Jonny’s experiences on the Belmond Andean Explorer...
When travelling around a continent the size of South America, flying from one place to the next is often unavoidable. In Peru though there is another way to get around, I took the luxurious Belmond Andean Explorer train between Cusco and Arequipa, stopping at Lake Titicaca en route.
The Andean Explorer (AE) is a three-day, two night train journey between Cusco and Arequipa, with a stop and full day at Lake Titicaca, the highest navigable lake in the world. The train operates this particular route once a week as well as the return journey from Arequipa and also two shorter one night itineraries between Cusco and Lake Titicaca. There is also a less opulent, but perfectly comfortable day train between Cusco and Lake Titicaca, which is a more regular and shorter service with lunch served on board.
The AE is the first luxury sleeper train in South America and has three different cabin categories, each with a private bathroom and large windows. The cosiest (and cheapest) have bunk beds, the middle range have twin beds that can be converted into comfortable arm chairs during the day, but the crème de la crème are the suites. Suites are almost double the size of the other cabins and come with a queen bed and separate lounge area. The cabins are beautifully decorated with traditional textiles on the walls and local stones in the bathrooms.
As you come to expect with Belmond, the service on board was impeccable. From the champagne toast on arrival to the freshly made hot chocolate whilst watching sunrise on the shores of Lake Titicaca, nothing was ever too much for the staff. They even have their own guide on board and each itinerary includes stops along the way, allowing guests to disembark and discover some of the attractions en route, which on this particular itinerary included the market at La Raya and a lesser known Inca ruin at Raqch’i.
Most itineraries also include a full day visit to the floating reed islands of Uros and also Taquile, which for me are two of the must see attractions in Peru. Belmond have their own private boat and use a very good local guide who takes you first on a visit to Uros, before continuing to Taquile where you will have lunch and learn about the locals inhabiting the remote island. On a clear day it’s possible to see Bolivia in the distance, before returning to the train for afternoon tea. As you roll out of Puno (the town on the Peruvian side of Lake Titicaca), the tracks run straight through town and you will see the locals moving their markets stalls off the tracks to let you pass. It’s definitely worth heading to the observation carriage at the back of the train to watch.
Back on the train guests can return to their cabins, relax with a pisco sour in the observation carriage or later in the day, enjoy some live music in the piano bar. There is also an on board spa which offers a variety of treatments and is the perfect way to relax and unwind before dinner. It can be a bit of a walk between your cabin and these carriages, but it’s an opportunity to walk off some of the delicious food and drink you’ll be enjoying!
Meals are all a la carte and served in the two dining carriages – Llama and Muna. The menu is set, but there are always two choices for your main course and each meal starts with a delicious selection of freshly made breads and an amuse-bouche. The menu is quite international, but often with a Peruvian twist. The beef tenderloin, with caramelized pumpkin cream and Andean cereals was particular favourite of mine, and although some of the choices put me out of my comfort zone, I needn’t have worried and my plate was always empty after every course. Meals were accompanied by some wonderful international wines and of course, stunning scenery provided by the Peruvian Altiplano through the window.
Taking one of the world’s highest train journeys means you do have to be properly acclimatised. Unfortunately one family had to disembark early, as their daughter was suffering from severe altitude sickness. There is a nurse on board who is available 24/7 and they do have oxygen tanks, but it showed how important careful planning is when visiting Peru and the importance of being properly acclimatised before visiting the high altitude regions of the country.
With el Misti volcano looming on the horizon, we arrived at our final stop, Arequipa. It had been a magnificent three days and a world away from my normal train experience with Southern Rail. My advice would be to bring earplugs for sleeping though, as train tracks in Peru are fairly low quality so it can be quite loud at times. If you forget your earplugs, I’ve been told trying every cocktail in the bar also works!
Take a look at our suggested itinerary Peru: Train Journey through the Andes. For more details on the Andean Explorer, the different train options in Peru and how they can be incorporated into an itinerary, please contact one of our Peru specialists.