Peru’s Hiram Bingham train is the height of elegance
BY: Jennifer Bradley Franklin
The chilled pisco sour is tart and boozy, live music from a three-piece band is filtering in and the rugged Andes Mountains are as jaw-dropping as you might expect as the luxuriously appointed Hiram Bingham train meanders through Peru’s scenic Sacred Valley. I find myself thinking that this is how travel should be.
So often, going on a trip is about arriving at and exploring the destination, with the actual journey reduced to a necessary obstacle to be overcome. But on my recent trip from Cusco to Aguascalientes, the town at the base of Machu Picchu, the journey by train was one of the highlights. Named for the American explorer who rediscovered the now-famous ruins of a massive 15th-century Inca citadel, the Hiram Bingham, owned by the Belmond hospitality company, is full of enough grandeur and Old World glamour to make every mile a pleasure.
We started our day with an early morning flight from Lima (Delta has nonstop flights to Lima from Atlanta) to Cusco, regarded as South America’s archaeological capital. My husband and our two friends hopped in a cab for a 25-minute ride through the colorful city streets to the Poroy train station. While waiting to board, we enjoyed a gratis flute of chilled sparkling wine and watched the gleaming navy rail cars—one dining car and one bar car—pull into position, and were entertained by a group of Andean dancers, stomping and twirling intricate patterns in their vibrant costumes.
The Hiram Bingham’s Pullman-style cars harken back to the golden age of train travel, with luminous wood paneling, gleaming brass fixtures and richly patterned carpet. The oversize windows were polished to a high shine, primed for copious photos sure to be taken along the three-and-ahalf- hour trip. As the train pulled away, our English-speaking host invited us to order a handcrafted cocktail or local beer from the bar and offered some expert commentary about the sights we would see along the way. We chose to snuggle into some leather club chairs to enjoy pisco sours and live music while the train meandered along the 57-mile route, the scenery changing every few minutes.
In our cozy booth, we eagerly tucked into brunch. Still-steaming bread came with salted butter. Delicately smoked salmon, fished from the rushing rivers nearby, sat atop a creamy avocado puree with fresh corn salad. The main course was traditional Peruvian grilled beef, fork tender and sauteed in rich jus, with rustic Andean mashed potatoes. The decadent meal ended with the chef’s signature corn cheesecake, with a crispy corn flour base and purple corn and elderberry sauce. Each course was paired with sommelier selected South American wines.
As excited as I was to experience Machu Picchu, one of my top bucket list items, I could’ve spent all day onboard this spectacular train. Fortunately for our little group, the thoughtful Belmond service didn’t end when we reached the station. On the ground, we were greeted by an expert local guide who accompanied us on a short and winding bus ride to the citadel entrance.
Just minutes after crossing the threshold, there stood Machu Picchu in all its ancient glory. It was surreal seeing the precisely sculpted terraces and temple buildings framed by mystical low hanging clouds and illuminated by bright rays of sun. Experiencing it firsthand surpassed even my wildest travel dreams. For their age, the Incas were the height of sophistication— in culture, art, astronomy, mathematics, architecture and design (that whole human sacrifice thing notwithstanding)—and it’s easy to see why this UNESCO World Heritage Site was voted one of the New Seven Wonders of the World in 2007.
“In the variety of its charms, the power of its spell, I know of no place in the world which can compare with it,” wrote Bingham, who brought the mountaintop city to the wider world’s attention in 1911. Though he was talking about Machu Picchu itself, he could have easily been writing about the spectacular train journey to get there that would one day be named in his honor.
Book your own Belmond Hiram Bingham journey at belmond.com.