Last updated: January 2023 / Photography by @travelinglamas
Few travel experiences are as memorable, wistfully nostalgic and worthy of a spot on your bucket list as a luxury train journey. In Peru, amidst enigmatic lost empires and enchanting Andean culture, exists one such experience: the luxurious PeruRail Titicaca Train, a 10-hour rail journey stretching from the shores of Lake Titicaca to the center of historic Cusco. On board? A fusion of indelible adventure, panoramic vistas and Orient Express-era glamour just as seamless as the transitioning terrain from the vast Altiplano highlands to the majestic Andes mountains.
The journey runs in both directions, though our experience embarked from Lake Titicaca – the highest navigable lake in the world residing 12,500 feet (3,810 meters) above sea level. Specifically, the PeruRail train station in mainland Puno, where we had just arrived fresh from an overnight on the lake’s floating islands of Uros. The 7:30am departure is an early start, so we appreciated the efficient luggage check and spacious waiting room with complimentary coffee or tea.
We can’t help but step outside to sneak a peek at our ride: an elegant, 1920s style Pullman train exuding that exact blend of adventure and nostalgic glamour we had so highly anticipated. Soon, a flurry of activity commences as guests are escorted, individually, to their seats. Spread across two opulent dining cars accommodating up to 132 passengers total, seating arrangements accommodate solo travelers, pairs and groups up to four – and are luxuriously plush. Think white cloth dining tables, brass table lamps, pillows and adjustable curtains, plus power outlets (2-prong). It’s worth noting there is no on-board wifi, though you can expect pockets of cell reception throughout the 10-hour expedition.
An in-train kitchen, sophisticated bar car and open-air observation car complete the layout. As we hear the chugging of the engine start up, we take our freshly poured coffees and go explore – free movement between train cars isn’t just allowed throughout the full day journey, it’s encouraged. We wander to the bar car where we ponder if it’s too early for a freshly shaken pisco sour (train journeys are just as judgement-free as airports, right?) and keep going to the observation car to take in the bustling surrounds as we pull out of Puno.
Back at our seats, we peruse the a la carte breakfast menu – offering a small but respectable edit of selections from omelettes to sandwiches to an American-style breakfast plate – and order a light bite. While breakfast is not included in your ticket, all-day coffee, tea and water (still or sparkling) are.
Out the window, a scene of endless rolling plains highlights the Altiplano: a vast, windy plateau of the central Andes that happens to be one of the highest inhabited regions in the world. In total, the PeruRail Titicaca Train will rumble through 241 miles (388 kilometers) of the Peruvian Andes mountain range.
Pastoral landscapes aside, you’ll even roll right through the lively, central market of Juliaca: a large city that acts as the commercial hub of the Puno region. The best viewing spot here is surely the back of the observation car. You’ll not only have a front row seat to all of the action but can wave back to smiling locals who, as we discovered, are just as fascinated with trains as we are.
Soon guests are encouraged to make their way to the bar car for the first of two shows. The morning edition kicks the journey off with live Peruvian music, traditional dances and even an alpaca wool fashion show (should you be so inclined, you can purchase the showcased wares later). Tip: ask your dining attendant to give you a head’s up before each show is announced. This will give you the opportunity to head back to the bar car and snag a spot before it, and the adjacent observation car, inevitably fill up.
An excellent 3-course gourmet lunch is included in your ticket – your choice of plant or meat-based – as is an accompanying glass of red or white wine (or juice or soda). We opted for the bacon-wrapped beef saltimbocca, which yes, was just as delicious as it sounds. Cocktails, wine and beer are available all day for an additional charge, as are a selection of digestifs which will be offered to you following lunch.
Soon, the train rolls to a stop. It’s the only stop during the 10-hour expedition, which we took advantage of to stretch our legs and breathe in the fresh air of Abra La Raya: the border of Peru’s Puno and Cusco regions sitting at an altitude of 14,222 feet (4,335 meters) above sea level.
It’s the highest point of elevation throughout the entire journey, which you can appreciate amongst the site’s snow-capped surrounds, picturesque Señor de la Caña church and small artisan market. An excellent place to pick up a poncho, hat, shawl or other souvenir in support of the (very isolated) local Abra La Raya community.
Back on board, we’ve reached the halfway point of our Andean rail adventure. From the observation car, we watch as pastoral Altiplano plains begin transitioning into the verdant vistas of the Andes mountains. Local life abounds as you rumble pass farmers, waving school children, tiny villages and grazing cattle and sheep. You may even glimpse a local soccer game, all set to the sounds of the rushing Urubamba River flanking the rail tracks.
In the bar car, afternoon entertainment kicks off with a pisco sour demonstration. Learn step-by-step how to make Peru’s iconic cocktail from the dapper barman, then sip your own while gazing out at the increasingly lush Andes landscapes. Note while the demonstration is included in your ticket price, ordering up the refreshingly tart libation is not. That said, how can one resist a pisco sour in a setting as exemplary as this? Live music commences followed by the second, and final, traditional Peruvian dance of the day.
The rail journey begins to wind down with afternoon tea. The included ritual features light bites by way of finger sandwiches and sweets, accompanied by a selection of Andean teas or coffee. Now’s your chance to soak in final views from the observation car – or order that last pisco sour.
As the train pulls into Wanchaq Station in Cusco, we feel equal parts wistful and excited that our nostalgic train journey through the Andes has come to an end. After all, our adventure through the former Inca empire is just beginning.
Tickets on the PeruRail Titicaca Train start at $255.00 USD for upcoming 2023 dates. Book your journey here.
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