Peru has some of the world’s most spectacular train trips, designed specifically with travellers in mind. Active tracks for passengers today are privately-operated, and though they don’t span the entire country, routes have been revitalized and redesigned over the past two decades as amazing travel journeys.
PeruRail and IncaRail are (two separate) non-government (privately-operated) railway companies, and both offer both luxury and budget-conscious options for breathtaking journeys across Peru’s highlands. Train schedules are primarily daily (or multiple times per day), or weekly (that is, multiple departs every week), and rates depend on style, degree of luxury, and destination.
Our advice is to check directly with the railway operator, or with a travel company or agent (and do ask if any of these options don’t run at certain times or months of the year). Also, many of these journeys are offered as organized tours by trip companies, and can be part of a larger travel experience in Peru.
But here’s what’s to keep in mind: some of these rides are quite affordable, and are so worth considering just for the breathtaking Andean panoramas and travel comfort they offer. Here’s a rundown of what’s on offer:
PeruRail has been operating since 1999, and along with routes between point-to-point destinations, specializes in passenger journeys that run from Cusco (from stations in and round the city) to the south and southeastern regions of Peru, primarily through the Sacred Valley, and to Machu Picchu, as well as through Andean highland to Arequipa and Puno at Lake Titicaca. Here’s passenger options (with descriptions from operator):
Belmond Hiram Bingham to Machu Picchu. An exclusive, luxurious train, with dining and bar cars, meals, an observatory car and live music. Windows with awe-inspiring views of Andean highlands and peaks. Free WiFi, and fare includes bus ticket from the station to Machu Picchu, a ticket to the mountaintop citadel, and tour guide in either Spanish or English.
Sacred Valley to Machu Picchu. Classic Sacred Valley travel—from Urubamba to Machu Picchu, round-trip, through majestic Andean landscape. The train only accommodates 33 passengers, and “exudes the elegance of the 1920s,” states PeruRail, with a dining and observation/bar car. A three-hour trip, that promises “a gourmet meal” in the price of the ticket.
Vistadome Panoramic Train (to MP). Unparalleled vistas through panoramic windows, so you not only see but experience the view from your own seat. Return Vistadome trips include “an on-board fashion show, featuring (a) baby alpaca wool collection…all available for sale.” Snack and non-alcoholic beverage included.
Expedition Train (to MP). On-board comforts, with Inca-culture flare and panoramic views at an unbeatable price, is how PeruRail describes this option. With food and beverages optional, for a fee. Frequent departures daily.
Belmond Andean Explorer. An over-nighter, PeruRail claims this as “South America’s first luxury train that combines genuine daytime getaways with sleeping accommodations.” A southbound journey from Cusco to Lake Titicaca (at Puno) and to Arequipa, this train rolls across Andean highland and bills itself as “one of the highest train routes in the world,” crossing breathtaking landscape on its way from Cusco to Puno (at Lake Titicaca) and to Arequipa. (With one- and two-night options available.) Also two destinations to choose from: end your trip in Puno, or continue on to Arequipa. Here’s an awfully inviting glimpse from PeruRail in photos.
Titicaca: Cusco to Puno. A luxury train, with 1920s-style Pullman carriages, dining cars, and open-air observation deck. Approximately 10:30-hour day-trip—meaning, you get to see majestic Peru is all its daylight glory. Departures daily, year-round (except Tuesdays).
IncaRail primarily specializes in what they describe as “tailor-made experiences” in routes through the Sacred Valley, and to Machu Picchu. Here’s a rundown of their passenger trips (with descriptions from operator):
The Voyager (to Machu Picchu). Arrives at Aguas Calientas station, at base of the mountaintop site. Wide windows, at roomy passenger seats with tables, it’s about feeling the journey not just the destination. Snacks and beverages available.
The 360° Machu Picchu. With wider and higher panoramic windows, and outdoor observation carriage. A box lunch is included, and there’s an app that allows you to learn more about the train journey, and Peruvian and Inca civilization.
The First Class Machu Picchu Train. Plush seats with tables, panoramic windows, an observatory lounge with live music (and armchairs), “a gourmet menu,” bar, and an outdoor balcony to maximize your journey across the Sacred Valley. Includes transportation from Machu Picchu Pueblo (Aguas Calientas) to the citadel.
The Private. A chartered service to Machu Picchu. A luxury experience, with “an exclusive wagon for your group,” open balcony, lounge with wide seats, bar and live music. You’re greeted with a glass of champagne, and three-course meal prepared by train’s chef. There’s also a cooking class offered, so you can learn a little about Peruvian cuisine. And a private bus to the citadel.
There’s also another railway option in Peru—operated by FCCA (Ferrocarril Central Andino) that runs from Lima to the city of Huancayo in Junin province, which is slightly north and east of the capital city. It travels through tunnels, over bridges, and across spectacular Andean landscape that reaches its highest point at 4,782 meters (15,689 feet), making it one of the highest-altitude train routes in the world. An affordable train, but it runs sporadically (a few times a month). The website is limited, but you might try checking with a third-party operator (tour operator) for more info.