Cusco: open air thermal baths
If you’re planning to visit Cusco, remember to pack your swimwear! Below we feature three places where you’ll be able to use your swimwear at the region’s best thermal baths.
Lares, the most rustic option
The Lares thermal baths are situated at 3250 meters above sea level, and the water temperature tends to vary from 36º to 44ºC. The hottest pool, fed by the main natural spring, maintains a temperature of at least 41°. The second pool is a little larger and its water temperature is around 35º C. The largest pool maintains a temperature of around 38º C. Don’t be alarmed by the yellowish color; this is due to the high content of sodium, calcium, magnesium, potassium, sulfates, iron, zinc and copper. The waters are recommended for muscular and joint pain. The pools are stone, with views of the surrounding mountains.
This is also the starting point for the Lares Trek, a hike with 2 nights’ camping in the heights above the Valley, ending at Ollantaytambo, from where Machu Picchu can be reached by train. This trekking route passes through isolated typical villages, lakes and hillsides where llama herds graze. You’ll find more information here: “3 Alternatives Treks To The Inca Trail”
Getting there: If you’re leaving from Cusco, you’ll need to travel to the town of Calca in the Sacred Valley, passing through Pisac along the way. This takes around 90 minutes. From there, you’ll find transport every morning from Calca to Lares. The thermal baths are situated around 300 meters above the village. Keep in mind the following key phrases: “paradero para Calca” in Cusco and “paradero para Lares” once you’re in Calca. These are the places where you can catch shared taxis or buses.
Entrance fee: S/10 soles; open daily from 5:00 a.m. to 11:00 p.m.
It is possible to camp for just S/7 soles or use the basic accommodation at the thermal baths for S/50 soles.
Santa Teresa, the most pleasant
Cocalmayo has without doubt the region’s most beautiful thermal baths; the waters are clear and the pools are made from natural stones, preserving the rustic charm of the location. You’ll find three large pools in which the temperature varies between 38 and 44 ºC. You’ll be able to bathe in a natural open air shower and enjoy several waterfalls. It’s absolutely delightful! The cabins are very basic, which is the only drawback. They are also very popular. Santa Teresa is the starting point for hikers setting off on the Inca Jungle Trek. It is also possible to travel to Santa Teresa by minivan or shared taxi from Cusco (take the services that go as far as the Hydro-electric station), and when returning from Machu Picchu travelers can choose to walk from Aguas Calientes or take the train. For more information about this route, see “Machu Picchu: An Alternative Route”
Getting there: The thermal baths are located 4 kilometers from the town of Santa Teresa. Shared taxis leave every 20 minutes from the main square in Santa Teresa, for the 10 minute ride to Cocalmayo.
Entrance cost: S/10 soles; open daily from 5:00 a.m. to 11:00 p.m.
There is basic accommodation in Santa Teresa and lodges along the route.
Aguas Calientes, the most touristy
Above the town of Aguas Calientes (situated directly below the ruins of Machu Picchu), visitors will find a series of popular thermal pools. There are several square pools, with temperatures ranging from 38° to 46°C. The sulfur content means the water is not clear, but the pools are clean. However, afternoons can be very busy, and it’s probably best to go in the mornings. For example, if you follow our tips, you’ll visit Machu Picchu in the afternoon (Machu Picchu: AM or PM?) when there are fewer people, and the following morning, before leaving, you can enjoy some time at the thermal baths. The concrete structures slightly spoil the charm of the place, but there are showers, cabins, a bar (with service at the pools) and views towards the forested mountains.
Getting there: 15 minutes along Avenida Pachacútec, which crosses the town from the main square.
Entrance cost: S/10 soles; open daily from 5:00 a.m. to 8:00 p.m.