Aguas Calientes is the town nearest to Machu Picchu. This is where you will likely stay a night before you visit the site or having a meal before you take the train back to Cusco or Ollantaytambo.
Most of the infrastructure in Aguas Calientes is targeted at tourists. This means jacked up prices.
In Aguas Calientes, I had eaten a 45 soles (S$21) set meal where the rice was as large as the head of my fork and a 67 soles meal (S$30) that was actually pretty tasty.
Of course, not every meal in Aguas Calientes has to exceed 50 soles. I can show you a place where you can have a meal plus a fruit juice for just 10 soles (S$4.50).
This little piggy went to market
On the second floor of the local market (not the “craft market) is where they sell cooked food. At lunch time, a lot of the stalls write their dishes of the day on a whiteboard. Just order off the list and you will have tasty, freshly made food.
The second stall on the left gave me a good vibe so I had both my meals there. The stall is run by a family of women. The first time I went, the elder sister cooked while the second time, the mother cooked.
The beef steak meal was lovely but the Milanese chicken (breaded chicken cutlet) wasn’t as good. I love how they have rice along with the meal. I also requested that they only give me tomatos and not greens as the salad.
After your meal, you might want to have a drink. At the market, juices sell for 5 soles. For this price, you get about 2 glass-full of juice. That was enough to stretch my stomach.
I will definitely miss the generous servings of fruit juices in Peru.
To be honest, I don’t really know why I want to visit Machu Picchu. The main reason is probably that it has been so hyped up. I don’t mind
Many web sites that I read recommend heading to the bus station slightly before 5am to catch the first few buses that leave at 5:30am so that you can catch the sunrise.
Initially, I planned to do the same and set my alarm for 4:45am. When the time came and my iPhone blasted out my alarm, I went over to my phone and changed the time to an hour later.
I didn’t fully fall back into sleep but when I checked my phone, it was 5:55am. I checked my alarm and realized that I had set it to 5:45pm.
I got up and got ready. I checked out of the hotel around 7am and looked for food because I planned to stay in Machu Picchu well past lunchtime and I need a good breakfast.
My favorite French pastry place was open. I ordered a cafe con leche and two pastries. This should sustain me for a long while.
I bought a one-way bus ticket from Aguas Calientes to Machu Picchu. The queue was long when I got there but the line moved quite efficiently. The bus was on a very windy uphill road and took about 20 minutes to reach the entrance.
Almost at the end of the ride, I saw Machu Picchu Inca town and Huayana Picchu–the two most photographed parts of the thing we know as Machu Picchu. It looked like tiny Lego blocks from afar.
Entering Machu Picchu
After the ticket check where the person scans your ticket and checks your ID name against your ticket name, you are free to enter.
I asked the guards after the entrance if it is true that there is a Machu Picchu stamp. They told me that the stamping starts at 9am. So take note and don’t leave too early.
There is a little walk from the entrance to the spot where most people take their Machu Picchu phototos.
When I first saw the real Machu Picchu, I thought, “Wow. It looks like the postcards. But a bit smaller than I imagined.” It wasn’t until I was inside the city walls that I felt tiny.
I took many photos showing the same angle of the site. All of them look the same but I feel obliged to take as many as I can. This resulted in a dead battery at the end of the day.
My ticket allows me to climb Machu Picchu mountain. I tried walking the first 30 steps of the mountain and gave up. I’d see the site from ground level. Thank you very much.
Reading on Machu Picchu
After some phototaking, I thought it was time to head into the city but when I was walking in the direction, I found a very nice nook in the wall with two large stones. I sat on the stone and found it really comfortable. It also gave me a good view of the mountain and the ancient city.
Then I took out my Kindle and started reading. It was a very good place to read because the sun had not reached that particular spot yet. From time to time, I look up from my book and stare out at the sight below–so that people don’t think that I’m crazy for reading in Machu Picchu.
