It is always a bit of a challenge trying to suss out the truth about travelling to an exotic foreign locale from an armchair, even in the age of google. I wanted to make sure I walked away from Machu Picchu satiated, not ready to book the return trip to see it properly.
So I decided to add on some extra days on my own to my g adventures trip. I figured I would know the ropes by then and travelling solo in a foreign country is always a small adventure.
I don’t have that much practice yet travelling solo in developing countries where I don’t speak the language so I go high end to reduce risk. That’s how I ended up on the Hiram Bingham train bound for Machu Picchu and the Sanctuary Lodge.
Enrique had coached me on how much the taxi should cost and pointed out the train station on our drive back to the hotel the previous night. The rainy season had washed out part of the track so the train was departing from a different station, which added complications.
If I missed that train, my whole plan unwound so I was really grateful when David offered to read the information from PeruRail to make sure I knew how the alternate plan worked. Things are looser in Latin countries so I have learned to pay attention and ask questions. It was a good idea I think as it ended up there were only 3 of us waiting at Wanchaq station for our bus ride to the alternate starting point for the train journey.
Just to be sure I was on the right minibus, I confirmed it with the handsome man who seemed to be in charge. Yes, we had
a private minibus tour of the Sacred Valley! I could bounce around the bus trying to get shots of the gorgeous landscape out of the window. Not an easy task. And the early morning light was not ideal. But it made the journey fly by – and got me chatting with Javier. It turned out that he was the manager of the train! I hoped I hadn’t taken up too much of his time but he was exceptional at his job so he looked out for me on the train, making sure I got the full experience.
For someone who spent her early youth devouring everything Agatha Christie ever wrote, there is something about travel on Orient Express trains that just speaks to me. The journey on the Hiram Bingham is shorter than on the Andean Explorer but it is more luxurious and the scenery possibly a little more spectacular (there is so much glorious scenery in Peru it is tough to rate without just giving it all 5 stars :)).
If you love trains, you will love the Hiram Bingham. It’s one of those trains originating from the era when trains were the equivalent of air travel in first class. As on the Andean Explorer, I had my own table, complete with white linen tablecloth, romantic lighting and plenty of space for all my camera equipment.
Of course we were called to the bar car for a free Pisco Sour well before lunch. The Pisco Sour was excellent but I was again more intrigued by the chance to actually shoot the scenery without glass (and reflections) marring the shot. We also had musicians and dancers entertaining us. It seems like everyone in Peru likes to dance 🙂
Once that was over, it was time for brunch. Brunch was really a sumptuous three course lunch. More trucha! Everything was delicious. Since you pay a lot more for the Hiram Bingham train, the alcohol runs freely. I tried to get my money’s worth but still preserve the ability to do some serious climbing once we got to Machu Picchu. But it likely helped numb the pain in my damaged toes 🙂
I have only one regret re: my trip to Peru. Next time I will try and pack more like a backpacker and bring a mostly empty suitcase! Because I was a wimp and not doing the Inca Trail, I could afford to bring more luggage – but the train from Cuzco to Machu Picchu is ill-equipped to handle luggage so it was a challenge to figure out how to deal with it. But if you take the Hiram Bingham train, you don’t have to worry about it!
The service is truly first class in every way so my luggage was whisked away in Cuzco and reappeared later in the day in my hotel room at the Sanctuary Lodge. Decadent but oh so pleasant 🙂
If you take the Hiram Bingham train, you are also whisked from Aquas Calientes (where the train arrives) to Machu Picchu via private bus. Once you arrive, you are assigned a guide who will tour you around Machu Picchu for an hour or two and then you will have time to explore on your own. What I discovered by accident is that almost everyone books a tour to travel around Peru so if you book directly with PeruRail you may have the good fortune I had and have your “group” tour be comprised of 3 people!
This time I saw Machu Picchu in the afternoon and the guide was even better than the previous day. As a reward for a tiny amount of exercise, we were then treated to an extravagant afternoon tea in the Sanctuary Lodge. There was so much food (and choice) afternoon tea also served as my dinner that night.
Once afternoon tea was complete, most guests were whisked back to Aquas Calientes by private bus to take the Hiram Bingham train back to Cuzco. It sounded like a lot of fun and I think I may have missed out but my armchair travel planning had me booked into the Sanctuary Lodge for the next two nights.
So I had to reluctantly say goodbye to Javier… that’s when I found out he was the manager of the train. So that gave me confidence my exceptional journey was likely just the norm. I had watched him move around the train and schmooze with everyone during afternoon tea as part of my personal entertainment. It’s always a delight to watch someone doing his job exceptionally well.
And there is something about Latin men… I don’t know how they learn it. They seem to love their mothers – and I think that translates to women in general. There is a sense of chivalry that runs deep. And they know that not everything in life has to be logical and practical. They understand the value of flirting to civilization. As an incorrigible flirt, I like to think I inspire them a little 😉
You should go check it out for yourself. Book a trip on the Hiram Bingham. Check Machu Picchu off your bucket list. And say “hola” to Javier 😉