Talk about bucket list locations, Machu Picchu is up there (literally). The sacred Inca city high in the Andes mountains of Peru isn’t an easy place to visit, but thousands head there every day for a glimpse at the archaeological site. Having just returned ourselves, all this week we’ll give you the low-down on how to get to this high place.The train is blue. Unlike its European cousins, the cars are not painted with “Orient-Express” down the sides, but “Hiram Bingham” in gold lettering.
What would Hiram himself, explorer/Yale professor/politician, think of this train that makes traversing such forbidding terrain look so easy? Hiram Bingham discovered the site of Machu Picchu in 1911 and worked to uncover and preserve it for study and, yes, tourism. Even the switchback road up to the ruins from the town of Aguas Calientes and the Urubamba River is named the Hiram Bingham Highway (though it’s hardly a ‘highway’).
But before we digress on some History Channel-ish tangents, back to the train! A one-way ticket averages $329 per person, in high contrast to the Vistadome which runs $76 and the Expedition at $62. There are a few dining cars and one bar car with a lounge and rear observation area, complete with an open-air platform. The locomotive is also blue, though a lighter shade that’s the signature of its operator: PeruRail.
Although the more popular route for the Hiram Bingham is from Cusco (Poroy) to Machu Picchu (Aguas Calientes) to enjoy an indulgent brunch and take advantage of the observation car during the daytime, we had already taken the PeruRail Vistadome to reach Aguas Calientes and would instead depart by Hiram Bingham. The benefit of this? Relaxation in the booths, a multi-course dinner with wine, music and booze in the bar car, stars visible from the darkened open-air area (though it now directly faces the rear of the locomotive), and the simple drama of riding an Orient-Express train through the thick night. Imagine this over your amuse bouche: being out there in the pitch black mountains instead, watching this tiny strip of light slither back to civilisation.
The romance of train travel hasn’t perished, least of all here.
Since the Hiram Bingham is the last departure from Aguas Calientes to Poroy, it means more time for its passengers to spend both in the Machu Picchu ruins and in Aguas Calientes. travellers on this late train can be among the last the roam Machu Picchu that day (the site closes just after 5pm with last admission at 4pm) without the worry of catching a bus down; there’s a dedicated bus that departs after a 4pm tea time at the Orient-Express Sanctuary Lodge right at the gates, a perk also reserved for Hiram Bingham passengers. Both the return bus and tea time are included in the train ticket fare.
As we’d come up on the very first train of the day and would depart with the last [timetables], our time within Machu Picchu was more than enough to hike all over the place (we even doubled our trail a few times), geek out on the history and archaeology, pose for photos with the grass-chewing alpaca residents and then peace-out ahead of the rush, to chill with a Coca Pisco Sour at the bar within the Sanctuary Lodge until tea time.
Coming all this way, to the top of this mountain in the middle of the Incan hinterland, deserves at least a little quiet reflection time away from the interjections of tour guides and the aggravation of circumnavigating the tour groups (who have a nasty habit of easily an frequently clogging the thin stone alleys).
As is found with First Class seats on aeroplanes or suites on ocean liners, the luxury of the Hiram Bingham comes from its elevated levels of service and amenities, sure, but it really delivers with space and peace. On the Orient-Express, you board and are shown to a reserved table with high-back banquette seating. It’s private, with polished wood and brass and mirror all around. If you travel solo as we did, that means a table for two set for one, blessedly eliminating the need to make awkward small talk after a long, tiring day. if you’re the sort of traveller who however enjoys that, then the after-dinner drinks and party in the bar car is totally your scene.
When dinner is done and the Hiram Bingham slides into Poroy around 10pm, disembarking is as easy as stepping off the train and walking out to a waiting car (have your hotel arrange this since the area outside Poroy station is absolutely no place you want to be flagging a taxi). Back at your hotel (or hostel, sure) by 10:40 and you’re out like a light.
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