Tourists passed by my reading spot. Only one Indian man commented joyfully about my “comfy nook” while the others just ignore me or look with curiosity.
I only moved when the sunlight crept into my lap. My knees were hot and soon my head would be too so I moved. The reading session took a little more than an hour but it was a fun session.
By that time, it was past 11am and I noticed that the tour groups have descended in drones. While there were a lot of people, it wasn’t crazy crowded like some of the sights in China. Maybe it’s because of the 2,500 daily limit.
Llama photo opp
Machu Picchu Inca city has a few llamas on its premise, grazing on the grass or running away from humans. (I even spotted llama poo in one of the buildings, so I imagined that they roam around freely when humans are not around.)
There was a baby llama that was still drinking milk from its mom. Some of the llamas gave up running away and allowed humans to pose with them.
One of the llamas even had a flew and was sneezing from time to time, giving everyone nearby a jump. Llamas are not quite as cute as alpacas but they are still fun animals to touch.
After walking a while, I found another good reading spot. I saw this from across the amphitheatre, the spot is against the wall and is very shady when the sun is still in the east.
While reading, I snuck bites of my takeaway pain au chocolate, wiped tears from my eyes using my jacket and eavesdropped on tour guides nearby.
It was another hour later when I finished the book. By that time, the sun was higher up in the sky and sunlight reached my shoes. It was time to leave to continue my tour.
Most impressive part of Machu Picchu
Some people say that they feel very spiritual when they head to Machu Picchu. I usually roll my eyes when I hear these comments. What does spirituality feel like?
It’s a bit funny how people find it spiritual when everything was man-made. They should feel more in awe of those who built the site and not some invisible energy.
I was most impressed with the Inca terraces. From the postcard photos of Machu Picchu, you don’t get to see how huge the terraces are but they are really really impressive.
I took a path leading up to the terrace and ended up at the entrance. I decided that 1:30pm was a good time to end my visit since I’ve been in the compound for about 5 hours.
The queue to the bus back to town was horribly long but I queued with everybody else.
Back in town, I had 6 hours to kill before my train so I ate, read and ate.
Aguas Calientes is the town where the train to Machu Picchu stops. The name means “hot water” or “hot springs”. I have been in love with hot springs ever since Japan. Even though we have hot springs in Sabah but those are a bit lame as the water is piped into little pools.
Problem is, the hot springs in Aguas Calientes has pretty bad reviews and the photos of the pools do not look appealing. My sister said the photo of the pools remind her of the hot springs at home.
Still, I had a whole day in Aguas Calientes with no plans so I decided to give the place a go. After moving my things from one budget hotel to another at 9:30am, I brought my shampoo, sarong cloth and camera to the hot springs.
To reach the Baños Termales (Thermal Bathes), walk with your back to the train station. You will likely see signposts along the way. Keep to the right where the slopes and stores are (not along the river) since the entrance is there.
Before the entrance, there are shops renting towels and bathing suits. I’m not sure about the price but you can get them there if you need.
Entrance fee is 10 soles but you will need to keep your things in the lockers which costs 1 sole. The lockers are further in where the pools are.
There is a slight walk from the entrance to the pools. I haven’t been in good shape so I was huffing and puffing halfway up the slope.
The sight of the pools surprised me since I thought there was more walking. From above, the pools looked like they contained dirty murky brown water. Eek.
After changing into my swimwear (this is not Japan so no naked onsens, people!), I brought my plastic bag of shampoo, camera and watch to the pools.
At first I checked out the “showers” near the entrance, the water was freezing. Someone above shouted at me and pointed to the other side of the pools.
As I didn’t wear my glasses, I had to walk up to the old man, tell him I cannot see without my glasses and followed his instructions to go to the other side where there is hot water.
A local lady was washing herself at one of the three tiger head spouts. I turned on one of them and laughed when hot water came gushing out.
The lady said, “Agua thermal!” to tell me that it was hot spring water. I nodded and started washing myself. After the shampooing, I checked out the pools.
