Everyone who goes to Aguas Calientes with the intention of visiting Machu Picchu. Who wouldn’t, right?
Well, there’s more there than the world famous Inca ruins and I may be the only person besides locals who goes there to explore other places. (Even local people are shocked when I say visit without going to MP.)
One place is actually in town, but almost no one knows about it and only a handful visit each day. The other is passed by hundreds of people every day hiking in on the “backdoor” Santa Teresa/hidroelectrica route, yet I’ve only seen two people there. The third is the most interesting and significant, but almost no one knows about it.
The River Intihuatana
The “River Intihuatana” as it’s commonly referred to by academics and explorers is one of the most important Inca sites in the region and is almost never visited.
Despite being nearly 8 miles from Aguas Calientes, this is my favorite place to go in the area. Finding it is difficult as it is unmarked and major sections are hidden in the jungle. The historical importance of the site has only recently been evaluated, but it’s significant relationship to Machu Picchu and the surrounding sites is undeniable.
This Intihuatana is also one of only a handful of surviving Intihuatanas (sacred carved ceremonial stones) which avoided destruction by the Spanish and the only one not located in a high position over a major Inca site.
You can read more about my explorations of the site here.
Los Jardines de Mandor
I hate to admit that, like hundreds of people each day, I walked past the Gardens quite a few times despite being only about an easy hour’s hike along the railroad tracks from Aguas Calientes.
Needless to say, I am glad that I finally made the time to visit as it was a wonderful opportunity to hike through the high jungle and view some lovely scenery including two waterfalls along the way.
Getting to Los Jardines is easy. Just head along the road towards Machu Picchu then at the bridge going up to MP, climb to the train station above and follow well worn trail along the tracks until you reach km 114.3. (This spot is often used by the railroads to change cars so there are a number of tracks and probably some railroad cars will be parked there when you visit.)
[Note: Be sure to stay off the tracks at all times as this is a fairly busy route. People have been killed along this rail line.]
You can buy a ticket at the reception building on the river side of the tracks. The cost is 10 soles ($3 US) for foreigners and 5 soles ($1.50 US) for Peruvians and residents. Once you have your ticket and wrist band, you can head up the trail on the opposite side of the tracks.
It’s a very pretty walk up a single out-and-back trail. The place is obviously still being prepared, but don’t let that stop you from visiting. If you’re into tropical plants, they have a lot of trees and shrubs — especially flowering plants — growing along the path and marked with their names.
I’m not much into plants and flowers, but I still find it interesting to learn about them and the flowers are incredibly beautiful as you’d expect in the jungle.
The two waterfalls are interesting, though I visited during the “dry” season hence they were undoubtedly nowhere near as spectacular as they must be during the summer months. You can even climb to the top of the first waterfall, though I passed up the climb this time as I’d already climbed up to Machu Picchu that morning.
The trail is wide and an easy walk with numerous spots to stop and relax. I wish I could have climbed past the final waterfall. I’m certain there are more ruins above, but that will also have to wait for another time.
This spot is actually reached on the edge of Aguas Calientes pueblo itself, but I’ve never seen anyone but locals visiting and the few who do visit appear to find out about it from advice from their lodging.
I found it purely by accident while exploring the non-tourist part of the town and it’s hard to explain how to get there. Of course, you can ask any resident and they can point you in the right direction. (Basically, you go to the highest, farthest right corner of town and you’ll see the entrance where the sidewalk ends at the stream.)
You do have to climb up along the stream for about 5-10 minutes before you reach the official entrance, but it’s an easy and pretty climb through the jungle along the stream. Just be careful when climbing the wooden stairs at the start. While steady, they are steep and the steps are a bit small.
Entrance costs 10 soles ($3 US) for foreigners and 5 soles ($1.50 US) for Peruvians and residents.
The waterfalls, even in the “dry” season, are very beautiful and there are numerous opportunities for photos and selfies. If you have any extra time at all in Aguas Calientes when not visiting Machu Picchu, this is a highly recommended spot to fill an hour or so.