Our experience onboard the Andean Explorer: the most luxurious train in Peru
When I reflect back on my time in South America, my mind always drifts back to meandering through the Peruvian Andes. I was fortunate enough to be a passenger for two nights onboard the Belmond Andean Explorer, the first and only luxury sleeper train in Peru. There are four different one- or two-night routes you can take: Andean Plains + Island of Discovery (two nights), Spirit of the Andes (one night), Spirit of the Water (one night) and my journey, the Peruvian Highlands, which took me from Cuzco to Arequipa, via Puno, over the course of two nights.
Arriving at Cuzco’s Wanchaq Station, we were welcomed by a wash of colour and culture, as traditional dancers took centre stage on the platform. Stepping aboard, with drinks in hand, was like entering a time gone by, with a flourish of comfort and charm. Lovingly decorated, everything looked as though it had been carefully selected to be there. The windows framed the unfolding landscape and made what could be seen as a small space feel enormous, light and airy.
We were shown to our cabin, navigating the various train carriages, 11 in total, all endearingly named after Peru’s flora and fauna that you might spot en route. Ours, Cantuta, was named after the country’s national flower, which radiates a hot-pink colour and is known as the ‘sacred flower of the Incas’. Once we entered our twin room, I was trying to figure out how this would fit two of us, but I should not have worried. Come turndown, the sofa and chair were set into two single beds but were stowed away during the day. The bathroom was adorable, and no comfort was spared. Robes hung on the back of the door, while slippers were resting in the wardrobe. I felt like a Borrower that had hit the big time.
When it came to lunch, the staff came into their element. It takes a year of training to work on the Andean Explorer, and we recognised that constantly throughout our stay. From remembering the way I had my coffee in the morning and the fact I preferred still whereas my friend liked sparkling water to knowing what kind of wine I enjoy with my dinner, nothing went amiss. Incidentally, to pour a glass on a moving train is a skill I don’t think I could ever master.
Across the board, the food was delicious. How the chefs accomplished this amazed me. We would be in the middle of nowhere and be tasting the most incredible, fresh dishes I could imagine. There would be pre-dinner canapés in the Piano Bar Car, before sitting down to a lavish three-course feast in the Llama dining car.
Over the two days, the train halted many times, allowing us to explore more of this wonderful area. We went to Raqch’i, previously an important control point for the Incas. We spent a day visiting Peru’s famous Lake Titicaca and the Uros Islands, before heading to Taquile Island for a private lunch on a pristine beach. Another particularly memorable moment was when we stopped at the Sumbay Caves, home to cave paintings that have been left untouched for almost 8,000 years. The train stopped on the single track in the middle of nowhere, which was exhilarating and gave us a sense of how huge this planet is. The silence was almost deafening.
Spending time on the Andean Explorer allows you to completely switch off, forget about the present and dip into another world. You can tell how much care has been poured into this train, from the warm and beautiful decoration to the staff that quite frankly can’t do enough for you. It’s an enjoyable experience for all, and something that should be on everyone’s list to do at least once in their life.
Head to the back of the train and you will find the Observation Car, which is very ornate in style and has a cast-iron fence. This is the perfect spot to take in the endless views that, over the three days, never faltered.