Trains to Machu Picchu

Imperio de los Incas, Santuario Historico Machu Picchu, Aguas Calientes, Peru

The Hiram Bingham, named after the U.S. archaeologist who rediscovered Machu Picchu in 1910 and brought it to world attention, is the famous train to the site. The historic engine, part of the Belmond train collection, pulls out of Cusco (Poroy) station at 9 a.m. every day but Sunday and arrives at Aguas Calientes, the village at the base of Machu Picchu, just after noon. The return train departs from Machu Picchu daily (except Sundays) at 5:45 p.m., allowing day visitors a good four hours of exploration (not counting the half-hour bus ride from the village to the site entrance), and included in the cost of the train ticket are the services of an official guide who accompanies each small group, as well as tea at the Sanctuary Lodge, brunch on the way to the site and a four-course dinner preceded by cocktails on the way back. Each passenger is assigned a seat in one of the antique-style dining cars, where tables are set with flowers, heavy linens and silverware. Extravagant meals are served on each journey, and many passengers choose to spend non-meal times in the observation car (just behind the bar car), whose large windows permit great views of the passing scenery. As the tracks wind through the Sacred Valley, past small villages and farms and finally into the cloud forest before Machu Picchu, you are treated to a view of mesmerizing landscapes that progress from dramatic mountains to rushing rivers to lush valleys, to jungles with waterfalls, to orchids and even glimpses of ruins.

The cars of the Hiram Bingham are the plushest in which to travel these train tracks, but there are other fine options. For instance, the Vistadome train, named for its panoramic windows, departs several times daily; though not gleaming or outfitted with uniformed waiters, it is perfectly comfortable and is at least a quarter of the price of the Hiram Bingham. It also has more departures, so those who have stayed at the Sanctuary Lodge, for instance, and may not want to spend another full day at Machu Picchu but would like to explore other sites in the valley (the Vistadome stops at Ollantaytambo) can leave earlier. An Indagare editor notes that on her trip on the Vistadome, the train played traditional Andean flute music loudly for the entire ride and also had the staff perform a fashion show dressed in native garb. The Hiram Bingham and the Vistadome trains do NOT return directly to Cusco, but to Poroy, so if you’re staying in Cusco, you’ll have to take a car or taxi back into town. There’s also a budget train service operated by Peru Rail called The Backpacker.

Tip: None of the trains allow large duffle bags or suitcases on board. Be sure to bring smaller carry-on sized luggage, which you can pack the night before and send the rest of your luggage on to your next destination (another reason an Indagare arranged itinerary is key).

Written by Indagare

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