This article was written by Maureen Santucci. Originally from the U.S., Maureen now calls the ancient Peruvian capital of Cusco home, where she has lived for almost five years, working as a travel consultant and writing for Fodors Travel Guide. She wrote this article on behalf of Peru for Less, a travel company specializing in tours all over Peru.
If you don't have time to get to the beaches of Northern Peru or to the jungle, you might want to take a short side trip to Santa Teresa while you are visiting Machu Picchu. Located a short train ride from Aguas Calientes (Machu Picchu Pueblo), this town give you the opportunity to get away from it all without having to go too far off your designated path.
Not many options exist yet in terms of lodging, but that is sure to change in the future. For now, your best bet is the EcoQuechua Lodge. It feels like a true jungle lodge, with rooms that open out onto the surrounding high jungle. There isn't a lot of wildlife here, as you would find in the Amazon, but there are plenty of birds and it is a real treat to wake up to the sounds of them singing all around you.
Just staying at the lodge can be enough of a break, but there are other activities nearby that you can take advantage of. The nearby Colcamayo hot springs are one of the best around—a much better option than the hot springs in Aguas Calientes, the name of the town (Hot Waters) notwithstanding—with pools of varying temperature so you can enjoy searing hot Jacuzzi-like waters or just swim in those that are warm rather than hot. Bear in mind that they are closed a couple of times a week (currently two mornings) for cleaning so be sure to find out the current schedule ahead of time before taking a taxi to the springs.
Adrenaline junkies should try the nearby a zipline, while coffee lovers can take a tour of the coffee plantation. The organic beans from this high jungle region are considered to be among the best in the entire world. It's not just interesting to learn about the process, bags of the ground coffee or beans make great presents to take home.
If hiking is your thing, a visit to a coffee plantation can be followed by continuing up an old Inca trail to the archaeological site of Llactapata. This site has a direct line of sight to Machu Picchu, and was important in Inca times during solstice celebrations honoring the sun. If your time or physical fitness isn't up to a multi-day trek, this is a great way to get that same vibe and still have a hot shower and a comfortable bed at the end of your day.
Please note that there are only a few trains that go between Aguas Calientes and the hydroelectric station each day, and you can only purchase the tickets at the respective stations. Because of the limited train schedules, you should booking your travel with an agency as they will be able to coordinate your Machu Picchu visit along with Santa Teresa so that you make the most of your available vacation time.