At the end of the train to Machu Picchu is Aguas Calientes. This town, named after its hot springs, does not have a good reputation among travel guides.
“[U]nplanned tourist development and perpetual construction makes this one of the ugliest, most exploitative towns you’ll run across anywhere in Peru,” says Lonely Planet.
Wikivoyage reports, “Despite its magnificent setting, it’s not the most scenic town, owing to fast and ruthless development to support the huge influx of tourists.”
Based on all these comments, I kind of dreaded the two nights that I would be spending there.
I thought my eyeballs would melt from looking at Aguas Calientes town. But at the end of the trip, my eyeballs were intact. I even think that Aguas Calientes is much prettier than some of the Malaysian towns I’ve been to.
First impression of Aguas Calientes
When the train pulled into its station–well, just in the middle of the tracks and not really the station–I saw half-built buildings made up of concrete and wood. I thought to myself that if the whole place looks like this, then it’s really sad.
At the platform, a woman holding a whiteboard sign had the name of my hostel. I introduced myself but the woman–who doesn’t look past 24–seemed worried. I guessed that no one told her that a Chinese person was coming.
When she had gathered all the guests, we trekked through the “craft market”. The market is made up of tens of stalls all selling the same woolen hat, gloves and souvenirs.
The woman from our guest house had a cloth baggage on her back like many of the local women. From the cloth, I could smell soured milk so I wondered if she was carrying a baby inside.
My hostel was a rather sad place. It was a shop house divided into many rooms. My room had a window that looked out into a corridor and the place smelled musty.
I got out of the hostel quickly and explored the town.
Real exploration of Aguas Calientes
When I stepped out of my hostel, I was awed by the mountains that hugged the town. They towered the town and looked freshly green.
If you looked only at the mountains, Aguas Calientes is indeed a pretty town.
Away from town, the real river of Aguas Calientes was beautiful too. Sadly, part of the town where the river flowed had a smell of wet socks so the whole river might not be as clean as it looks.
The town is made up of a lot of stairs. Some of these stairs are flanked with tourist restaurants where waiters call out semi-aggressively while some have women shouting about “Masaji. Masaji.” (Perhaps I look Japanese so they use the Japanese pronounciation of massage.
I was surprised to find the football field. I expected the town to be void of activities in normal life, such as school and play, since tourism is such an important business in Aguas Calientes.
As Aguas Calientes is constantly underdevelopment–not unlike Dubai and Singapore–a lot of buildings were unfinished.
Murals in Aguas Calientes
One of the buildings’ wall had gorgeous murals.
Other fun thing in Aguas Calientes
The best time to visit the hot springs is before 12 noon when the sun is at its strongest.
The market near the main square has a second floor with food stalls. They sell cheap (5 soles) meals!