Though Machu Picchu is its more famous attraction, the hot springs in Aguas Calientes are actually where the small town gets its name. We had some extra time during the day we spent there, so we were looking for other things to do in Aguas Calientes, Peru. Aside from eating and shopping, there really isn’t much, but the Aguas Calientes hot springs are a great way to kill a couple of hours. They’re especially great if you have sore muscles from hiking the Inca Trail or need to relax after climbing around Machu Picchu.
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Our visit to the hot springs in Aguas Calientes
The best part of the Aguas Calientes hot springs has to be the setting. The lush, green mountains surrounding them are spectacular and we couldn’t have asked for better scenery to relax in. The walk in from the entrance gate is beautiful too – you follow a rushing stream called the Río Aguas Calientes that’s flowing toward town – and really sets the scene for the actual baths. There are also a few carvings that depict animals who were important to the Incas with some informational signs to read along the way.
Once you make it to the hot springs, you enter through the main building. There’s even a bar on site, so you can take a break from the water and enjoy a drink or two while relaxing in its very hippie atmosphere. Free locker rentals are included with your admission, so you can leave your valuables with an attendant. There are plenty of bathrooms and changing stalls available for both men and women. You can’t enter the pool area unless you’re wearing proper swim attire, so make sure you bring a bathing suit. You also have to shower before entering the pools, so be sure to spray off before your get in. I spent some time searching the bathroom and changing area for them to no avail – they’re outside right by the pools, so just head down and you’ll find them around the corner of the building. The water here is warm enough, but if you’re really looking for hot water, there are some more showers near the pools furthest away from the entrance that come out piping hot.
The first pool is cold so we stayed as far away from that one as possible. I’m told that it’s good for sore muscles, but since we took the easy route to Aguas Calientes and sat our butts on a train, we had no need for icy cold water. Also, I’m pretty sure the only way you could get me into an ice bath is if that was literally the only way to save my life. The good news is that the pools are labeled with their temperatures, so you won’t accidentally step into the cold one without realizing it – at least not if you’re paying attention. The further you get from the building, the warmer the pools are.
We stashed our towels on one of the shelves next to the pools and set up shop in the furthest one from the building, which clocked in at a little under 100 degrees Fahrenheit. It was a decently warm day in the upper 60s, so we were comfortable, but it might be chilly if the air temperature was a little cooler. My biggest complaint was that the pool we were in didn’t really have any benches to sit on. I’m used to being able to sit down in a hot tub and relax, but had to sort of hover-float here because the water didn’t quite come up to my shoulders and I needed to be in up to my neck to stay warm.
The other thing to note is that the water is not pretty. I’d read beforehand that it was slightly murky and smelled of sulfur and that was pretty accurate. It’s also vaguely yellow, making for a slightly icky first impression. I was envisioning the smell being worse since I’ve visited hot springs in Yellowstone and Iceland, but the sulfur odor was actually pretty mild. The murky yellowish water is definitely a little off-putting though. It’s a natural characteristic of the hot springs water, so it’s nothing to worry about and once you’re in it really shouldn’t bother you.
Getting to the hot springs in Aguas Calientes
I was a little concerned about navigating there because there doesn’t appear to be an official website for the Aguas Calientes hot springs and the articles I found about them were a little vague in their directions, but they ended up being super easy to find – though that’s partially because the town itself is so tiny. We were staying at a hotel near the main square and it took us a little less than fifteen minutes to walk there, though most of the way was uphill. If you’re looking for GPS directions, search for the banos termales and you’ll be able to navigate there.
You can also find your way fairly easily without GPS. Make sure you’re on the side of the Río Aguas Calientes (that’s the smaller river that flows into the Urubamba in the middle of town) across from the train station also known as the north side if you’re like me and prefer actual directions. The Avenida Hermanos Ayar runs right along the Río Aguas Calientes, and if you just follow that away from town, heading east first and then northeast, you’ll end up right at the ticket booth. You can also follow the Avenida Pachacutec, which runs the same direction slightly further from the river. And it has stairs!
How much does it cost to visit the hot springs in Aguas Calientes?
The most thorough write-up I was able to find about the Aguas Calientes hot springs claimed that it cost 10 soles for foreigners to visit. When we showed up, it was actually 20 soles each, which is still pretty reasonable when converted to USD. Peruvian nationals and locals pay significantly less. Since there doesn’t appear to be any official website for the hot springs, I’d plan on paying 20 soles and bring a little extra cash just in case the rate has gone up since my visit in November 2018.
What to bring to the Aguas Calientes hot springs
There are a few requirements for visiting the thermal baths here. We took the Avenida Pachacutec route mentioned in the directions section above, and it was interesting seeing the shops lining the street/stairs slowly evolve. The ones closest to the town square had all of your classic Peru souvenirs aka the same exact “handcrafted” hats, sweaters, scarves, and gloves we’d seen in every market stall in the Cusco region. As we got closer and closer to the hot springs, the stores started advertising things like flip flops, towels, bathing suits – all of which you could either rent or buy. Or you could come prepared with these items:
- A bathing suit. I wore my trusty favorite that I take everywhere because it’s my favorite color and actually holds everything in when swimming. [awesome men’s pineapple print option here]
- A towel. I brought a micro towel to save space in my backpack, but you could go with a regular beach towel as well.
- Flip flops. We wore our hiking boots for the walk up because I hate walking in flip flops, but you’ll definitely want a pair of flip flops for the changing rooms and bathrooms at the hot springs. [men’s version here] The changing rooms were clean, but I still found myself standing in a puddle of water that dripped off of someone else’s body while I put my clothes back on, so yeah, bring flip flops.
When to visit the Aguas Calientes hot springs
The hot springs are open from 5 am-8 pm every day of the week, so you should definitely be able to fit a visit in before or after Machu Picchu. I’d recommend a visit during daylight hours just so you can enjoy the view of the mountains around you. The hot springs are open year round, though they’re outdoors, so you’re affected by the weather if it’s cold or storming. Even in a light drizzle, you may still want to go since you’ll be getting wet in the pools anyway, but they likely won’t be hot enough to keep you warm for long in chilly weather.
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