I found one of the medium-sized pools empty so I got in. The water wasn’t as scalding hot as Japanese hot springs. It was about body temperature.
I realized that the dirty-looking water wasn’t filled with grime from Inca Trail hikers as I originally thought. Instead, it could have been from the minerals in the spring water. Or at least I hope it was.
The pool is too deep to sit in but too shallow to wade so I half-stood by the faucet with hot spring water, allowing the water to trickle down my face. (It was actually too hot to do that but I want spring water on my face so I did it anyway.)
From the pool, you can see the mountains surrounding the little valley. It’s quite beautiful from there.
The floors of the pools are filled with pebbles which I think are to prevent people from slipping on the smooth tiles. Or it could be for a natural foot massage.
Then I felt that the water was too chilly and shifted to one of the larger pools. I was in it until the sun was a little too high in the sky and I could not find a shade.
I moved to the kiddie pool which allowed me to sit on the floor and soak my whole body.
There was one old lady, some kids and a young mother (I assume) in the kiddie pool with me. The kids splashed playfully while I continued my soak.
Saving butterfly from drowning
The sun was quite high up now that the only shade was from the bridge leading to the entrance. I scooted a little to the left to allow another old ladies to sit with her friend.
Then I saw a butterfly flutter past. It was flying prettily and did a dip into the water and proceeded to drown.
I let out a yelp and went to scoop it out of the water. The butterfly was safe but it clung to my finger, not willing to fly even when I blew at it.
The old ladies were curious and chattered to me. I nodded stupidly and showed them the butterfly. One of the kids joined us and later caused the butterfly to drown again.
I rescued the poor thing but it still would not fly away. In the end, I decided that I had enough of the pools and it was time to go for a nap. (I woke up at 4:30am today because of Machu Picchu hiking people.)
After I took photos of the butterfly, I nudged my pruney finger against the walls and it flew away. Bye bye butterfly!
At first I thought that I could come for another bath in the evening after Machu Picchu on Saturday. However, I was shivering really badly even under the sun so I thought it would be best if I did not do it in the evening when the temperature is even lower.
Do you like soaking in hot springs? Where’s the best place to do it?
Finally, it’s the day I take the train to Machu Picchu. Or at least that’s what it says on my train ticket.
In reality, the train to “Machu Picchu” stops at a little town called Aguas Calientes (Hot Waters). This town is deeply hated by travel guidebooks and sites, I’ll talk more about it tomorrow since today it’s all about my train ride.
My train to Machu Picchu starts at the town of Ollantaytambo. I spent two nights there but you can easily access the town from Cusco in not more than 2 hours’ time.
Ollantaytambo’s train station is at the very end of the road where the two ticket counters are. Along the road, there were stalls selling woollen things and even food.
There was a group of school children who were about to take the train when I was at the station. They were quite prepared as most of them each had a roll of blanket strapped to their bag.
All aboard the Peru Rail train!
The train ticket says everyone needs to be at the station half an hour before the train leaves. They let passengers into the train area well before that.
The guards checked everyone’s ticket with their identification so remember to have your passport in hand.
After the ticket check, I tried getting onto a carriage. The lady in the carriage asked me, “What do you want?” and then “You cannot come in yet. Thank you.” when I told her that I was looking for my seat.
I got out of the carriage with a cheery “You’re welcome!” and stood by the side of the train. At least the view was good.
Soon, the Peru Rail employees started putting out the carriage letters. It was strange since the order was A-C-B. Anyway, I got onto my carriage after the carriage attendant checked my ticket and my passport once more.
The Expedition carriage is the cheapest ticket for foreigners. The carriage has windows on the roof so passengers can admire the sky and tall mountains and get a bit of sun bathing.
My A-1 seat was right next to the window, in front of the food preparation center. The person beside me never came so I had the two seats to myself.
I also checked out the toilet before anyone else came on board. It was the largest train toilet I’ve ever seen. I think it can fit 5 people standing up.
