But for the grace of Machu Picchu discoverer Hiram Bingham, Aguas Calientes would be just another remote, forgotten crossroads. But Bingham’s discovery in 1911, and the tourist boom decades later, forever changed the community. At just 2,050 meters (6,724 feet) above sea level, Aguas Calientes will seem downright balmy if you've just arrived from Cusco. There are but three major streets—the pedestrian only Avenida Pachacutec, which leads uphill from the Plaza de Armas to the hot springs; the Avenida Imperio de los Incas, which isn't a street at all but rather the railroad tracks where you'll find many services; and the Avenida Hermanos Ayar, where you'll find the only vehicular traffic, limited to the buses that ferry tourists to the ruins. You'll have little sense of Aguas Calientes if you do the standard day-trip from Cusco. But the cloud-forest town pulses to a very lively tourist beat with hotels, restaurants, thermal baths, and a surprising amount of activity, even after the last afternoon train has returned to Cusco. It also provides a great opportunity to wander around the high jungle, particularly welcome if you aren’t going to make it to the Amazon. Although you won’t see wildlife other than several species of hummingbirds, the flora (especially the many varieties of orchids) is worth taking a wander to see. You can find information about the easy and relatively flat walk to Mandor Waterfalls or the more intense hike up Putucusi Mountain at the local iPeru office. If possible, stay two nights in town so you can be on the first bus to Machu Picchu, take as long as you like touring the ruins, and then relax and enjoy a hot shower after a long day exploring.
Aguas Calientes (literally "hot waters") takes its name from the thermal springs that sit above town; however, we don't recommend paying a visit. The baths are not as hot as you might like nor are they up to a high level of cleanliness. Rather than take home a souvenir you'd rather not, consider visiting El MaPi Hotel's spa which is open to nonguests.