Some people say that planning a trip is almost as much fun as the actual trip itself. And it’s especially fun planning a trip to a long-anticipated destination such as Machu Picchu. And so our research began: what would be the best way to get there, how could we make this a truly unique experience, given that we only had a couple of days in our itinerary to fit this? The answer was clear: board a train to enjoy breathtaking views on your trip to Machu Picchu. Preferably in one of the world’s luxury trains: the Belmond Hiram Bingham train. And so we did… here’s our account.
The Belmond Hiram Bingham Train: Indiana Jones meets Agatha Christie
For our Andean explorations, we chose Cusco, the region’s capital and capital of the Inca empire from the 13th to the 16th century as our home base. During the rainy season Belmond, the hotel chain and operator of the Hiram Bingham Train service, runs a so-called ‘bi-modal’ service. This means that the first part of the journey from Cusco train station to the Belmond Hotel Rio Sagrado, where our train awaited us, is by private mini-bus. From there to Machu Picchu is by train.
Little did we know that our luxury adventure started upon check-in at Cusco train station. A porter took our luggage and we were greeted in style in a VIP lounge with coffee, croissants, bottles of water and an Andean must, coca leaf tea. live music and dance. I cannot confirm nor deny that we might even have joined the dancers in their colorful traditional outfits for a whirl!
During the 2.5 hour drive, a knowledgeable guide on our comfortable minivan shared lots of interesting facts about the region and its rich history. The porter that traveled with us served tea as we had the chance to stretch the legs and take pictures of the dramatic scenery on two 15 minute stops. All in all the trip passed before we knew it and soon we were greeted at the Belmond Hotel Rio Sagrado’s train stop with delicious bites and fresh juices.
Boarding the Luxury Train
Named after the American explorer who (re-)discovered Machu Picchu in 1911, the Hiram Bingham train consists of beautiful 1920’s style carriages, a bar and lounge car and an observation car. The décor immediately takes you back to the glory days of first-class train travel, when distinguished gentlemen and elegant ladies made conversation over classic cocktails and a restaurant quality meal. The white tablecloths, shiny silverware, plush seats, mahogany wood and carpet, and waiters in immaculate vests and bowties will make you feel like you have walked straight into an Agatha Christie novel.
As the chefs prepare lunch, travelers are invited for drinks at the bar, and of course to enjoy the views from the adjacent observation car with its balcony and panoramic roof. As if the freshly made Pisco sours at the bar did not get us on our feet, a live, three-man band in the observation car got passengers swinging to classic and current tunes. They had me dancing as they sang “Despacito” with a Peruvian twist!
The pace of the train is ideal to take it all in; the carriages making their way past steep, stunning rock formations, gorges, towns and the changing vegetation as we get closer and closer to Machu Picchu town. The anticipation of going on our own discovery of the 15th Century Incan Citadel grows as we receive details on the private tour that is included in the train ticket.
To spoil us even more, a delicious gourmet lunch is served on board. A starter with smoked trout and a Peruvian corn tamal is the perfect opening for this decadent meal. Followed by a succulent cut of beef and a sweet ending of a corn cheesecake. We love to keep it local and the South American wines that come with the meal were spot on, but you can always splurge some more and enjoy a bottle from a neat wine list at an additional charge. (Water, soft drinks, beer are of course also available and included)
As we enjoy the coffee and tea service, the train is getting closer to our destination and we’re getting pretty sad. I was chatting with a fellow guest from Houston and we both concluded that we wanted to stay in this magical ride just a bit longer.
The Belmond Hiram Bingham is not cheap, with tickets around $500 one way depending on which time of the day and season you purchase. Was it worth it? Absolutely. If you have the budget and want to treat yourself to decadent luxury, this is the experience. We returned with Vistadome, the lower priced option from Peru Rail. Although it is not as luxurious as the Belmond Hiram Bingham, we felt just as spoiled with the immaculate service. For more information on how to book, head to Peru Rail.
We were looking for a unique experience in our quest to travel to Machu Picchu and the Belmond Hiram Bingham train has given us just that, what an unforgettable ride! We’re keeping it real: there are cheaper ways to make the trip from Cusco and back but this is a superb and very memorable part of our Peruvian adventure. From start to finish the Hiram Bingham train delivers top service, allowing you to fully enjoy the food, the drinks, the views, and the fact that you are on one of the world’s premier luxury trains.