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Helicopter from Aguas Calientes to Cusco
   Hélène and Cees, Peru may 2000

Heli Cuzco

Hélène and I made this helicopter flight from Aguas Calientes to Cusco, Peru in may 2000. The helicopter is an MI-17MT and the flight is run by Heli-Cusco. We arrrived by train from Cusco and stayed in Aguas Calientes for two nights. We spent a whole day in Machu Pichu and we both climbed all the way to the top of Wayna Pichu. It is a hell of a climb, we almost died going up and down ancient incan steps. But we made it to the top and had one of the most spectacular sights we ever experienced.

In order to go to Machu Picchu you have to take either the train or the helicopter. For the train service you must go to San Pedro Train Station, operated by Peru Rail. The secondary entrance to the station is the most accessible one; it is also the entrance for vehicles. There is a fixed ramp of steep grade between the street and the platform where you board the trains. Public restrooms are large, with doors 31.4 inches (0.80 m) wide but do not have toilet stalls adapted for people who use wheelchairs.

The other option is the Helicopter service that leaves from the Cusco Airport and it’s operated by Heli Cusco. To board the helicopter at the Velasco Astete Airport of Cusco, it is recommended that one use the craft’s back door, which opens wide to load and unload cargo and is useful for people in wheelchairs. The trip to Aguas Calientes takes about 25 minutes and from the window one can see various Inca archaeological sites as well as appreciate the microclimates that exist between the Andes of Cusco and Machu Picchu’s area which borders the rainforest. The helicopter lands on a small esplanade between the Vilcanota River and the railroad tracks. The place has no paved roads to take you to the village, located about half a mile (800 m) away.

Heli CuzcoOne must walk next to the railway through a roadbed that at its narrowest part 35.4 inches (0.90 m) wide and at its widest points, 9.1-ft. (3 m) wide. Normally, there are people who are willing to help with the luggage in exchange for a tip. Aguas Calientes is a city located in the district of Machu Picchu, province of Urubamba, department of Cusco. Within the western spring of the Vilcanota Mountains, limited by the Apurimac and Urubamba rivers. It’s Altitude is: 7,920 ft. (2,400 meters) above sea level, and it’s average temperature: 55ºF/13ºC. Rainy season is from November to March. From Aguas Calientes you will take the bus service to the Historical Sanctuary of Machu Picchu. which travels along the Hiram Bingham road, named in honor of the discover who found the so-called “lost city” in 1911. Buses have narrow doorways and no special system to board wheelchairs, so a person must be lifted from his/her own chair, carried up the steps and placed in the vehicle’s seat. The citadel’s visiting hours are : Monday to Sunday, 6:00 to 17:30.

The Inca citadel of Machu Picchu has been appointed by UNESCO as a Cultural and Natural Mankind Heritage Monument. There are more than 300 bird species and almost 200 classes of orchids registered in the Sanctuary. Although the Historical Sanctuary of Machu Picchu cannot be modified because it is Mankind Heritage, it can be visited mostly thanks to the help of trained people. Do not feel discouraged with the thirteen steps leading to the ticket counter, as most areas of the archaeological site are only accessible by climbing numerous stone steps.

A good part of the road is easier thanks to the existence of irrigation terraces, made for agricultural purposes and typical of the ancient Peruvians. One of the most impressive zones that can be visited with help from the trained staff is the Temple of the Three Windows, which offers a panoramic view of the citadel. Outside the archaeological site, there is the Machu Picchu Sanctuary Lodge hotel, with restaurant and cafeteria. The park’s public restrooms are not accessible. There is a medical office for visitors next to the ticket counter.

The visit to this archaeological site is absolutely advisable. Due to its extreme historical and natural beauty, it is considered one of the world’s wonders. The visit to Machu Picchu is something that nobody ever forgets. I’ve had the privilege of being there 7 times, twice using a wheelchair. Last year we climbed up to the top and for the first time in my life I had the opportunity to see the “Intihuatana” or Solar Clock. This clock is a huge one piece stone that is loaded with energy and will make you vibrate when you touch it. It’s the most emblematic landmark of the citadel.

If you decide to stay and spend the night there you have the wonderful Machu Picchu Sanctuary Lodge. This hotel is located in a breathtaking area a few feet away from the Inca citadel of Machu Picchu. The hotel has 32 rooms, none of which are especially adapted for people in wheelchairs. All rooms are on the second floor and the hotel has no elevator (19 steps). Some rooms have a door 30.3 inches (0.77 m) wide. The telephones have luminous signals and the light controls are reachable from the bed. The restaurant and cafeteria are accessible with help. The access from the parking area is up a steep ramp. This is a full service restaurant that has a buffet as well. Public restrooms are not accessible.

If you decide to spend the night in the Aguas Calientes you can stay at Hatuchay Tower. This is a 3-star hotel with a total of 42 rooms located in front of the Urubamba River. It offers beautiful views of the hills surrounding the citadel of Machu Picchu. It is the only hotel in the area with an elevator. It does not have an accessible entrance because between the road and the main door there are eight steps. Furthermore, from this entrance to the lobby there are five other steps. However, there are movable wooden ramps that provide a steep grade but there are always people who will offer their help. Between the main entrance and the reception counter, there is a restaurant and a small living room. Standard rooms have doors 30.3 inches wide (0.77 m.). Although the bathrooms are spacious and have enough room to maneuver a wheelchair, the doors are only 24.4 inches wide (0.62 m); therefore, they are not accessible for people in wheelchairs. Junior suites are bigger rooms but the bathrooms are similar to those of the standard rooms. With regard to public areas, the bar and the Internet booths are accessible without any help. The restaurant is accessible with help and does not have accessible public restrooms.

In Aguas Calientes you can have a couple different dining options. For names, descriptions and specific access information go to the Access-Able Database.

Before dinner you can visit the Handicraft Market that is located at the bus station in Aquas Calientes, the handicraft market offers all kinds of handicrafts and handmade products. There is enough room between the stands and their height allows one to easily view the merchandise from a wheelchair. The road surface is unpaved. You could also finish your stay at Aguas Calientes by visiting the Thermal Baths. These baths are located half a mile (800 m.) away from the village of Aguas Calientes are said to have medicinal properties.

The village takes its name from these sulfurous waters coming from a rocky underground. There is a steep trail with stairs on the edge of the hills to get there. The road starts at the village of Aguas Calientes and along this walk with steep slope there are series of lively pubs and restaurants where the hospitality of the local inhabitants can be enjoyed, as well as conversations with visitors from all over the world. Due to the difficult access, thermal baths are not accessible for people using wheelchairs, though people with other disabilities can enjoy a comforting bath in warm waters that come up to the surface naturally. The City Hall of Aguas Calientes has built special facilities, such as dressing rooms, public restrooms and cafeteria.

If you’re going to take the train back to Cusco you will have to go to the Aguas Calientes Train Station, operated by Peru Rail. The main entrance to the train station is not accessible (40 steps) but one can get to the station through the access route of the trains located at the km 110 of the railway (next to Café Amazónico). There is a small fixed cement ramp leading to the station’s platforms. There are no audiovisual information systems and public restrooms at the station are not accessible for people in wheelchairs. The station has one floor and the boarding gates are all on the same level. There are usually wheelchairs available for the passengers. There is no boarding system to the trains for people with limited physical mobility and/or people using wheelchairs. Use of portable ramps is possible and there is space for a wheelchair in the first class coach. There are several train services and it takes about four hours to travel from Aguas Calientes to Cusco.