A lot of people aren’t so jazzed about Aguas Calientes, also called Machu Picchu Pueblo. All the guidebooks will tell you to spend the least amount of time there that you possibly can. Get in, go see Machu Picchu, get out.
I get what they’re saying. The way the buildings have just been thrown up, it doesn’t seem like much thought was given to form, and not always to function either. It’s not what you’d call pretty.
But that’s not what I see. I see a town with a frontier kind of energy nestled amidst steep mountains that just seem to sheer up from the ground. Living in the nearby city of Cusco, this is one of my favorite places to get away to.
Of course, most people are only in Aguas Calientes because they are going to go do a tour of Machu Picchu or because they’ve just finished one. Personally, I think it’s nice to build in a couple of nights stay in the town on your trip.
The excursion is a gentle one, without any hills to climb, about an hour from Aguas Calientes. Stop in at the tourist information office just off the main square so you can get directions on how to get there. It’s quite easy to find but it doesn’t hurt to get some details while looking at a map.
As you go along, you’ll be entering the cloud forest and can see many different types of flowers along the way, especially many varieties of orchids in a wide array of colors. You may also see some coffee plants and banana trees. Birds are generally quite plentiful here, most notably hummingbirds which are present in various sizes.
As you walk through, you will get to see much more of the flora and fauna that the area has to offer as well as a few different sized waterfalls. Although you hear about the waterfalls a lot, not many people bother making the trip so you may even have the place to yourself. If you sit quietly for a bit, you will be far more likely to see more of the fauna, in particular, a great variety of birds.
You might want to pack a picnic lunch with you to enjoy as you sit. Do remember to also bring with you a hat, rain jacket and bug repellant for comfort. With so many of the places bustling with tourists, especially Machu Picchu itself, it’s nice to get away from people for a bit and enjoy what nature has to offer here.
Venturing off the beaten path is easy and worthwhile, even in busy tourist towns such as Aguas Calientes. Despite the area’s popularity among foreign visitors there are still plenty of opportunities to find authentic aspects of local life.