By Road and Rail in Peru
Becca, a former JLA staff in our flights team, recently returned from a top notch trip to Peru. Here she shares her experience of a typical airport transfer in Cusco, the unique, glass-roofed Vistadome train and the sumptuous, luxury Belmond Hiram Bingham train journey.
A simple, stress free transfer from Cusco airport out to the renowned Sacred Valley:
Immediately after leaving the airport at Cusco there is an explosion of colour. Ladies in woollen skirts of the brightest blues and reds, rainbow coloured shawls and an array of headgear sit at the side of the street selling their wares, chatting to friends or just watching the world go by. Men hurry along, carrying huge sacks of produce on their backs, the size of which often defies belief! There are market stalls packed high with exotic fruits of every colour imaginable. The houses are brightly painted in all colours – adverts for Inka Kola, Coca Cola, Cuzquena Beer cover entire buildings. The city of Cusco is spread ahead of you; its famous red roofs dot the sides of the mountain. As you progress through to the outskirts of the city, snaking through narrow streets, the colours of the city are still everywhere. Small shops, schools and tightly packed houses line the route and the local people in their national dress smile as you drive past.
As you leave the city behind, the landscape opens up into fields of red soil. Small clusters of people can be seen working the land, or sitting on colourful blankets enjoying a meal together. Dogs sleep by the side of the road, cows work the ancient ploughs. The mighty and majestic Andes surround you, the rich greens, browns and reds a sweeping contrast to the white snowy summits. The vastness of the landscape can feel overwhelming as you wind your way through the valley. Houses and villages pass by in a splash of colour. Children impeccably dressed in school uniform walk through fields to join their families, dogs trotting along behind them. The pace of life feels gentle and unrushed.
As you descend further into the valley you will see the fast running Urubamba river. The water appears almost red in parts due to the richness of the soil as it cuts through the landscape. The town of the same name spreads out below you, red roofs and colourful buildings a contrast against the green mountains.
The Vistadome - glass roofed train ride - from Ollantaytambo to Macchu Picchu:
Arriving at the station in Ollantaytambo is about as far removed from any London station as possible. The car park is near empty, a man in national dress is playing some soothing tunes on the pan pipes in the corner and a lady is serving coffee with a smile. There’s an air of excitement as passengers await the arrival of the train. As it pulls into the station, tourists cameras start clicking and a sea of Peru Rail staff seem to appear from nowhere to ensure a speedy and stress free embarkation.
On board the very comfortable Vistadome we’re advised that the best views are on the left side of the train. The crew are friendly and professional. As we pull out of the station, they explain that we’ll be following the mighty Urubamba river as we make our way to the lost ancient citadel of Macchu Picchu.
Within minutes the crew arrive with a trolley of goodies for us – pancakes, fruit, flan, coffee, Muna tea. All served on a linen tablecloth and with real crockery and cutlery. We rumble through the valley, enjoying both our refreshments and the magnificent views of the river – raging in some places, calmer in others. It changes from green to brown to a deep red colour as the landscape around it alters. We spot the start of the Inca trail, and a group of excited walkers about to begin their adventure. We pass fields and see families working the land. The landscape becomes denser as we approach Machu Picchu village and the start of the Peruvian jungle.
The calm is replaced by bustle, colour and noise as we arrive at the train station in Aguascalientes and are led through a lively market towards the buses that are to take us up the mountain to the Citadel. After a short, but well organised wait we board the bus and drive across the river and up the winding road. The hairpin bends are smoothly executed by the very experienced drivers and us passengers are left to gawp at the amazing, enormous vista of mountain upon mountain upon mountain. It doesn’t seem real.
Finally the elegant Belmond Hiram Bingham train from Machu Picchu to Poroy:
The Hiram Bingham station waiting room is an oasis of calm after an exhausting but exhilarating day at Machu Picchu. Smartly dressed waiters offer heated flannels and glasses of sparkling wine, and lead you to your seat in the comfortable room. There is a buzz of excitement as people swap stories about their day and compare photographs.
Boarding the train, we are transported to another era. Wood panelled carriages with soft lighting house the opulent seats and beautifully set tables. Linen tablecloths, sparkling glassware and glistening cutlery await you. An exquisite red rose in the centre of the table adds a perfect finishing touch. The Andean-inspired menu is outstanding – locally sourced trout, quinoa, eucalyptus. Once we have made our selection, we are invited to the bar carriage for an aperitif.
The bar is beautiful. The polished wood and brass show off the highest quality liquors, wines and champagnes. The very charming barman offers us pisco sours, which he creates with flair and style. A small group of musicians appear and start playing some well known latin songs. The mood in the bar is very relaxed as everyone enjoys the music. Before long, everyone is shouting out requests and we’re all singing and dancing. After an hour or so we are called back to our carriage for dinner, and we reluctantly leave.
The meal, is exquisite the wine flows creating a warm and atmospheric setting. Before we know it, we are pulling into the station at Poroy where we disembark with full bellies, glowing from the Pisco and wine and with big happy smiles on our faces... time for bed!