Belmond is the world’s leading operator of luxury trains, with a portfolio that includes the Venice Simplon-Orient-Express, the Belmond Royal Scotsman and the Eastern & Oriental Express. In Peru, the company’s Belmond Hiram Bingham shuttles up to 84 travelers between Cusco and Machu Picchu aboard 1920s Pullman carriages. The trip takes three hours and 20 minutes each way, and brunch and dinner are served.
May of this year saw the debut of a second Peruvian train, the Belmond Andean Explorer, which offers one- and two-night journeys from Cusco, first to Puno on Lake Titicaca and then to the southern city of Arequipa. The train has 24 cabins for a maximum of 48 passengers, plus two dining cars, an observation car, a library, a cocktail lounge and a piano bar. A spa car will debut in spring 2018. There are three categories of cabins. Double Bed Cabins are 140 square feet and come with private baths and walk-in showers. Twin Bed Cabins are much smaller at 80 square feet, while Bunk Bed Cabins are just 60 square feet (with banquettes that convert into upper and lower bunks). Both smaller categories have private showers.
We opted for the “Spirit of the Water” journey, a one-night, 240-mile trip from Cusco to Puno. (It is 180 miles from Puno to Arequipa.) Our initial impression of the train was extremely positive. The carriages date from the early 20th century, but they have been comprehensively modernized and now feature an exceptionally imaginative and attractive décor by London-based interior designer Inge Moore. Ivory and slate-gray tones are enlivened by brightly colored Peruvian textiles and handicrafts. Our Double Bed Cabin was similarly stylish, with beige walls, a padded headboard, a blue leather armchair, striped black-and-red cushions, a small table and alpaca throws. Storage space was limited to a cupboard, and our suitcases had to be put in the luggage van, which was somewhat inconvenient. At around 8 p.m., the Andean Explorer pulls into a siding so that the passengers’ rest is undisturbed. Personally, I like the sensation of sleeping in a moving train, but I appreciate that I am in a minority. In my view, a large cabin suddenly becomes a very small hotel room if the train isn’t moving.
The cuisine aboard is under the supervision of chef Diego Muñoz, who formerly led the kitchen at Lima’s internationally renowned restaurant Astrid y Gastón. Apparently, some of the staff also work at the Belmond Hotel Monasterio. Given the difficulty of cooking in the cramped confines of a train, my expectations were modest, but all our meals were extremely well-prepared, attractively presented and professionally served. My lunchtime seared sea bass with Andean mint-scented broad beans, citric yogurt and onion broth was especially delicious. Afterward, we headed to the open-air section of the observation car, as the train ascended through snow-dusted mountains to the 14,150-foot La Raya Pass and then rumbled at a leisurely pace across the vast altiplano dotted with grazing llamas and alpacas. Each day, passengers can go on an excursion — we went to see the Inca ruins at Raqch’i — but the real pleasure of the trip comes from watching the spectacular Andean landscape unfurl and chatting to one’s fellow passengers, pisco sour in hand.
Junior Double Cabin for two on the “Spirit of the Water” journey, $1,470 (all meals, drinks and excursions included). Belmond.com
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