Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Aguas Calientes, Peru: A Walkable Town in the Middle of the Andes

The small town of Aguas Calientes is also know as the gateway to Macchu Picchu.  Accessible by foot, train and apparently helicopter this gem is tucked into the Andean Mountain range but not hidden by any means.  It is a simple 4 hour train and bus ride from Cusco to arrive here, however a large percentage of the visitors here arrive by foot.  We took a slightly different route.  After a 3 hour van ride, a 33 mile bike ride, a night in Santa Theresa, Peru and a 6 hour 14 mile trek through the jungle of Peru we arrived in Aguas Calientes.  I expected a very touristy, overpriced, and weathered town.  However I was pleasantly surprised!

Aguas Calientes from Putucusi Mountain

This little town is quite impressive.  The selection of places to stay, shop and eat is massive and very diverse!  As the town is inaccessible by car you will not find motor vehicles here, aside from the buses headed up to and returning from Macchu Picchu.  However on the main street in town, Avenida Imperio de los Incas, you will find significant train traffic.  This is the main source of human (and goods) transport to Aguas Calientes (aside from one's own feet).  PERURAIL ( has a corner on the market for getting travelers in and out of this gateway to the Lost City of the Incas.  Trains come and go on this street all day long.  The train from Aguas Calientes to Cusco on PERURAIL is a bit pricey, but after taking this train myself, I have to say it is worth every penny!

Avenida Imperio de los Incas and Train
(From Above)
Avenida Imperio de los Incas
(From Street Level)
At the 'foot' of the town the mighty Rio Urambamba roars through the mountains.  The smaller Rio Aguas Calientes dissects the town into north and south parts but provides for a very unique use of bridges to link both sides of the town.  The natural topography of the mountainous landscape dictates the layout of the town and the streets within.  Therefore the streets at the bottom of the town follow the river, and the streets at the top create a sort of outline of the base of the mountains.  Please see the basic map below to get an idea of the town's layout.  However this map does not cover the entire town, nor does it illustrate the seemingly hundreds of side streets and alleys that the town possess!


The town is remarkably pedestrian friendly.  Although the grades of about 80 percent of the town are quite steep (forget about ADA compliance here folks) , due to lack of vehicular traffic walking the town is incredibly easy.  All of the streets (read: wide sidewalks) are constructed of concrete unit pavers.  There are even places where multiple colored pavers are used to create patterns resembling Incan art.  The aforementioned bridges are located intermittently along the river and allow for cross access at these select points.  Each bridge is slightly different in color and construction, and they provide for a unique route to cross the river as well as unique views up and down stream.  Each side of the river is lined with shops, restaurants and places to stay.  Each of these services really benefits from the location and beauty of this river.

View Downstream (Rio Aguas Calientes)
Downstream View and Walkway
Another Bridge and Local Workers Transporting Goods
Up and Down the Steep Slopes
Although a small mountain town, Aguas Calientes seems to truly recognize the benefit tourism has on this place.  Aside from the stores, restaurants and hotels there are narrow alleys, several plazas with information about the history of this place, fountains, and even the stormwater drainage has been designed to be exposed and act as more of a water feature than simple enclosed water transport.  There are so many small details that make this place interesting and accommodating.  Although simple in nature all of the elements within the town work together to create a unique experience for all visitors.

Narrow Stairs and Alley Accessing
More Restaurants and Hotels
Plaza Prinipal
Water Feature Alongside Sidewalk

Main Water Feature at Center of Town

Exposed Stormwater Channel

Exposed Stormwater Channel
 and Constructed Water Falls

At the end of the day almost everyone visiting Aguas Calientes is doing so in order to reach Macchu Picchu.  With views like it any wonder why?



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