The Road to Machu Picchu: Aguas Calientes

Days: 297 (18 April 2015)

Total distance travelled: 57,041.6 kilometres (35,429.57 miles)

On arrival at Ollantaytambo’s railway station, it was with much excitement that I joyously identified our train on the platform.

Gleaming as it was, even beneath a dull sky, I eagerly peered through the windows, noting with excitement wonderfully set tables and an elegance I’d not expected.

So this is what $118.00 US Gets you!

Turns out, it doesn’t.

This is what around $900.00 US gets you, as this gem was the Hiram Bingham, the crème de la crème of the railway options to get you to Aguas Calientes.

The train I wished we were on…

The train I wished we were on…

When this train of desire pulled away from the platform, taking its cargo of passengers onwards in elegance, our more economical affair was revealed.

After my initial misplaced excitement, first impressions left me a little flat.

The train we were actually on!

The train we were actually on!

But once on board, it was actually a lot more plush than expected, and when my mind was cast forward to how close we now finally were to Machu Picchu, the excitement soon returned.

It was a fairly raucous crowd on board, with about 60% of the carriage occupied by a tour group of older North Americans, and to our surprise, we were also to receive refreshments and snacks along the journey.

Not truly elegant, but certainly comfortable

Not truly elegant, but certainly comfortable

We were looking forward to the views, but in a case of dumb luck, we were seated on the wrong side of the carriage (all seats are pre-allocated when you by the tickets) for the truly good views… and then the weather turned to shit as well, constant rain making the views less than perfect and the windows difficult to snap pictures through.

One particular offering on the drinks menu grabbed our attention, and it lived up to our hopes, as we both ordered ourselves a Soda Andina from the listed options.

A combination of Ginger Ale, Lemon juice and Angostura Bitters (with actual slices of ginger and some star anise thrown in), this thing was delicious. So good, we think it’s one recipe we’ll surely be replicating back home (might not be horrible with a splash of Vodka as well)!

Finally, under very wet skies, we pulled into the slightly frigid station at Aguas Calientes, the gateway to Machu Picchu.

We’d booked a hostel, however we weren’t certain where it was… and with the rain presently pissing down, weren’t too keen on simply wandering what was a slightly hilly (almost everything is uphill from the railway station) and very wet/slippery town.

Spotting a map of the town outside the station gave us a rough idea of the direction, then a little blind luck and gut feel got us to our hostel, probably the highlight of Aguas Calientes!

It speaks volumes of a place when a good (not great hostel) is the highlight, but that pretty much sums up the town.

Aside from the beautiful, and at this time of year almost wild river on which it sat, this place stands as a testament to all that is horrible about mass tourism.

The beautiful part of Aguas Calientes (left) & thankfully a reminder of what was to come (right)

The beautiful part of Aguas Calientes (left) & thankfully a reminder of what was to come (right)

The gateway, or doorstep to Machu Picchu is purely an example of exploitation, where you can pay four times the price you would anyway for a basic meal, or if you feel generous (or gullible), five or six!

Were it a remote island in the Pacific, you could understand this, but here, it is simply a cash grab, with tourists left with few other options.

I will concede, there are a couple of better priced local eateries, however even here a menu del dia (menu of the day) will set you back three times what you’d normally pay.

Thankfully for us, we’d only be here the one night, but that night did present us with a meal so incredulous, we can only look back now and chuckle.

As we wandered in the late afternoon/early evening we caught a scent that took us back home and immediately got us salivating.

Could it be… here in Aguas Calientes? Peking (Beijing) Duck!?

We had to know.

Immediately we wandered in, spied it on the menu and figured we’d have to order it.

Being a Chifa (Chinese Restaurant) its prices didn’t seem as ridiculous in any case, so with glee we placed our order… only to be told, it was unavailable!

Shattered, we instead ordered ourselves some fried Wontons and a beer to help us get through this sudden despondency.

The Wontons quickly arrived, and the beer was even faster, so we immediately tucked in.

After my first mouthful I sat back puzzled, wondering if perhaps mine had been fried too long and the filling just cooked away…

Nope, we’d just been served up twelve fried Wonton wrappers… devoid of anything resembling filling!

Anyone for fried Wonton wrappers? The soy became very necessary!

Anyone for fried Wonton wrappers? The soy became very necessary!

At least our time wasn’t all bad, as we finally got the chance to catch up with Shannon and Brodie (a Pennsylvanian couple we’d met back in Chachapoyas) for dinner.

We all retired early, ready for our 4am alarms and finally, Machu Picchu the following morning…



* The train from Ollantaytambo to Aguas Calientes (a return ticket) set us back $118.00 US ($57.00 one way, $61.00 the other) each (for a roughly 1 hour & 40 minute journey).

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15 Responses to The Road to Machu Picchu: Aguas Calientes

  1. Jibba says:

    Still enjoying your travels guys – love reading your adventures.

    News from Ballarat – warehouses all empty and will close on the 26th! (sad)

    Enjoy the rest of your journey


    • Chris says:

      Cheers Jibba. End of an era in Ballarat! We’re actually home now (as of last month), but I’ve still got plenty of stories to slowly get through!!

  2. Hi Chris: Am anxious to read your next post on Machu Picchu, as when we were in Peru, there had been a lot of heavy rain and I don’t believe the train was running. We were actually lucky we hadn’t tried to get there as someone we knew who had, was forced to stay a couple extra days in Aguas Calientes and ‘enjoy’ even more of those expensive meals!

  3. Mar Pages says:

    Trains are one of the best parts of traveling for me, but those wonton wrappers are a crime!

  4. Lauren says:

    Train travel is lovely, isn’t it! I can’t wait to read more about Machu Picchu as it’s a dream destination of mine 🙂

  5. Fried Wonton wrappers huh? this is a bit off, but hey, not every adventure turns out like how we want it to be, looking forward to your next post!

  6. Tracie Howe says:

    It’s always such a disappointment when you show up somewhere to find that the only options for food are restaurants designed for tourists. It makes you feel awfully taken advantage of when you unwillingly, yet hungrily shell out way too much money because you have to eat. Especially when the food is terrible! At least you had Machu Picchu to look forward to in the morning!!

  7. I See Bela says:

    Looking forward to reading your next Machu Picchu post!

    Oh, those fried wontons made me hungry!

  8. Stacey Valle says:

    Aguas Calientes looks beautiful! Even though the train didn’t look elegant on the outside, it still looks comfortable and not so bad inside 🙂 Fried wontons sound good too! Looking forward to Machu Picchu sounds really exciting though!

  9. A sad reminder of what over tourism does to an otherwise beautiful place and experience. There are way too many people going up Machu Picchu nowadays! I hope your experience at the actual site wasn’t as disappointing as the one in Aguas Calientes!
    Don’t let it discourage you from seeing and loving the rest of Peru! I enjoyed every single bit of my stay in the country! It has so much more to offer than the usual tourist path.
    Good luck on your travels, Chris and Sarah!

    • Chris says:

      Hi Trisha, not sure if you’ve been following, but this was the back end of nearly two months in Peru, so it certainly didn’t deter us! We loved the north especially as it was so devoid of tourists in comparison to the south!

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