The town’s name means “Hot Waters” and refers to the natural hot springs located above the town, where many weary trekkers and sightseers soothe their muscles.
History of Aguas Calientes
Located on the banks of the Urubamba River, which runs through the entire Sacred Valley of the Incas, the town has a population of around 1,500 people which is probably doubled by those on Machu Picchu tours, for most of the year.
When the trains arrive, the town is swamped by visitors finding their way to their hotels and up to the Inca site.
It was not always so big. In Hiram Bingham’s time, when he re-discovered Machu Picchu, it was just a tiny hamlet. With the railway, its expansion began, as it became a base for rail workers extending the rail line to the town of Quillabamba, at the heart of the Peru coffee-growing region.
Hotels used by those on overnight Machu Picchu tours
Aguas Calientes is the location for all but one of the hotels used by visitors to the site. The only other hotel in the area is at the gate of Machu Picchu itself, the Sanctuary Lodge.
There is a massive range of accommodation options in Aguas Calientes from very basic, and none-too-clean, hostels, through good quality 3 star places to high-end 4 and 5-star places. You can spend from 5 to 900 US dollars on a night, so there is something for all budgets.
If you are not up for spending 900 US dollars to stay at the gate to Machu Picchu, but still want a luxurious hotel, then the Inkaterra Pueblo and Sumaq hotels might be for you, at half the price of the Sanctuary.
Check out some of our favorite hotels in Aguas Calientes – and elsewhere in Peru – to learn more about the many rooming options.
Buses to Machu Picchu
There is only one road for vehicles in the town, with the only proper vehicles being the buses that shuttle people up to the Machu Picchu site and back. The paved road soon becomes a dirt track which crosses the river and zig zags up to the site in a journey of around 25 minutes.
The views from the road are spectacular and, although it seems precarious, it is safe.
Upon arriving at the site entrance, the Sanctuary Lodge hotel is obvious, as the buses drop off and pick up right outside. In addition to the fairly expensive restaurant in the hotel itself, there is also a cafe at the entrance, where you can grab some food if you cannot hold out until you reach Aguas Calientes again. There are also public bathrooms at this location.
Buses up to the site start at 5.30 am, so you can get up there for when the sun is coming up. It is a little bit of a myth that you can see the sunrise at Machu Picchu. Because of the clouds and the surrounding mountains it mostly just gets gradually lighter, but the site is so spectacular that this a is very nice experience!
The buses leave when full for the return journey, and we always suggest to passengers that they plan to leave around an hour and half before their train time – more if you want to do something else in the town before the journey back to Cusco or the Sacred Valley.
If you remain late at the site, because you are staying the night in Aguas Calientes, the last bus down departs around 5.30pm.
Walking up to Machu Picchu!
You can also walk up to Machu Picchu from the town of Aguas Calientes, if you have the energy and the time. This means you save the bus fare (15 USD return at the time of writing).
The walk takes around one and half hours and can be very hot and tiring. So, maybe the bus up and walk down would be a good compromise, unless you have done some of the other activities at Machu Picchu and will be a little tired anyway!
How to enjoy the town after Machu Picchu tours
The town itself is very easy to navigate, as it is all pedestrian.
There is a central pedestrian street running from the square to the hot springs, which is lined with hotels, restaurants and tourist facilities, such as laundry and internet services.
At the upper end of this street you will find the hot springs (entry 3 to 4 USD), after which the town was named, and where, later in the afternoon, you will see dozens of tourists soaking. The springs are especially popular with those that have walked the Inca Trail, as they can ease their aches and pains and enjoy a beer or two!
Restaurants used by those on Machu Picchu tours
As we have mentioned restaurants, there are a few to be recommended.
Indio Feliz and Pueblo Viejo are great choices, with consistently good food, both located a short distance from the square on the main pedestrian street.
Toto’s House is a good choice for a buffet feed at lunchtime. This restaurant is found near the bus boarding point on the river bank. Make sure you are hungry!
For more up-market dining your could eat at the Sumaq or Pueblo hotels, as you don’t need to be a guest to enjoy the restaurant.
There are numerous pizza places of varying quality, but as it is pizza, you can be pretty sure it wont make you ill. Just shop around for the best prices … and 4 for 1 drinks!
Extend your Machu Picchu Tour – climb Huayna Picchu
With the new regulations governing the maximum numbers of visitors allowed into the site each day it is highly advisable to arrange Machu Picchu entry tickets in advance, when you are booking a Machu Picchu tour package, as they can sell out.
If you decide not to get them in advance, you can still buy tickets, at an office close to the main square on the day you wish to visit … if they are not sold out of course.
The climb of Huayna Picchu, the mountain at the rear of the site, also has new regulations surrounding it. You are now required to purchase a separate ticket in advance as entry is restricted to 200 people at 7am and another 200 at 11am. Get all your tickets in advance or as part of a package.
Bus tickets can be bought at the departure booth. Again, most people get their tour company to pre-purchase them to save time and effort.
There are only three ways to get to Machu Picchu, which you may like to read about in our Getting to Machu Picchu section; and you can also find out about the different train services to Machu Picchu.