While we were waiting for the train to leave, I looked outside and saw several passengers and a Peru Rail employee on the phone, huddled in a circle. It seems to me that there were problems with the train tickets. One of the passengers had a large backpack with a hiking stick.
I tried to imagine if that was me and that Peru Rail told me that there were problems with my ticket and that I cannot go to Machu Picchu. It felt like yesterday all over again so I stopped imagining.
When the train pulled out of the station, the people-with-ticket-problems did not get on board. I hope they eventually reached Machu Picchu.
Coffee or tea?
About 30 minutes into the journey, we were served one drink and one snack. I got myself a black coffee and a muffin.
While the Peru Rail employees were serving the drinks, I realized that the guys were a lot taller than the average Peruvians. I really wanted to ask them if height was included in the job requirement, as do flight attendants.
Back to the train ride. The view along the way was great but the sun was so bright that I kept my face hidded next to the wall to avoid sun face.
On the far right of the was a snow-capped mountain, which I found out is called Veronica, while on the right were grass-patched mountains. We even passed the Inca Trail, as a tour guide for the group sitting in front of me announced.
The lady who sat on the seat across mine was Taiwanese. She gave me a lot of information on sights in Peru, allowing me to narrow down what I want to do these last 10 days.
The train ride ended quite soon and we got into the concrete town of Aguas Calientes. My hostel sent someone to pick everyone up which was a good thing since the tiny paths can be quite confusing.
As promised, I’ll write more about Aguas Calientes tomorrow.
Location: Ollantaytambo -> Cusco -> Ollantaytambo, Peru
You know how in Greek legends the gods are really assholes. They hang about on Mt Olympus, eating and drinking.
Then one day, one of them would say, “Hmm… Life’s a bit boring for HERO’S NAME. Let’s spice things up and send him on a journey. We’ll throw in a few hydras and sirens along the way.”
I feel that this is the same for my upcoming trip to Machu Picchu. On Saturday, I discover that the cheaper trains leaving MP on the 24th were all sold out so I booked tickets for one day later.
I also reserved one entrance ticket to the Incan City of Machu Picchu. I wasn’t able to pay it online and went to the bank too late as it was closed after lunch time on Saturdays. Since there were still about 1,400 tickets left, I wasn’t worried and decided that I should that buy it at Aguas Calientes.
My own mini Greek epic journey started this morning when I thought that I should check how many tickets are left of Machu Picchu.
When I reached the site, I thought something was wrong since the ticket count showed zero for the 24th, 25th and 26th.
At first I thought that it was a glitch in the system so I checked it again. Oh no… There are really no tickets for the next 2 days. What am I supposed to do?
I almost cried into my coffee, thinking about how tragic it is to not see Machu Picchu when it’s the main reason I am here in South America. Then I remembered that I paid about US$120 for the return train tickets to Aguas Calientes. All that money for nothing? I felt like crying more.
But as I’ve found out a few years ago that crying doesn’t help with anything, I decided to start thinking of a Plan B. Perhaps I could buy a later entrance ticket and change my train tickets. (At this point, I had no idea if changing train ticket dates was possible.)
Tripping stone 1: Wrong info from locals
I asked the reception-boy if I could buy tickets to Machu Picchu here in Ollantaytambo. He answered, Yes, at the train stations for Peru Rail and Inca Rail.
It sounded like he was talking about train tickets so I changed my questions. Do they have tickets into [point two fingers into an imaginary box in front of me] Machu Picchu.
The boy replied “Yes” once more. The hotel ady nearby frowned and asked a man nearby if there were entrance tickets to MP at the train station. The guy said “Yes” too.
So off I went to the train station, which was about 10 minutes walk away. I forgot to put on sunscreen so I had to go back to my room and slather on some.
Off I went again to the train station. When I got there, the severe lady behind the counter said that they only sold train tickets and not entrance tickets. But she noted that I could buy them in Aguas Calientes (US$50 train ride away).
