Aguas Calientes: Dusty Little Incan Disneyland

Aguas Calientes Travel Blog

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We left Hotel Qusqo at 5AM to catch the first train to Aguas Calientes. The trip is about 5 hours total, and begins by climbing up over the city of Cusco through a series of switchbacks up the mountain. You can see some pretty views of Cusco's orange rooftops. See my reviews for more on the train rides.

Nestled between slopes and with the sound of the river softly drifting through the town, Aguas Calientes welcomes tourists into the heart of the mountains. However,  as one would expect with the "Gateway to Machu Picchu", Aguas Calientes has developed into a town that basically runs on the tourist industry.
The small size of the town, the cobblestones and the repeating shops and restaurants reminded me of Main St. USA at Disneyland -- you know, kinda like a stripmall with a theme. People in the town are of two persuasions: tourists and people trying to sell something to tourists.
 
That said, there are nooks and crannies in Aguas Calientes that are really underrated. Under the bridge and by the train tracks there's a nice row of restaurants with laid back, dusty little whistle-stop town vibe, where you can watch Incan ladies chat and the train go by. And, overall,
 
After getting a cheap hostel, we checked out the hotsprings at the top of the hill. The entrance fee was cheap, but JP, a hottubbing enthusiast, reported the quality as rather underwhelming.
The tracks
Atousa and I chose to wait for outside for JP by gawking at the bathing suit rentals -- a shack of random swimsuits that looked like they had been confiscated at the Lima airport out of lost luggage. I hope they douse those things in bleach.
We decided to sit in the main square with pisco sours and people watch. Hey, if you're stuck here until the next bus to MP leaves, why no revel in the incongruity that is Whistle-Stop-Inca-Disney Aguas Calientes?
 
Happy hour is eternal in Aguas Calientes. There's restaurant/bars all over the place selling XX-for-the-price-of-1 drinks. First we saw 2-for-1, then 3-for-1, 4-for-1 and I think one place had 6-for-1. Of course, it's all marketing as they are all very small drinks and pretty much equal 1 or 2 big drinks. That said, it still makes for some pretty awesome pictures of your friends with 18 different glasses in front of them, and 4 straws in their mouths at the same time.
Bathing suits for rent

People watching was pretty cool, too. Some things we saw while sipping our sangrias in the square:

-- A hefty American sitting on a bench with tiny Peruvian man like ethnic-mismatched-Laruel-and-Hardy
-- A cute Japanese couple wearing nothing but souvenirs (Lima hat, Peru shirt, Cusco scarf, etc, etc) playing with the local children
-- An idiot sleazebag Gringo whistling at girls and trying to get the local men to join in, to no avail
-- The guy from above said Japanese couple running through the square, followed by a long line of Peruvian children who now won't stop following him ("Where... is your mama?")
-- My friend JP trying to attract the attention of some cute British boys by writing "Free Sangrias for los Gringos" on a giant napkin... which obviously didn't work

Cheap Tip: At 10PM, the restaurant we were at slashed its entire menu price in half, and then kept bargaining with us further when we said we weren't that hungry.
line em up
We finally walked away with some huge $3 dishes that we couldn't eat and fed the leftovers to the cute stray dogs.
There's a few stray dogs that run around Aguas Calientes. They are very cute if you are a sucker for mangey looking dogs. They are very quiet and polite and don't encroach in your space in any way. There was one that I called "Tour Dog" because he would run a few feet in front of you and look back to see if you were following, as if he as giving you a tour of the town and you were lagging behind. He was cute, despite being very un-neutered. His girlfriend was another mangey looking dog with very very saggy nipples. We went to MP in the early morning and got back to the entrance of MP before noon. Who should be waiting for us but Tour Dog and his girlfriend, who had treked all the way up the hill to greet us.
 

 
thenewextrememimi says:
No, JP was the only one of us that went in -- I'm not surprised it looked like that! That said, I did go to this unregulated side-of-the-freeway hostpring in Costa Rica. I guess road runoff is less gross to me than tourists in rental bathing suits.
Posted on: Feb 27, 2008
aswold says:
Did you actually get a look at the hot springs? It looked like a good place to acquire meningitis or hepatitis or something, eww. I sat on the platform and people watched.
Posted on: Feb 27, 2008
aswold says:
So true about Aguas Calientes! I want a tour dog, too!
Posted on: Feb 27, 2008
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The tracks
The tracks
Bathing suits for rent
Bathing suits for rent
line em up
line em up
Fat American tourist and tiny litt…
Fat American tourist and tiny lit…
Ploys
Ploys
Free Sangria
Free Sangria
Aguas Calientes General Tips & Advice review
The Backpacker train is the best value option to get to Aguas Calientes. Experience-wise, there is barely any difference between the Backpacker and th… read entire review
Aguas Calientes
photo by: Vikram