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Apart from hiking the Inca Trail, a stay in Aguas Calientes, is one of the best ways to get to Machu Picchu before all of the tourists arrive by train from Cusco.
The town's economy is based around tourism providing all the necessary services such as hotels and restaurants, as well as its fair share of souvenir shops and stalls. Of course it's Machu Picchu that people have came to visit and Aguas Calientes itself has little to offer the tourist apart from its thermal springs believed to possess curative powers.
The outdoor thermal pools can be found 15 minutes walk out of town (follow the main street to the right of the Plaza up hill), and costs US$3 to enter. There are changing facilities, showers, luggage storage and a small cafe selling snacks, cold drinks and beer.
There are several pools of varying size and temperature including one filled with ice cold mountain water so check first before jumping in!. The springs have been recently refurbished and are good place to relax, especially after completing the Inca Trail. Open 0500-2100. Take soap and shampoo.
There are basically only 2 main streets in Aguas Calientes; Avenida Imperio de Los Incas, the street with the old train tracks running through, and Avenida Pachacutec which extends up from the Plaza to the thermal springs. You'll find most of the town's hotels and restaurants on these streets.
The tourist train to Cusco leaves from the new station in Aguas Calientes while the local train leaves from the old tracks running through town. For times and details check out the website www.perurail.com
If you're feeling adventurous and have plenty of energy left and 4 hours to spare in Aguas Calientes you may consider climbing the breathtaking trail to Putucusi. Putucusi is the mountain on the opposite side of the Vilcanota River to Machu Picchu. The views of Machu Picchu from the top are spectacular but it's the trail up that you'll remember most. It's an Inca Trail that has only recently been discovered and cleared and involves ascending some pretty hair-raising vertical ladders along the way. The trail starts only 10 minutes walk outside Aguas Calientes (along the tracks in the opposite direction to Cusco). You'll see a sign on the right hand side marking the trail start. You have to sign you name in a book at the beginning of the trail and you will come to the most difficult section after only 15 minutes. Here you can decide to turn back (as do 75% of people) or climb the long wooden ladders scaling the rock face! It's best to go early in the day and when the weather is good and, for safety sake, not to go alone.
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