Nestled in Peru’s Cuzco region, in the Urubamba Province, Aguas Calientes (Spanish for “Hot Waters”) is the seat of the historic Machu Picchu District. The land was originally settled by farmers. In the early 1900s, it was transformed into a busy railway workers’ camp without knowledge of the nearby ancient Incan mountainside sanctuary that sat just 3.7 miles away. The little town perched high in the mountains remained largely unnoticed until it became a tourist destination in the 1970s. When you charter a flight to the isolated Peruvian cloud-forest pueblo, you’ll feel as if you’re a world away.
Belmond Sanctuary Lodge Machu Picchu
A luxurious all-inclusive retreat, the upscale Belmond Sanctuary Lodge places you closest to the Lost City’s ancient ruins than any other accommodation in the area. It’s the only place where you can sit in a hot tub, sip on traditional pisco sours and watch the sun set over the ruins long after the last tourist bus has departed. Book a suite for its spellbinding mountain views.
Inkaterra Machu Picchu Pueblo Hotel
A Relais & Châteaux property just five minutes from the center of town, Inkaterra is an eco-conscious accommodation resembling and Andean village set in a 12-acre cloud forest. The property is home to 214 bird species (including the golden-headed quetzal) and the world’s largest native orchid collection with 372 registered species. Lodging prices include in-house excursions. Be sure to upgrade to a Villa Inkaterra suite for its private terrace and plunge pool overlooking a lush garden.
If you consider yourself a foodie, Qunuq Restaurant in the Sumaq Machu Picchu Hotel is a must. The restaurant rivals the finest dining experiences in Lima and offers the best in Andean fusion, which features Spanish, Chinese, Japanese, African, and Peruvian flavor influences, as well as innovative touches. Try a bit of everything with the six-course degustation menu.
Chullpi Machupicchu Restaurante
A local restaurant on Avenida Imperio de los Incas (Imperial Avenue of the Incans), Chullpi Machu Picchu Restaurante is hailed as having the best traditional Peruvian cuisine in the area. You’ll find it hidden along the tracks that take you out of town. Chullpi’s chefs insist on supporting local economies by using regional ingredients while incorporating the area’s history into their beautifully presented plates. Because portion sizes may be smaller than expected, Chullpi fans recommend ordering at least two courses or trying the 6-, 10- or 15-course tasting menu.
No trip to Aguas Calientes is complete without journeying on the Inca Trail to the ruins of Machu Picchu, which is less than four miles away. The trail follows a stone-stepped path to the famous citadel. Because of the area’s high altitude and ascent to the ruins, the trail is moderately challenging. As you make your way toward the trail, you’ll encounter the Manuel Chávez Ballón Museum. It takes about 1 hour and 30 minutes to reach Machu Picchu on foot from Aguas Calientes. Many hikers recommend acclimating to the high altitude (spending at least 24 hours at every 2,000-foot increase in altitude) before trekking along the Inca Trail to prevent altitude sickness. Buses to the ruins are also available.
The MercadoArtesanal(craft market) lines the streets between the bus stop and train station with stalls filled with handmade products and souvenirs you may not find anywhere else in the country. The colorful handicrafts have a special emphasis on items made from soft alpaca wool.