Peru, May 3, 2013: Aguas Calientes
We spent our final day of the trip in Aguas Calientes, the closest town to Machu Picchu and the end of the line for the train to Cusco. The livelihood of the town centered around its proximity to the ruins, and it has become obviously touristy; souvenir shops dot every street corner. After completing the trek, one has the option of heading back down to Cusco on the train that same day or passing any number of days in the town. When planning the trip we opted for the latter. It was a fine decision, and we were able to entertain ourselves, but activity options in Aguas Calientes are slim, and if you haven’t had the time to explore Cusco, returning there directly after the trek would be a better option.
Our hotel, Rupa Wasi, was tucked away behind the main roads and required scaling a number of stairs. It had a kind of tree house motif going on, which was fun. Rustic, but clean and nice. A sign in the lobby advertising in-room massages caught our attention, and we booked them with the idea that if ever ever there was an achievement that earned us a massage, completing the Inca Trail must be it. The rub down felt good on our aching muscles, although we both agreed that there were moments of pain as well, when the focus was on our quads and calves. Overall, however, a hot shower and a rub down felt great after four days hiking and camping along the trail. The rest of the day was spent wandering the town and killing time – there isn’t much in the way of activities in Aguas. Around 6:30pm we shared a dinner of Peruvian pizza and beer and returned to the hotel early. We were still on trail time, it seemed, because falling asleep at 8:30pm was no problem.
The early evening, however, allowed us to rise early the next day. My alarm went off at 5:00am, right around the time when we started hearing roosters. It was still dark out, but we got up in the hopes of hitting up the hot springs, for which the town got its name, while they were relatively empty and clean at the start of the day. Relatively empty they were. Clean was another story. That said, in my experience with hot springs – both here in Aguas Calientes and in Baños, Ecuador the year before – murky, brownish water is the norm. So maybe they were perfectly clean despite their appearance. Either way, we only lasted around twenty minutes before heading back to the hotel, just as the sun began to rise. By 7:30am we were both showered, Danny had been on a mini photo expedition, and I had begun the packing process to meet our 9:30am check-out time. Breakfast was served in the adjoining restaurant, aptly named The Tree House, which looked like a lovely spot with interesting, upscale food. The complimentary breakfast included homemade bread, eggs, yogurt with granola, tea and juice. By 8:00am we had finished and we had the whole day ahead of us. It’s amazing what can be accomplished when you get up early!
The train back to Cusco was leaving at 4:45pm, so with nearly a full day in Aguas Calientes before us, we decided to attempt a day hike to the Mandor Waterfalls. Directions were a bit spotty — “follow the railroad tracks and take the path on the right” — but thanks to a couple of signs and the general advice of the hotel staff, we found what we were looking for. The entrance was located a few kilometers down the tracks from Aguas Calientes, but the road followed the river, and behind it was a majestic mountain backdrop. Once we hit the turnoff from the tracks we paid the entrance fee and headed down a jungle path filled with interesting and well-marked plants, including coffee, bananas and pineapples. At the end of the jungle path there were a couple of pretty waterfalls that fed into the bubbling river.
By the time we made it back to town it was around noon and our stomachs were rumbling. We decided to hit up a restaurant that we had attempted to locate the night before, without success. It was situated right next to the baths, and we enjoyed our meal on a back balcony overlooking the river. The restaurant specialized in trout and had a pool full of live fish from which the chefs plucked their unsuspecting victims.
After a large and tasty lunch we still found ourselves with two hours to kill in Aguas Calientes and nothing to do. We ended up sitting in our hotel courtyard, reading and writing, and also conversing with a cute and gregarious little Peruvian girl whose family seemed to own the restaurant. Eventually we made our way to the station and caught the 4:45 train back to Cusco, and the long trek home began.