R omance, nostalgia and luxury are rarely combined with more pleasing effect than on a classic railway journey. Whether you are an aficionado of trains or simply a lover of all things luxurious, Peru offers some truly breath-taking rail journeys where the panoramic vistas are only rivalled by the levels of service you will find on board these wonderfully sumptuous railway carriages. Rather conveniently it is also possible to travel on board one of these classic trains between three of Peru’s most popular destinations: Machu Picchu, Cusco and Lake Titicaca.
To most people, the name Hiram Bingham is inextricably linked to Machu Picchu as the name of the intrepid explorer who discovered the lost Inca citadel back in 1911. It is also the name of the Belmond train that transports lucky travellers on an unforgettable journey between Cusco and Aguas Calientes, or as it is now known, Machu Picchu Pueblo. Just in case you didn’t know, Belmond is the new name for Orient Express and everything about your experience on board this beautiful train lives up to what you would expect from a brand that is the very essence of luxury train travel.
From the wood panelling and shiny brass fixtures to the plush armchairs and crisp linen of the two dining cars, the Belmond Hiram Bingham positively exudes class and sophistication. Morning travellers can enjoy a brunch of local fare such as trout with Andean mint, and evening diners can satisfy their appetite with the likes of duck, ham and sacred valley steak, all served with Peruvian wines. There is a bar car where you can also listen to traditional live music, an observation car with huge windows in the sides and ceiling and a small outdoor deck for taking in the changing mountain and sub-tropical rainforest scenery. For some people the three hour journey just won’t be long enough.
From the wood panelling and shiny brass fixtures to the plush armchairs and crisp linen of the two dining cars, the Belmond Hiram Bingham positively exudes class and sophistication.
If you are staying at a Belmond hotel in Cusco such as the Monasterio, be sure to ask about a combined luxury hotel and Hiram Bingham package. Belmond is also the owner of the Sanctuary Lodge if you fancy spending the night in the only hotel within the boundaries of the Machu Picchu itself. Don’t forget that Poroy station, from where Machu Picchu-bound trains depart daily is about a twenty minute drive from central Cusco.
With prices starting at $475 one way, the Hiram Bingham is a bit of a splurge but there is a less decadent way of taking a first class train to Aguas Calientes (Machu Picchu Village) that keeps the cost down by shortening the journey rather than by scrimping on the luxury. Running daily between Aguas Calientes and the pretty Sacred Valley town of Ollantaytambo, Inca Rail’s Inca Princess is an excellent alternative if you’re staying in the valley but still want to sweep through the forest towards Machu Picchu in style.
The Inca Princess is a single first class carriage on an otherwise regular Inca Rail train. But although you may be physically coupled to a more workaday neighbour, travelling Inca Princess-style is worlds away from a regular tourist train.
The Inca Princess accommodates just eight passengers in a sophisticated ambiance of gentle background music and wood panelled walls adorned with traditional tapestries. During the one and a half our journey you can gaze at the scenery through panoramic side and ceiling windows while enjoying a chilled glass of champagne followed by a five course tasting menu accompanied by fine South American wines.
Once back in Cusco you can continue your luxury railway odyssey by climbing on board the Andean Explorer that runs three times a week from Cusco to Puno on the shores of the world’s highest navigable lake, Titicaca.
The journey takes ten hours so won’t suit you if you are in a hurry but with well-appointed carriages, fine dining and wines on offer it’s a charming way to sit back, relax and take in the varied scenery between Cusco and Lake Titicaca. If the lush river valleys, Inca ruins, windswept plains and snowy mountain peaks don’t take your breath away, then the altitude might as the train hauls passengers up to a giddy height of over 4,300 metres before descending again to Puno. Coca tea is freely available to those who are worried about adapting to the high altitude.
Lunch, afternoon tea, live music and a fashion show of traditional Peruvian attire also help to break up the journey should you tire of the unique, panoramic and sometimes other worldly views either side of the tracks.
If you do need to head back to Cusco after your lakeside adventure and don’t have time for another ten hour train ride, you’ll be glad to know that there is an airport at nearby Juliaca where regular flights with LAN will fly you back to Cusco and beyond.
While there may well be cheaper and quicker ways to travel around Peru, with trains and landscapes such as these on offer, why pass up the opportunity to enjoy a little old fashioned comfort and style and more than a hint of luxury? Go on, let the train take the strain…