THE sun is on my face, the wind in my hair, a glass of sparkling wine is in my hand and spectacular scenery is unfolding around me. Visiting Machu Picchu had always been a travel dream of mine but I had never imagined getting there would look like this. While some hike the Inca tail to Machu Picchu, a train from Poroy on the outskirts of Cusco to Machu Picchu Pueblo, the small town in the valley below the world famous citadel, is a popular alternative for those who either prefer not to do the hike or are unable to due to time constraints or health reasons. Various trains run along the route but one stands out from the rest. The Hiram Bingham is one of the great train journeys of the world. Part of the Belmond family, formerly known as the Orient Express Group, this train is all about luxury and the romance of rail. The experience begins with colourful traditional dancers twirling to live musicians on the Poroy station platform where rows of welcoming champagne flutes await. The sight of the gleaming navy and gold 1920s Pullman style carriages fills my heart with glee, and I feel like I’ve stepped back in time as I explore the two dining cars, observation car and bar car, all featuring polished brass and wood. While most people take a seat in the dining car when it is time to leave I head straight for the open-air platform at the end of the observation car. Here I have uninterrupted 180 degree views, I can breathe in the fresh air, hear children laughing as they wave at the passing train and smile at them as I wave back. From here I can also smell the Peruvian countryside change, from the slightly dusty townships, through the earthy farmland areas, the familiar smells of home during stretches of eucalyptus trees and finally a scent I’ve never smelt before – the lush cloud forest and jungle around Machu Picchu. A three-piece band of two guitars and a box drum provide the perfect soundtrack as we travel along, mixing traditional songs with their own special twists on Elvis tracks and other golden oldies. We may be travelling to one of the most famous mountains in the world but we are travelling down to reach it, with Poroy station at 3,486m (11,437ft) compared to Machu Picchu at 2,430m (7,972ft), and the train is equipped with oxygen to help those suffering from altitude sickness. While some people sip teas and coffees I’m amongst those who don’t say no to the friendly waiter who moves through the car with a bottle
of the Peruvian sparkling wine, Intipalka Extra Brut. The Hiram Bingham carries up to 84 passengers and everyone has a pre-assigned seat in the dining cars for the three-course meal on the way down in the morning and the four-course one on the way back. All of the food comes from small organic family farms on the land the train travels through, and our delicious dishes included Wayllabamba smoked trout with mashed fava beans, quinoa tabbouleh, Andean mint oil and airampo (Andean prickly purple pear) emulsion and a Sacred Valley corn cheesecake with purple corn and elderberry sauce for dessert. The menu is set, although you can make some changes if you have dietary requirements, and a selection of wine, cocktails, beer, soft drinks and hot drinks are included, although you can order a special bottle from the wine list if you prefer. The journey takes around three and a half hours each way, and the Hiram Bingham day trip includes private bus transfers from the train station to Machu Picchu, entrance to the citadel, a tour guide and afternoon tea before making your way back to Cusco. But it is possible to do things another way. After our morning train we chose to spend the afternoon and night in the town, staying at the charming Inkaterra Machu Picchu eco resort, before going up to Machu Picchu in the morning, and boarding the Hiram Bingham again that afternoon. Keep in mind if you break up the journey the return trip is subject to availability and you will need to make your own way up and down the mountain. If you opt to do this, make sure you leave plenty of time to return as the bus queues can be very long and some people have missed their trains because of them. It is also possible to spoil yourself on one hand and save some money on the other by buying a one-way Hiram Bingham ticket, which includes entrance to the citadel and the tour, and then catching a normal train service back. This costs around half the usual package price, and if you were to do it make sure you opt for the way down. While the return journey includes dinner, drinks and entertainment, the outside deck is closed at night and you can’t see those views. Besides, wouldn’t you prefer to arrive at one of the wonders of the world in style? I know it’s one experience I’ll never forget.
Photos supplied by Belmond
Photos courtesy of Belmond