 2:30 pm. The last bus back from the ruins to town is at 5:30 pm.
- Walking: It’s a steep climb (nearly 500 meters of elevation gain) from the river up to the entrance of Machu Picchu ruins. You can walk along the dirt 7.2-km road or take the steeper stepped footpath. However, if your intention is to get a taste of Andean hiking, there are better, more scenic options within Machu Picchu including hiking to Huayna Picchu or Machu Picchu mountain (both require additional permits) or the free hikes to the Sun Gate or the Inca Bridge.
Trains to Aguas Calientes
PeruRail operates train service to/from Ollantaytambo, Poroy (20 min from Cusco), and the Hydroelectric (Santa Teresa) station. PeruRail also operates 1 daily train to/from Belmond Hotel Río Sagrado exclusive for hotel guests. Inca Rail operates only between Aguas Calientes and Ollantaytambo.
It is possible to buy tickets at the Machu Picchu train station. However, train tickets can sell out several days in advance. In order to avoid getting stranded, it’s best to secure your train ticket well in advance either online or in person at a ticketing office in Cusco, Ollantatyambo, or Lima (PeruRail only).
There is more frequent service to/from Ollantaytambo both in the morning and the evening. If you only have 1 day at Machu Picchu, departing to/from Ollantaytambo rather than from Cusco will give you more time at the ruins.
Passports and Machu Picchu tickets
Tickets for Machu Picchu must be purchased in advance. If you’ve waited until the last minute, your final opportunity is at the INC office on the main plaza in Aguas Calientes (open daily 5:00 am – 10:00 pm). No tickets are sold at the ruins. To enter, you are required to present your passport along with your ticket. No exceptions.
PeruRail allows a maximum of 5 kilos (11 pounds) of luggage per passenger. You can leave excess luggage in storage at your hotel in Cusco or the Sacred Valley.
From bottles of water to meals at restaurants, prices for food, goods, and services are a bit higher in Aguas Calientes compared to anywhere else in Peru. This is because tourism is the town’s only industry and everything has to be shipped by train. Be sure to budget accordingly. There are ATMs on the major streets, but these are known to be unreliable. Most hotels and restaurants accept major credit cards.
What to pack
- Rain jacket or umbrella for day tours
- Jacket or fleece for evenings
- Sun screen
- Insect repellent
- Long pants and long sleeves to protect against mosquitos
- Comfortable shoes for the ruins
As a highly transitory destination, Aguas Calientes is packed with dozens of restaurants serving a standard menu of Peruvian and international dishes, i.e., pizzas, burgers, and Mexican food.
However, Lima’s gastronomical boom has been so far-reaching that its aftershocks are felt even in a relative outpost like Aguas Calientes. If you’re looking for a memorable meal, there are a few eateries to check out. Reservations are recommended.
The Tree House Restaurant is a few steps above the rest, in both the culinary and the literal sense. Located up a steep alleyway on the edge of town, this excellent restaurant serves a menu of Peruvian fusion cuisine shaped by Andean, Italian, Asian, and Latin American influences. Try the salmis de lomo (fettuccine with tender beef), pork ribs in elderberry and tamarind sauce, or alpaca anticuchos (skewers).
- Address: Calle Huanacaure 105
- Reservations: +51-84-211101
Incontri el Pueblo Viejo will satisfy your craving for carbs with homemade pastas and wood-fired pizzas featuring fresh toppings and real mozzarella. Wash it all down with a craft beer or an Italian or South American wine.
- Address: Av. Pachacutec 6 s/n
- Reservations: +51-84-211072
Chullpi Machupicchu serves mouth-watering Peruvian fusion dishes including trout ceviche, osso bucco, perfectly grilled chicken breast, and delicious salads and tasty appetizers. If you’ve got room for dessert, go for the Tres Leches cake.
- Address: Av. Imperio de los Inca 140
- Reservations: +51-84-211350
La Boulangerie de Paris is the place to go for sweet and savory treats after a long day of exploring Machu Picchu. Try the croissant, lemon tart, bruschetta or a baguette.
- Address: Jr Sinchi Roca (above the bus station)
El Indio Feliz is a perennial favorite among travelers for its menu of Peruvian classics with a French twist. Try the river trout or the grilled chicken, each prepared with seasonal Andean ingredients. Check out the quirky Captain’s Bar before or after dinner.
Toto’s House is ideal for large groups, serving an all-you-can-eat buffet as well as an extensive a la carte menu. A convenient location close to the train station, views over the river, and live music in the evenings round out Toto’s offer.
- Address: Av. Imperio de los Incas s/n
- Reservations: +51-84-211020
A few hotels in Machu Picchu also have great restaurants attached. Be sure to check out the following:
- Inkaterra Cafe at Inkaterra Machu Picchu Hotel, Via Ferrea Km 110
- Restaurant La Cabana at La Cabana Machu Picchu Hotel , Av. Pachacutec 805
- Qunuq Restaurant at Sumaq Machu Picchu Hotel, Avenida Hermanos Ayar
Can I get from Cusco to Machu Picchu and back in one-day?
Yes, it’s possible to make a day trip to Machu Picchu from Cusco, but keep in mind that much of your day will be spent in transit. It’s 3.5 hours by train one-way from Poroy to Aguas Calientes station and the same amount of time for the return — a schedule that doesn’t leave much time to explore the ruins themselves. If you only have one day to visit Machu Picchu, it’s a better strategy to spend the night in Ollantaytambo (to catch an early morning train) or in Aguas Calientes.
Are there ATMs in Aguas Calientes? Can I pay with credit card?
Yes, you can find a few ATMs in Machu Picchu Pueblo. However, these are sometimes unreliable and, if possible, you should bring cash with you from Cusco or the Sacred Valley. Note that there are no ATMS at the ruins.
Many hotels and restaurants accept major credit cards. Keep in mind that the vendor will also change an additional fee of 5-10% (that they themselves have to pay to Peruvian banks).