After a hiatus, as all our travel plans are currently on hold during to the coronavirus pandemic, I am back to writing a short travel story. Hope things will be back to normal soon and we will be able to travel to our dream destinations and tick off the items on our to-travel lists.
In May 2019, (yes it has been a year already!), I was on a trip to four countries in South America. It was my first visit to South America and I also crossed the equator for the first time travelling to the Southern hemisphere and experienced culture, history, nature, forests, wildlife and city life all in a single trip.
My trip started with one of my dream destinations Peru, and from Peru I crossed Lake Titicaca on a boat at the Strait of Tiquina, on to Bolivia and La Paz. From La Paz, I travelled to Buenos Aires, then to Iguazu Falls and finally to Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. This was so far my longest trip and I was overwhelmed and humbled at the same time, travelling through each of these countries, experiencing various cultures, meeting lots of people and enjoying the local cuisines.
One of the highlights of my trip was the train ride from Cusco to Puno on the Belmond Andean Explorer which is the only luxury sleeper train in South America and the most luxurious way to travel in Peru.
I had read an article in the summer of 2016 where Belmond announced that they are starting South America’s first luxury sleeper train from May 2017. I added it to my to-travel list and was finally able to make this journey in May 2019.
The overnight journey started from Cusco at 11 am following the journey of the Incas to the shores of Lake Titicaca. The journey encompasses the Andean mountains and the meandering Huatanay river.
The excellent service starts even before you board the train. Welcome drinks are served as you reach Wanchaq station in Cusco. Local musicians and dancers entertain the guests before departure. Men and women in colourful costumes sing and dance in local language which I did not understand but it is melodious and very much enjoyable.
Once I boarded the train on the Piano lounge, I was offered a freshening towel, followed by drinks and nibbles. As I was enjoying these and the ambience of the lounge and chatting to other fellow travellers, I was handed over the keys to my cabin.
This train consists of Double Bed Suites, Twin Bed and Bunk Bed Cabins all of which have en-suite facilities. There are two dining cars, a lounge car, and an observation car with a large open-air deck for scenic viewing. There is also an onboard spa on the Picaflor Spa car for those who love to indulge in some relaxing massage and other treatments .
The interior designs of the Belmond Andean Explorer are inspired by Peruvian fabric designs. Each carriage on the Belmond Andean Explorer has a name and I had to walk past around 8 carriages to reach mine and then into my beautiful cabin with a wardrobe, en suite facilities including a shower space and washbasin.
Inside my cabin there was a welcome letter and a Belmond travel duffel bag. A nice cozy bunk bed cabin was what I had chosen. During the day, the bunk bed cabins feature a long banquette and in the evening it can be transformed into upper and lower berth single beds.
After settling into my cabin for some time, it was time for lunch which was served in one of the dining cars with freshly sourced ingredients. Lunch was a choice of 3 course meals and consisted of giant corn and cheese starter. Main course was vegetables mille-feuille, basic pesto, poached onion and fresh watercress. There was seared bass sea bass non-vegetarian option as well. Dessert was cara cara orange in cardamom syrup and thyme, custard apple foam with andean granola. And there were various drinks and freshly baked breads to go along with the food.
Post lunch, I walked up to the observation car which is at the rear of the train. This has a cozy lounge, a bar and an open observation deck space. What a sight to watch the Andean altiplano from the deck while enjoying a glass of chilled wine.
Around 4 pm we stopped at Raqchi, an Inca archaeological site located in the Cusco Region. Raqchi is 3480 meters above sea level and 110 kms from Cuzco. There were minivans which took us to the site along with guides who explained about the history of the site.
Most of the Inca structures are enclosed by a perimeter wall. But outside the wall there is an enclosure with eight rectangular buildings surrounding a large courtyard which were likely to be guest houses for travellers in Inca times.
After our Raqchi visit, we came back to the train and boarded the observation deck car, where we were served afternoon tea, sandwiches, fruit sticks and cakes.
It was wonderful to watch the sunset as the train travelled through the Andean valleys, passing villages and the mountains glowing in the light of the setting sun.
Based on the travel timing of the train, the sunset can be observed when the train stops at La Raya, which is also the highest point on the Belmond Andean train route at around 4800 meters. There is a small church at La Raya and there are local people selling various handmade items.
Since we reached there around 6 pm and by that time it was already quite dark outside and also quite chilly. We visited the church and came back to the train. Then it was time to go back to my cabin and relax for some time. By this time the bunk bed was laid out and the a cute little gift was placed on the bed.
Around 7 pm, the guests gathered at the piano lounge where evening drinks were served and at 8 pm it was time for dinner. Again a 3 course dinner was served in the dining car. Starter was vegetable water with caramelised cauliflower. Main course consisted of Broccoli Risotto with walnuts and blue cheese. Non vegetarian option was beef tenderloin with caramelised pumpkin cream. And finally dessert was chocolate texture and all courses were accompanied with excellent choice of wines and other drinks.
Post dinner there was a Jazz performance in the observation deck which was a thoroughly enjoyable experience. After the show went back to my cabin for a much deserved sleep as it was an early morning wake up the next day. Meanwhile the train had already reached Puno on the shores of Lake Titicaca and I drifted off to sleep on the stationary train.
Next morning, I woke up at 4.30 am and walked to the Piano lounge. I was handed a blanket as it can be quite cold outside. I got off the train and walked down to the shore of Lake Titicaca to watch the sunrise. It was absolutely quiet, and so serene. There was just the sound of birds flying by. Tea and coffee were served and there was even a fire to keep everyone warm.
Watching the sun rise over Lake Titicaca holding a warm cup of Peruvian coffee was just heaven. Time seemed to stop for sometime.
It was time to come back to reality and go back to the train. Tables were laid out for breakfast and warm breakfast was served in the dining car. After breakfast, it was time to pack up my welcome letter and disembark the train and continue my journey.
Next we took a boat and visited the famous floating reed islands on Lake Titicaca which are inhabited by the indigenous Uros people. The islanders use Totora reeds to make boats and also the islands on which they reside. The island I visited even had a small museum and the ladies displayed various handicrafts which they also sell on the island.
It was an unforgettable experience and I would love to go back on this journey perhaps once more. It was like where you can forget the world and just enjoy the journey.
- Only a small overnight bag is allowed in the train as space within the cabin is quite limited.
- All food, snacks and drinks are included so you don’t have to worry about anything.
- Vegetarian options are available on the dinner/lunch/breakfast menu
- The observation deck with the lounge area is a perfect place to meet fellow travellers and enjoy the Andean landscape as the train travels. Don’t miss this.
- No further hints needed – just relax and go with the flow.
- Read more about the Belmond Andean Explorer here https://www.belmond.com/trains/south-america/peru/belmond-andean-explorer/
Looking forward to my next travel hopefully sometime later this year!!
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