After a few days in Ollantaytambo, Patrick and I headed to Aguas Calientes. I had read that A.C. was a town that was under-whelming and overpriced. A place you had to be if you wanted to go to Machu Picchu, so I was prepared not to be impressed. Instead, I found the small town charming. I think a lot had to do with the scenery and knowing that we had traveled all this way to see Machu Picchu, and we were now at the foot of it. The energy and excitement was palpable for those of us who hadn’t reached our destination yet, but we knew it was hovering above us not far away.
Patrick ready to leave on the PeruRail to Machu Picchu.
There are two trains that take you to Aguas Calientes, or as the town is now called Machupicchu Pueblo, either PeruRail or Inca Rail. Patrick and I opted for the first. Train tickets are best bought ahead of time online to play it safe, just like tickets for Machu Picchu. The MP tickets can be printed out at home, but even though you purchase your train tickets online, you have to pick them up at different locations in Peru. Patrick and I got ours at the station in Ollantaytambo.
We had a quick lunch of beef empanadas and a pisco sour before getting on the train. The seats were comfortable and the large windows, even on the ceiling, were perfect so you didn’t miss any of the spectacular Andes Mountaintops as you traveled through the countryside. The change of scenery from the Sacred Valley to the start of the lush Amazonian jungles was interesting to see as well.
The train personnel wore uniforms much like you see on airlines and they too came down the aisle serving a small snack during the trip. We had tea and cookies on our way to A.C. and juice and a bag of choclo (big roasted Peruvian corn) on our way back to Olly.
We had booked a hotel right near the train/bus stop so we could be ready to catch the first bus up to Machu Picchu at 4 a.m. We left our bags in our room and went straight to the bus stop to buy our tickets. It was the only thing we couldn’t purchase ahead of time online. Afterwards, we wandered the streets of this small pueblo. The population is only 1600 and everyone lives off the tourist trade, but when you have millions of people coming through every year to visit Machu Picchu, why not?
Patrick and I had our worst meal and one of our best meals in Peru in Aguas Calientes. We had heard about a restaurant called the Tree House. It’s not really in a tree house, but you have to climb up the street to the Plaza de Armas and then climb some more to get to it. When we did, we were disappointed to see that the menu was more international than Peruvian. We decided to go somewhere else instead. Unfortunately, elsewhere was not a good choice and we would’ve probably been better off at the Tree House.
It was happy hour and all the restaurants were offering two pisco sours for the price of one. What more could anyone ask for, right? Well, a lot more than what we got. The restaurant we ended up at looked inviting, but the food was bland and the service was horrible. We should’ve known what was coming when we ordered our pisco sours and were given all four at one time. The first drink was great, but the second one was no longer chilled and the ice had watered down our drink, so it wasn’t as good as the first.
We started off with a soup and were still eating when the waitress arrived with our main course. She had both our dishes in her hands and although she could’ve set them down at the empty table next to ours, I had to help her by making room for them at ours. The same thing happened with dessert. If you’re in a hurry, this is the place to be, but Patrick and I wanted a nice leisurely dinner. The waitress, however, wasn’t having any of it. I could understand if the place was packed and she wanted to turn the tables as quickly as possible, but the restaurant was almost empty. When we got the bill, there was a 15% service charge which most Peruvian restaurants don’t include. No surprise they would do that, from the service we got, I doubt if anyone would leave them a tip otherwise.
The next day in Aguas Calientes after an entire morning and afternoon visiting Machu Picchu (more about that in my next post) we were exhausted. Our train back to Ollantaytambo wasn’t until the evening. We were tired and hungry and we didn’t care where we ate. We stopped at the first restaurant we saw and ended up having a wonderful meal. The view of the mountains and river was great and the food and service was excellent.
Their menu was both Peruvian and Mexican. I decided to try the enchiladas for my main course and I wasn’t disappointed. I didn’t even need a frozen margarita, I was more than happy with a chilled pisco sour. Patrick went for a Peruvian dish (he can’t remember what he ordered) but he too was a happy camper.
Dinner over, it was time to catch our train back to Ollantaytambo and thanks to the Red Headed Traveler (you can read more about it on her blog) we had no trouble finding the train station. No one mentions that you don’t catch the train back at the same place as you arrived. Instead, you have to go through the entire marketplace to get to the station platform for your return trip. The market is filled with all kinds of crafts, jewelry, and souvenirs so you can do your last minute shopping before you catch your train. Hmm.
Maya Muses: All in all, I think if you go to Aguas Calientes with an open mind, you’ll have a great time. Just sit back and enjoy the locals and the scenery.