Aguas Calientes, or Machu Picchu Pueblo, is the village just underneath Machu Picchu. If you decide to travel from Cusco to Machu Picchu by train, as opposed to do the Inca trail, this is where the train stops and from where you will have to take a bus up to see Machu Picchu – the most beautiful Inca site of all.
In order to visit Machu Picchu in ONE day you would have to leave your hotel in Cusco very early, around 4am, in the morning and make your way to the train station. The train will then take a few hours to get to Aguas Calientes from where you continue your journey for circa half an hour by bus. This means that you will arrive at Machu Picchu in the late morning – at the same time as all the other tourists who decided to make that day their day to visit Machu Picchu. Yes, it is manageable and you will have sufficient time to explore Machu Picchu in your own time BUT it is just not the same as being one of the first few tourists to see how Machu Picchu awakes in the morning. To see the real magic and beauty of Machu Picchu, I’d suggest a different route.
The Best Two Ways to Visit Machu Picchu
The two options to arrive super early in the morning are (1) to do the Inca train and hike up all the way to Machu Picchu or (2) to go up by train but rather than rushing up immediately, spend the night in Aguas Calientes and take the first bus up in the morning.
(1) Visit Machu Picchu by Inca Trail
I haven’t done it personally as I never had enough time for it. If you decide to do the Inca trail (make sure you book months in advance!) you should plan at least a whole week for Cusco and Machu Picchu together. That way you have your 5 days for the Inca trail but 2 days of relaxing in Cusco and one day of Cusco sightseeing. And don’t forget that this is not a little going-for-a-walk up a hill. You will be doing serious trekking here.
(2) Spend One Night in Aguas Calientes
The super comfy way to see the magic of Machu Picchu without hiking the Inca trail. For this you need to allocate two days to Machu Picchu. On the first day you would take the train to Aguas Calientes in the morning and then spend the whole day in the village. There are various other activities there, so you will not get bored. If you are up for a little hike of a few hours, you could go up to Putukusi. This is a wonderful thing to do as from the top of the Putukusi mountain you can actually see Machu Picchu! Just find a local operator that operates these tour on a flexible basis and whose groups are not too big. When I hiked up to Putukusi we were around 5 people and all got along so well that we met again for dinner and drinks that night.Try to not get a hangover though as you want to rise and shine early the next morning to catch the first bus up to Machu Picchu. Yes, the first one. You want to be one of the first people in the morning before it gets crowded. And also, Machu Picchu is just incredibly stunning when the folk in the morning slowly disappears and the beauty of Machu Picchu shines through. It’s truly magical. To be up there even earlier, you can hike up the last bit (rather than taking the bus) and arrive at the same time as the brave people that did the whole Inca trail.
And before you leave Aguas Calientes again, make sure you save a few minutes to stroll through the market that is located just in front of the strain station. And no worries, you only need to go shopping there once.. You will always be ‘up to date’ as the items won’t change! During my first Peru trip I bought countless amounts of souvenirs and ta-dah, the same things are still being sold today. Same souvenirs are sold in Bolivia by the way…