Taking the Peru Rail from Ollantaytambo to Aguas Calientes, we started walking to the train station an hour or so from the departure time to just prepare for anything in case we had to leave some of our things. The train supposedly only allows a maximum of 5 kilos of luggage per person and we’re beyond that. But the personnel did not check our luggage during check in. Could it be because we’re traveling on a low season, am not sure. This might something you need to check when you start planning.
If you’re coming ahead of time, there is a place where you can hang out and eat. Café Mayu is located inside the train station and you can look out the window to check if the train starts accepting passengers. The travel time is 90 minutes and they serve coffee, tea and light snacks. The train will snake through the mountains offering beautiful views of the river and of course, the Andean mountains. This is not the time to take a power nap haha.
The adventure begins after disembarking the train in Aguas Calientes. It’s actually disorienting as to which way to go that your instinct will tell you to just follow the rest of the crowd. If your hotel offers a pick up, I suggest making this arrangement. Otherwise, Aguas Calientes or also known as Machu Picchu Pueblo is much smaller in Ollantaytambo that going around on your own won’t risk you of getting lost. So we followed the crowd going up the market and found a friendly-looking man to ask for directions. Peruvians are very friendly and because of the size of the place, everybody knows where this and that is.
Unlike other places, Aguas Calientes does not share a pie of history. It’s actually built for one main reason alone, and that is tourism as this is the gateway to Machu Picchu. Teeming with hotels, cafes, restaurants and massage parlors, that’s all what this place can offer. And so I prepared myself for sellers peddling their services and products to my face but to my surprise, Peruvians are rather shy, polite and unobtrusive. Just offer a smile and say “gracias” and they will pull back amicably. But expect to pay much higher for food for the simple reason that everything here is transported by train. They aren’t as self-sufficient as Ollantaytambo.
Upon our arrival, the first order of business is buying bus tickets to Machu Picchu the next day. The ticketing office is also where the bus stop is and this was just down the street from our hotel. I suggest staying near it as you would want to start walking to the bus as early as 4am and reach your hotel quickly to get your things if you’re taking the train back to Ollantaytambo or Cusco the same day. People line up as early as that or even much earlier to be one of the first to enter the Machu Picchu. Bus starts leaving after 5am and the line builds up really fast. By the way, when taking the train back, the station is not the same where you embarked. It’s located inside the market so give ample time to locate this on the day of your departure.
Most hotels will offer you tour guide for your Machu Picchu trip. I suggest taking one so you can better appreciate the story behind it. Book this with your hotel the day before. The tour lasts about 2 hours and you’re free to roam until the citadel closes at 5pm. The cost is S/.25 per person and you will be enjoined by other travelers. If you’re climbing either of the 2 mountains, be aware of the time you must get in and the time you have to be back. It is indicated in your ticket.
All hotels, cafes or restaurants offer lunch boxes which you can pre-order and pay in advance (a day before) to bring with you the next day. They open as early as 4am so you can pick up your lunch for that day. I recommend getting yourself one as there is only one restaurant up in the site and it’s very, very expensive.
There really isn’t anything to explore in Aguas Calientes. You come here to prepare for your Machu Picchu by buying the bus tickets, booking a guide, ordering your food and sleeping early. But just in case you have an additional time, there is a museum which a travel blogger had recommended which I wasn’t able to do because it closes at 5pm and is quite a walk from Aguas Calientes. It’s called Machu Picchu Museum but the irony is it’s not located in the actual site. It said it will give you more insights about the site and the Incan civilization.
But let me share with you the most important tip I can ever give. Take the mosquito warnings you read from other travel guides in Aguas Calientes SERIOUSLY. They bite like crazy! And their bites bleed (ok a little) and itch profusely for days. This is not the place for shorts and sleeveless. Try to cover up as much as possible. I was bitten several times on a tiny exposed skin between my pants and shoes. Can you imagine that? They go crazy when they see skin! Bring hard working insect repellent to save you. I cannot stress this enough as I was left with blemish that will make me remember my mosquito ordeal.
So there goes your guide for Aguas Calientes. Come prepared 😉