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- 19 Sep 2019, 3 nights
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If you're looking to explore Machu Picchu independently, heading to Aguas Calientes is one way to do it without travel agents. It's the nearest town to these world-renowned ruins. As soon as you arrive, you'll notice a buzz in the air from excited backpackers waiting to set off on this bucket-list journey towards the landmark ancient city, 2430m high in the sky.
Cosy guesthouses and hostels make up much of the budget accommodation in Aguas Calientes. Look out for Aguas Calientes hostels with knowledgeable staff ready to share the top tips on the best ways to see Machu Picchu (free Wi-Fi is also helpful for your own research). Keep an eye out for places with luggage storage, as you'll need somewhere to leave your bags while you make your way up to the site. Hot showers and a big buffet breakfast will get you ready and raring for the walk uphill too. Hostels in Aguas Calientes are sociable, which is ideal if you're looking for companions to chat to as you head off on the hike.
Aguas Calientes is small and easy to wander around, so you can do a lot of exploring in a short amount of time. There's a bus stop for the trip that whisks travellers up to the iconic ruins, or you can set off on the 6km walk instead. Stop by the hot springs on your way back down – it's a relaxing way to soothe your muscles after walking up 3000 steps. The natural warm water gave the town its Spanish name (Aguas Calientes translates as 'hot waters').
Machu Picchu is, of course, the main thing to do in Aguas Calientes, but there are other sights to see here too, including the Mariposario de Machupicchu butterfly house a 30-minute walk from town. You can also stroll to the biodiverse gardens of Los Jardines de Mandor or simply stay around by the rushing river. Check out the colourful alpaca wool scarves at the central Mercado de Artesanias market for some local craftsmanship.
Aguas Calientes is only accessible by train – road vehicles are unable to reach the town. As an alternative to the rail journey, you can take a bus to Hidroeléctrica station then walk along the train tracks for around 15km, often with colourful butterflies fluttering across your path. The next day, many people then choose to either trek up to the ruins or take a short bus trip to the top.