I told her about the zero ticket situation and she said that I still need to check with the culture center. She did tell me that I can change the dates of my train tickets with some penalty charges.
I tried my luck at the Inca Rail counter and the man said that I could only buy the entrance tickets at Aguas Calientes or Cusco.
Tripping stone 2: System down
I decided that the only thing to do is to head to Cusco to buy my ticket. Before that, I popped in several travel agencies in town to ask if they could buy me the tickets.
Two agencies did not have any persons in the office. The third had two foreign customers so I figured that the employees would arrive soon.
She did come in the end but it wasn’t as soon as I liked. However, she said that they do sell tickets. I told her about the zero ticket situation which she said was quite rare but possible since there is a long weekend ahead.
The travel agent went online to the official Machu Picchu website. Unfortunately, the webpage could not load.
I asked if I should head to Cusco. She didn’t look very happy with that, adding that, “You could, if you wish.” (A new tense I learnt last week.)
Tripping stone 3: Where is the bus?
I went back to my hotel and got everything ready. I brought more money than I need, my credit card, passport and a map of Cusco which I luckily took from my hostel in Arequipa.
I made a tumbler of sweet tea because it calms me down. I got to work googling where there INC (National Institute of Culture of Peru) was and memorizing the location on Google Map. It was quite easy to find the place since it was only a block from the main square.
I walked to the road where my bus from Cusco passed by, thinking that I will catch the bus once it begins its return trip.
I waited 30 minutes (I counted) and still no bus. I decided then to walk to the main square since I vaguely remember that it was where the buses must leave from.
There, I spotted several vans parked at the far end of the square. I used to think that it was a dead end but realized then that it was a temporary parking space for the vans.
One new-looking van arrived and many people rushed to it. The driver said it was heading to Urubamba and that I could take another van to Cusco from there.
I got into the front seat and admired the beautiful scenery along the way. I switched to a shared taxi at Urubamba. The whole trip cost me 9 soles, just 1 soles cheaper than the direct van.
Tripping stone 4: Damn you Google Maps
Finally, we reached Cusco. Using the map, I crossed the car-infested lanes of Cusco and tried not to slip on the cobbled stone paths.
When I reached the building, it was surprisingly empty. I went into one of the doors. A security guard was nodding off when I peeped in. I asked if this was the place to buy tickets to Machu Picchu.
At first I thought his reply was that it was lunch time so the office is not open. He asked if I have a map. I passed him mine and he highlighted some streets and pointed to a location far away. I thank him and went off with my map.
Later I realized that the office had changed but the Google Maps address hadn’t.
Even with the map, the roads in Cusco were not very friendly. I kept thinking that I was walking in the wrong direction when it was right.
The sun was blazing hot and the smooth cobbled stone streets were not helpful with the trek to the correct ticket office.
I passed the place marked on the map but it seemed to have a different name. I had to ask a security guard who pointed me to the right direction.
Tripping stone 5: No more tickets for the 26th
The office was full of ticket buyers. The queue even went out of the doors a little. I stood impatiently while the man at one of the counters had a tall stack of passports.
It was finally my turn when passport-man was done. The lady behind the counter looked exactly like Aubrey Plaza with glasses, a little weird since I was reading about the celebrity just this morning.
Aubrey Plaza told me that there were no tickets for the 26th. And that only the combo ticket (Machu Picchu and Montana) were available.
I decided that I really need to see Machu Picchu so to hell with the train tickets if I could not change the dates.
Payment went smoothly since my bad luck was with one guy at the payment counter who tried multiple Visa credit cards but still could not pay.
With my tickets, I was thrilled and also very hungry. I didn’t want to stop in places where tourists were in so I walked for a long while before I reached a place full of people and the lovely smell of fried pork.
It was a fried pork place. My serving had so much pork fat that a person who picks out the faty parts could chew on tough meat. Of course, I am not that person so I thoroughly enjoyed chewing through my fried fatty pork.
