Like a kid, I was fidgeting with excitement as our train made its way through the jungle towards the town of Aguas Calientes, the seat of Machu Picchu. It was a life-long dream about to come true.
The journey in the Vistadome is extraordinary. The train offers panoramic views, so you can enjoy the beautiful landscape as you sip on your coca tea.
Return trips on the Vistadome also offer an on-board fashion show, showcasing baby alpaca textiles, which are all available for sale. Finally, there is an element of surprise, as the staff dress up in traditional carnival costumes and invite passengers to dance!
It was by far the most entertaining and impressive train-ride of my life!
If you are thinking of coming to Machu Picchu, forget about the 5-day treck on “the” Inca trail. For context, there are over 200 Inca trails in these mountains, and tourists get dragged up and down one of them for no particular reason. Save yourself the hassle of sleeping in the freezing cold and take the Vistadome train instead. Tickets get sold out like hot empanadas though, so book them in advance.
Machu Picchu Town
Aguas Calientes, which means Hot Waters in Spanish, is now most often referred to as Machu Picchu Pueblo or Machu Picchu Town. Just 68 miles from Cuzco, it is nestled deep in a valley of the dense mountain range and seems a world away from anything. Not even a century old, its main purpose seems to be solely to provide shelter and entertainment for the passing tourists. This gives the little town a very uncommitted and rather fun feel. There are happy hour signs outside every bar and restaurant. Accents from all over the world spill out into the narrow, winding streets. There is a sense of anticipation and excitement in the air.
In terms of things to do other than visiting Machu Picchu itself, Aguas Calientes offers a vibrant market, full of wonderful brick-a-brack and souveniers. If you will buy one thing here, it should be an alpaca poncho or a blanket. Remember to ask for the percentage of alpaca in the mix of the fabric. A good quality product is Tumi, so look out for this tag.
Otherwise, walk up to the famous hot springs and soak in the restorative waters. It is by no means a luxury spa, however it does wonders if your muscles are aching from the hike. The springs are open until 23:00, so you can go and bathe with the mountains and the starry sky as backdrop.
Organise, organise, organise!
There is a limited number of people who can visit the archaeological site per day, so you need to be very organised if you want to visit Machu Picchu. The main things to take care of are:
- Booking your entry tickets
- Booking your bus from Aguas Calientes to Machu Picchu
- Making sure you make the times for the bus and the entry
- Not forgetting to bring your passport!
It can seem a little daunting, and this may be the reason why people often visit Machu Picchu in guided tours. If you do not like dealing with logistics and organisation, this may be a better option for you. However, if you are traveling on a budget, or simply want to venture up on your own, flying solo is not undo-able. This great article breaks down the various steps of the process and includes the pricing.
I would recommend that you try to get there before before 8am, or after lunch around 3pm or 4pm. During these times, you are much less likely to feel like an ant amongst the hundreds of tourists and actually get to appreciate the magnificence of Machu Picchu.
If you are looking to do the early morning hike, be aware that you must make your allocated slot otherwise you may not get onto the path! One more tip here, the queue for the bus in the early hours of the morning may take up to an hour, so take that into account when you’re settling in for the happy hour!
But do try to make it! It is a tough climb, but by god it is worth it!