What to Do While Waiting to Go to Machu Picchu
When dreaming of visiting Machu Picchu, I always imagined being in the ruins as the sun came up in the morning over the Andes.
Peru Rail didn't agree with my dream, unless I planned to spend a night in the town of Aguas Calientes first. My friends and I took the morning train from Cuzco and arrived around lunchtime. Since there was a group of 4 of us, and we like to stay together so we can split the cost, we booked the family room at Gringo Bill's (www.gringobills.com, a short walk from the train station). The staff were great and the room was large...two separate bedrooms with a bathroom combining them.
Having most of the afternoon now to explore in and around Aguas Calientes, I searched guidebooks for recommendations. The town is quite small and there aren't any real tourist destinations. The town is merely a jumping off point for going to Machu Picchu. And one can only walk around the handicrafts market for so long.
I found an activity entry in one of the guidebooks to hike/walk to Putukusi described as "a forested rock dome" that was reached by 600 feet of wooden ladders nailed to the near-vertical cliff face. "The walk is approximately 3 hours, allowing you to arrive in leisure and get a very different photo of Machu Picchu."
There was nothing leisurely or "walk" about this hike. I'm glad I did it, but let me set your expectations correctly.
Walk along the railroad tracks towards Machu Picchu to find the trailhead for Putukusi. You'll reach the series of ladders...which probably you should be harnessed in and wearing a helmet for safety...but you're on an adventure! Live a little...and start your ascent.
There are 7 sets of these ladders, if I'm remembering and counted correctly. It was actually fun, albeit a little scary.
Now...after willing yourself to get up these series of ladders...you're far from close to the summit of Putukusi for the promised view of Machu Picchu. You've got a long, steep, series of switchbacks, that took my group about 3 hours (just for the summit, not the round-trip). Granted, I stopped to admire the vista frequently (take a breather...), but the view was worth it in the end. I mean, look at this:
Upon returning from our trek, we cleaned up and headed out to find some dinner. Let's be real here for a moment...I didn't eat at a place in Aguas Calientes that I'd recommend. Find somewhere that reasonably appeals to you...but I will tell you that you should absolutely NOT order the alpaca lasagna.
*Side note...another popular site in Aguas Calientes are the hot springs. With several dirty travelers soaking away, we decided against it since the water looked pretty gross, essentially it was a people soup...brewing away.