We made it to Peru! We’ve done and seen a lot since we’ve been here. I wanted to start by sharing a bit about our time in Aguas Calientes before we write about the big day at Machu Picchu and the rest of our time in the Sacred Valley.
We departed Cusco on February 17th and headed towards Ollantaytambo in the Sacred Valley. From Ollantaytambo, we took the train over to Aguas Calientes, otherwise known as Machu Picchu Pueblo. You can only get to Aguas Calientes by train, as there are no roads that reach this small town. Aguas Calientes is an interesting place. As you would imagine from being the base for touring Machu Picchu, it is a bit of a tourist trap. However, the town has been built right into the mountain, and thus it feels like you are constantly walking uphill. And as one would expect from a town with no roads into and out of the town, we didn’t see any cars at all. In fact, the only type of vehicle here are the busses that take folks up to Machu Picchu, and back down again.
When planning our trip, we decide to spend three nights in Aguas Calientes. The main reason for this was we knew it was the rainy season. Thus, to avoid a potential disappointment in reaching Machu Picchu only to not really see it, we provided ourselves with some contingency time. Turns out, we didn’t need it. That didn’t mean all was not lost. When looking through our Frommer’s Guide, there were a couple other hikes listed. We decided to go ahead and try these out on the days we did not go to Machu Picchu.
Hikes Around Aguas Calientes
The two hikes that we decided to try were the Mandor Gardens and Putucusi. The Mandor
Gardens were spectacular. For a mere 10 soles (~$3.20 USD), we walked through a well maintained botanical garden including orchids, banana trees, pineapple flowers, a diverse set of birds and butterflies, and even a small stream. After walking through the gardens we followed a well maintained trail to a waterfall. This was a nice way to spend the afternoon, and one of the highlights for us? The fact that in the two and a half hours we spent there, we only encountered six other souls.
The other hike we attempted was Putucusi. We read that if you reach this summit, you can actually see Machu Picchu from the peak, so we were excited. However, we only got about 45 minutes up the path, and ran into a bit of a road block. The wooden ladders that would allow us to continue up the trail were no longer there. Only the remnants of the ladders, ropes, and various piles of wood remained. I guess if we had taken the time to look up the hike online ahead of time, we would have learned the hike was closed. Oops…
All About The Gringo’s
Not only does this heading reference the fact that we haven’t been around this many tourists since the Atacama Desert in Chile. It also references the place we stayed, Gringo Bill’s Hotel. I will admit that when looking at places to stay, I wanted to book this for the entertainment factor of the name. Turns out, Gringo Bill’s was pretty nice. Breakfast was good, the staff was quite friendly, and the rooms were pretty comfortable. Yes, you read that correctly, we had two rooms during our stay.
The second night we were there, I went down to go secure our lunches for Machu Picchu the next morning. I locked the door on my way out, and when I returned, I couldn’t get the door to open. Emily tried to help from the inside to no avail. The worst part? We managed to get the key stuck in the door lock. After Emily called reception, we had not one, not two, but three gentlemen help us to get the door open, by eventually dismantling the handle and lock. Needless to say, it was an adventurous 30 minutes with Emily essentially locked in the room. In the end, we had to move rooms to one located two doors down. I can honestly say that I have never had this situation occur before in all my years traveling. It is something we both look back on and laugh about.
We have talked to quite a number of people that made a day trip to Machu Picchu from Cusco, as well as those that stayed at least one night in Aguas Calientes. I even spoke to a fine gentlemen from Guatemala who completed his second trip to Machu Picchu. Most people had the same recommendation. If you are going to visit Machu Picchu, you need to stay at least two nights in Aguas Calientes. It is much easier to base yourself there the night before you go up. And if you spend the whole day at Machu Picchu, it is a good idea to spend the night in Aguas Calientes.
Though many of the articles found on the internet and travel guides tend to look down on Aguas Calientes, we would disagree. It has its own charm to it, and if you are willing to take the initiative and explore, is quite rewarding. Also don’t miss the opportunity to spend some time in the Sacred Valley, which we’ll write more about in a future blog post. It is truly an amazing place.