Tripping stone 6: Train station closed for the day
After lunch, I went in search of the train station so I could get my tickets changed immediately.
Since the train station was inconspicuously beside a grand church, I missed it the first time.
When I did find it, I was disappointed to see that the doors were closed. A little blue notice said the station was closed at 14:00, just 20 minutes before I got there.I
I sat on the steps with the other people. I was the most disappointed since they looked like sitting on steps were part of their daily lives.
I decided to head back to Ollantaytambo and try my luck at the station there.
Finding the mini-bus station back to Ollantaytambo was easy. Since I did the journey once, I knew where the buses were and got onto one of them.
I napped along the way and woke up to take a few photos. I decided on the bus that I will only change my return train ticket and leave the departure ticket and hotel booking as they are.
When I reached Ollantaytambo’s train station, the lady said there was only one train left and changed my date for only US$15.
The whole journey took 7 hours, not including panicking time in the beginning. I’m just glad that I have the entrance ticket. The only thing left is the hostel for Night 2 in Aguas Calientes which I think will be easy to find in the tourist-packed little town.
I’m sure the gods on Machu Picchu got bored with my little journey so they let everything pass in the end. Muchas gracias!
This morning at about 6am, my neighbors were getting out of bed and the floorboards squeaked like crazy. I fell back to sleep much later and woke up for breakfast after 9am.
I tested out the 0% lactose evaporated milk I bought from the supermarket. I made lactose-less kopi C and it tasted well. I’ll write a full report for next Friday. Stay tuned!
After breakfast, I decided that I need to start planning my trip to Machu Picchu. I only have 2 weeks left in Peru and I don’t want to screw up my main reason here in South America.
I talked to the little travel table at the hostel. The guy quoted a US$270 package from Cusco to MP and back. He also said it’s quite easy to book the tickets myself.
So I started checking out the sites for trains to Machu Picchu’s nearby town–Aguas Calientes–and the tickets for the site.
I was a tiny bit disappointed to find out that the combination of Machu Picchu and Huayna Picchu were all sold out until September. (Don’t worry, there are still tickets to MP.)
Booking train tickets were a bit tough too. The original date that I plan to go did not have cheap return train tickets so I pushed everything to one day later.
For now, I have my return train tickets from Ollantaytambo to Aguas Calientes but not the entrance tickets to Machu Picchu because I needed to pay the entrance fee at a bank. I plan to buy the entrance tickets when I get to Aguas Calientes.
Baby Alpacas again!
After the tiring ticket buying, I set off to take the bus to the supermarket near where I used to stay with my homestay family. I walked all the way down Santa Catalina and realized that I was only 500 meters away from the cute baby alpacas.
I was not sure how Milk (the white baby alpaca) escaped from the pen but it was calmly grazing and eating the tips of the flowers when I spotted it. I never got to pet it because it kept running away.
I saw baby Coffee (the brown baby alpaca) resting its neck on a bigger alpaca which I hope is its mom. They were so cute.
The baby alpaca snuggled against its mother and it was so adorable~~
At Mundo Alpaca, there’s also loads of sheared alpaca wool. I snuck away one pinch of it. Shhh!
After Mundo Alpaca, I walked back to the main street for the bus. Luckily, I found one which had an empty front seat.
The traffic on the main avenue was quite bad and the bus crawled until I reached my stop.
After having a ceviche at a restaurant recommended b one of the teachers, I headed to the supermarket where I couldn’t find cheap cotton pads. Can you imagine, one cotton pad here costs S$0.35. That’s quite expensive!
I was hungry for something else so I stopped by the supermarket cooked food area. I was horrified to find out that the lady reheated my chicken drumstick in the microwave on a Styrofoam plate.
After the meal, it was time to head back to the city center. It took a long time before I found a relatively empty bus (meaning it’s not crammed from the front to the back with human bodies) and I got on.
A quick summary of the rest of the day: quick walk to the market; watch Batman Return in Spanish; have dinner; head back and blog.