Imagine the most touristy town you can possibly think of, where every five feet is another gift shop and the only purpose is to get people to buy souvenirs. Then multiply that by about a thousand, and you have Agua Calientes. Agua Calientes is a relatively small town. It was built in the valley beneath Machu Picchu, and grew as a result of the popularity of the site. The buses to Machu Picchu leave from there, and so everyone who wants to see Machu Picchu has no choice but to travel through Agua Calientes.
There are dozens of hotels, ranging from nice expensive ones to hostels meant for backpackers. Ours was a pretty nice one, all the way at the edge of the town. Right outside our hotel was the train tracks for the PeruRail, the train that took us to Agua Calientes from Ollantaytambo. That meant that, every so often, the train would come through the town, blaring its horn as loudly as physically possible. The train tracks were basically a road through the town, with shops and restaurants flanking them on either side.
There were also dozens of restaurants. Most of the buildings in Agua Calientes (and most of the buildings in Peru) are squeezed tightly together, and the restaurants often were two or three floors instead of a big, one-floor dining room like we’re used to in the United States. The restaurants here were a bit more varied, too. Steve and Vanessa found a little French place that served sandwiches and pastries that had some of the best food I’ve had in Peru (as a vegetarian and a pretty picky eater, it’s hard for me to find food like I like).
Agua Calientes, as a town meant specifically for tourists, also had a huge market, as well as little shops dotted everywhere that sold souvenirs. After we went to lunch at the French restaurant, Delilah came with me to look for gifts for my sisters, and in about one minute we had already found two souvenir shops. The market was like a flea market, with stalls set up in rows and narrow little paths in between for the shoppers to walk. They had everything a tourist could want – scarves (“100% baby alpaca!”), Andean cross necklaces, magnets, headbands, little statues, laptop stickers, coffee mugs, everything. Agua Calientes is basically heaven for tourists and compulsive shoppers.