The hot springs seemed like a nice way to relax after a long day of hiking, so we decided to check them out. The gentleman working at the entrance was kind and helpful, and we walked up a beautiful path to get to the springs. It seemed like a great start to a relaxing afternoon.
Unfortunately, it was exactly the opposite. The hot springs had the feel of a public pool. The water was lukewarm in several of the pools. There were children playing, which is great for a pool party, but not so great if you want to relax. The warmest of the springs was filled with stoned foreigners. And none of the pools seemed particularly clean.
There are many mosquitoes in Aquas Calientes, at least when I was visiting in November (2009). I sat at an open-air bar for less than an hour, but it was time enough for the mosquitoes to bite me about 50 times on my legs! I was completely eaten up by the small, blood-sucking insects!
Use Mosquito Repellent, you can buy it at local shops!
Hiking along the Inca Trail might sound like fun but it is a long journey and only for die hard hikers. In the last decade there has been lots of upgrades due to safety concerns and now it is practically impossible to hike the Inca Trail without a guide. There were many cases of people being robbed along the Inca Trail during their multiple day hike from Cuzco to Aguas Calientes. Things are better now but remember that since you are hiking along the Urabamba River between these two Peruvian cities, there are lots of bugs and creepy critters to watch out for. There is some good news about mosquitos though. Since the elevation is so high, mosquitos are quite rare in these parts.
While we were relaxing by the tracks, some mean tourist lady wandered into the restaurant next to the one we were at and demanded an espresso. The restaurant lady kind of gave her the shifty eye and said sweetly "OK.. I make....". It was pretty obvious there would be no espresso as the entire town did not have electricity at this point due to a power outage, and I sincerely doubt there as an espresso machine in the back anyway. A few minutes later the restaurant lady comes back with what appeared to be a vigorously stirred coffee, which was pretty funny. The tourist lady became very indignant and did not seem to grasp that she would not be finding a fancy espresso machine in this town, at least not at a restaurant by the train tracks.
The next point of sanitation is the bus from Aguas Calientes to Machu Picchu sanctuary. It is important to make the difference between Machu Picchu, wrongly called Aguas Calientes and the Sanctuary of Machu Picchu. The distance between these two interchangeable terms is about 5km but what matters more is the difference in altitude and steepness of the hill. It is not recommendable to anyone to attempt to climb the portion accessible by bus because there is lots of walking up there anyway. Some Machu Picchu die-hards are even climbing the mount overlooking the archaeological site. It is a physical and logistical feat in itself. The mount is very steep and the site management has decided that only 400 people a day can visit. This translates into a very early (5 o’clock) bus ride in order to ensure that the sunrise dreamer is in before the gates are closed.
Warning! To all people who are desperate to go to Machu Picchu before they die!
On the day I happened to roam these lofty ruins there was a fellow who ended up on a stretcher. He was quickly whisked out of sight out of mind. While the first is true the second did not work quite well since these words are being uttered in this moment (more than a month after the case). The poor fellow must have been too busy with making the money and accumulating the “stuff” in order to be able to visit at an earlier age. An educated guess is that he must have not been acclimatised enough, the tours have an itinerary and it has to be followed, when forced to go up and down the site. Even more bewildering was the fact that the day was mostly overcast so the sun was not there to blame. Another reason must be a bad heart condition at the time of travel but why would he even consider doing it in these circumstances!? What ever the case, the main conclusion is that Machu should be on anybody’s visit-it-before-you-die list but a doubt lingers whether it should be the cause of anybody’s premature death. Of course, there is a counter argument such as: “If I am to die, it better be on Machu Picchu!”
Although it is a tourist town, Aguas Calientes has no ATM's, no money changers and charges a lot for credit card (if the store has the facilities). Bring along as much cash as you will need for your stay which even if it's only for the day you will need enough at least to buy some food.
You should be able to pay with credit card at your hotel/hostel though.
The town was built all around the railway, so let's say the railway now is its Main Avenue. So, many restaurants and shops are just 10 centimeters away from the train when it leaves or arrives!!
Be careful with that!! Even though it goes really slow and whistles, it is a rather dangerous area, so just be careful....
Rainy season here goes from (approx) December to April, so if you visit the place in those dates, expect some rain and muddy grounds. There might be also fog all around, like the morning we arrived from the Inca Trail. But in 2 hours it was all gone.
The Inca Trail is CLOSED on february du to rain and cleaning/conservation tasks.
I recommend staying in Cusco for a couple of days to acclimate to the elevation before setting out on the Inca Trail. Also, drinking "coca tea" helps with the adjustment. The 2nd day on the trail altitudes reach roughly 14k feet...
Altitude sickness may make you crazy --> see photo.
News Flash! There is an ATM in Mapi now, right next to Toto's House Restaurant along the tracks. It has been there since July 2006.
The power went out for a few hours throughout the town when we were there. As it was daytime, this really didn't effect much. No internet cafe, of course.