Whether you take the train from Cusco or hike the Inca Trail to Machu Picchu, if you are visiting the lost city of the Incas, you will be going by –and most likely staying at- the town of Aguas Calientes. This village exists only to cater for tourists visiting the World Heritage Site, but if you follow these tips, you can turn this passing-point into a whole new experience. So, what is there to do in 48 hours in Aguas Calientes?
- Discover the Incan citadel of Machu Picchu and be amazed by this World’s Wonder. Give a whole morning for your first exploration of this outstanding piece of Incan ingenuity. A good complement can be to visit the Inca Bridge, an impressive piece of Inca architecture, located west of Machu Picchu, only a 20 minutes walk away starting at the guardian house. The way itself is interesting, with great scenery, local flora and fauna.
- After an action packed morning, a great option is to have lunch at Belmond Sanctuary Lodge, located just by the entrance of Machu Picchu. Just sit back, relax and take in the wonderful views at this priviledged location, while you savour some of the delishious dishes they serve, with both Peruvian as well as international options. Lunch is served 12pm-3pm.
- Visit the Machu Picchu Museum (Museo de Sitio Manuel Chávez Ballón). Few travelers go there, but it is very useful for understanding the story of the Incan citadel, its uses, how it was built, its re-discovery, among other facts that will enrich your actual time in Machu Picchu. Note that there is no interpretation on the site itself, only the explanations from your guide. On your 25-30 minutes long walk to the museum, you can check out the butterfly sanctuary and enjoy the views of the Vilcanota river flowing through the mountains. Check on business hours and entry fees, as they vary from season to season.
- A great way to end the day is with dinner at the Sumaq Machu Picchu Hotel, a luxury 5 star hotel, tucked away in Aguas Calientes. The food there is superb and it has a romantic atmosphere, should you want to spark up the magic with your loved one. The hotel also offers an array of activities that will immerse you in the Andean culture, such as the Andean marriage ceremony (arac masin), a romantic 7-course tasting dinner for couples, the payment to the Earth ritual, the culinary experience of preparing a pachamanca, among other options.
- There are two options to kick-start your second day in Aguas Calientes:
- A second visit to Machu Picchu, taking one of these three alternative routes:
- Huayna Picchu Mountain – Exciting, physically challenging, but also very rewarding. Note, if you are afraid of heights, you might want to choose one of the other two. Please, be advised that you need to book your tickets months in advance.
- The way to Intipunku – just 30 minutes farther than the point where you would have taken your “Machu Picchu postcard picture”, at the end of the Inca trail.
- Machu Picchu Mountain – also a challenging hike up, with endless staircases, even higher than Huayna Picchu, but the way is wider and less steep. Your legs might be sore by the time you reach the top, but some people claim these are the best views of Machu Picchu one can get… totally worth it!
- Hit the way along the railroad tracks towards Santa Teresa until you reach the 114.4km marker (there should be signage, but it’s not a bad idea to ask around). The hike to Mandor is especially interesting for nature lovers. You’ll see different local bird species and orchids and be rewarded with a nice waterfall at the end. You can also have a picnic and swim in the river. A small fee is to be paid at the entrance.
- Any of the hikes will have worked out your appetite. Cooking classes where you can learn to prepare some of the most iconic Peruvian dishes and eat them afterwards is a fun way to get that covered. You can ask about the ones at Sumaq Machu Picchu Hotel.
- Finally, before heading back to Cusco, check out the local handicrafts market (mercado de artesanías) and get some souvenirs to take back home. Or maybe, just allow yourself to get lost in the labyrinthine streets of Aguas Calientes.