Belmond Andean Explorer - Peruvian Highlands

Posted on December 2, 2017

Last updated on December 3, 2017

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On my recent visit to Peru in November 2017 I have had the great pleasure of travelling aboard the luxury sleeper train Belmond Andean Explorer from Cusco to Arequipa. This is the same company that was running the original Orient Express and has later been renamed to Belmond.

The itinerary takes us from Cusco to Lake Titicaca, and then continues on to Arequipa where the journey ends. The first night is spent right by Lake Titicaca where I got to see the sunrise while the second night we were right between lakes Rio Canuma and Laguna Sara Cocha. It really is an unforgettable experience to wake up at 4:30am, pull up your room blinds, and see an Andean sunrise over a lake.

Sunrise at Lake Titicaca, very much worth the 4:30am wakeup!

Sunrise at Lake Titicaca, very much worth the 4:30am wakeup!

This was my very first time on a luxury sleeper train and the moment I saw the website and what the train journey offers I knew I wanted to experience it. The sleeper journey is new and has only started May 2017; the train is in its first season of operation.

While the train ride is not cheap, you do get a lot of value:

Arrival

The train leaves from Wanchaq station in Cusco and I am not sure if any other trains use this station besides this one. Poroy, a city twenty minutes drive from Cusco, is where all the train journeys to and from Machu Picchu arrive and depart. When I told the concierge at my hotel that I need a taxi to Wanchaq he was confused and thought I wanted to go to the bus station; I explained that in fact today, only once a week, there is a train departing from there to go to Arequipa.

Upon arrival we are greeted by the staff and show our ticket. There were only 32 guests on this train so all the staff will almost certainly get to know you. I was told I could check my bag but I decided not to as I knew I have a huge room and I was also only carrying a carry-on and a backpack. If you have a larger bag or opted for a small room (don’t, get the suite, you’ll be thankful!). After this, I gave away my tags and had the staff take it to my room. From now until departure, there is a local band singing and dancing while cocktails and other welcome beverages are provided. Now is also the first time you get a glimpse of who you will be travelling with for the next three days. Exactly as I expected, I did not see anyone else travelling by themselves.

Belmond Andean Explorer waiting for us at the platform

‘Belmond Andean Explorer’ waiting for us at the platform

Entertainment before boarding the train

Entertainment before boarding the train

Day 1

We are told that the train is now departing and all get into the ‘Piano Room’ carriage which serves as the social meeting spot and a bar. Champagne is served to welcome us to this journey while the musician at the baby grand piano plays some tunes. I am immediately impressed by the decor and quality and quickly see that I will very much enjoy this train ride.

Welcome champagne and live music in the Piano Bar carriage

Welcome champagne and live music in the Piano Bar carriage

The guest experience manager then proceeds to tell us everything about our trip including the excursion schedules and food schedules. After that, all the groups were taken one by one by a member of staff and shown to their rooms. I knew my room will be nice from the photos I saw online but it was still exciting going through all the carriages to reach my room

The guest experience manager then proceeds to tell us everything about our trip including the excursion schedules and food schedules. After that, all the groups were taken one by one by a member of staff and shown to their rooms. I knew my room will be nice from the photos I saw online but it was still exciting going through all the carriages to reach my room. When we got in I was immediately impressed and thought just how ridiculous it is that I will be staying in five-star accommodation on a moving train in the Peruvian Andes. I was explained everything about the room, the bathroom, and about the service button right next to the bed which will summon someone to help you with whatever it is you need.

Beautiful room and bed. I got the suite.

Beautiful room and bed. I got the suite.

Can't go wrong with these views from your bed

Can't go wrong with these views from your bed

Suite

Suite

I settled in, still thinking about how amazing this is, changed into a different shirt, and made my way onto the observation deck at the end of the train. After the Piano Bar Carriage, the Observation Carriage with another adjacent bar carriage, is the second social spot of the train. I got there, stunned by the passing Peruvian countryside, and not a moment passed until I was offered to get a beverage - the choice was obvious, the traditional Pisco Sour.

Tea in the observation carriage

Tea in the observation carriage

Piano Bar Carriage

Piano Bar Carriage

After a couple more cocktails it’s time for lunch. I knew I would have no trouble meeting new friends on the train and had this lunch all subsequent meals with people I met on board. The quality of food and service was fantastic. Some of the dishes served during the trip were even better than some duds I got at Michelin starred restaurants.

Restaurant

Restaurant

Lunch is served!

Lunch is served!

Lunch views!

Lunch views!

You do get a little bit of rest after lunch, and then we go off to our first excursion which is at Raqch’i, an important control point for the Incas.

Rachq'i Excursion

Rachq'i Excursion

Afterwards, we head back to the train and are served warm towels and warm almond milk with amaretto which was very tasty and something I’ll repeat at home.

Almond milk with disaronno

Almond milk with disaronno

Stunning views throughout the whole journey

Stunning views throughout the whole journey

Now until dinner it’s nothing but cocktails, music, and socializing! I meet new people, have fun, and then it’s time for dinner which was also fantastic.

Some post dinner cocktails, dancing in the Observatory car and bar, and then we all go off into our cabins to get some sleep. It’s around 11:30pm and tomorrow those interested can get up by 4:30am and see the sunrise over Lake Titicaca. I am not a morning person at all but I cannot miss out the opportunity to see this sunrise over a little more sleep. I go back to my suite, take a shower, enjoy this great room, set alarms for the morning and get to sleep.

Room prepared for the night

Room prepared for the night

Day 2

Sunrise at Lake Titicaca

With great effort I wake up at 4:15am, put on some clothes, head out to the Piano Bar carriage and join the rest of the group who want to go see the sunrise. We head out, are served coffee and see some unforgettable views.

Sunrise at Lake Titicaca, very much worth the 4:30am wakeup!

Sunrise at Lake Titicaca, very much worth the 4:30am wakeup!

Belmond Andean Explorer overlooking Puno

Belmond Andean Explorer overlooking Puno

I head back to sleep until 7:30am or so as breakfast is served from 6-8am. I make it just in time and get an omelette.

Uros and Taquile Islands

We take a boat and go see the famous Uros islands, floating islands made of reed. The lack of quality sleep the night before is getting to me.

Uros islands, these islands are made of only reeds!

Uros islands, these islands are made of only reeds!

We then depart take an additional hour and half to go to the next island, Taquile island. I take this time to catch up on some sleep and feel much better on arrival. We got for a short hike and arrive at our lunch spot which is cooked and served by the locals. I am told that travel companies like Belmond pay the locals to make lunch for us to help their economy but to also help train them for jobs in the service industry.

Taquile Island

Taquile Island

We go for another hike to a high point on the mountain and then go back to the boat. I am much more rested and opt to spend the whole journey on the viewing deck of the boat and take in the Andean air.

The boat ride was very enjoyable and refreshing

The boat ride was very enjoyable and refreshing

Back to train

We head back and are greeted again by warm towels and tea. I am still a bit tired so I head to my suite for an hour nap, take a shower, get dressed and suited up, and head out for the pre-dinner cocktails. I brought a casual linen jacket with me to look sharp on at least one night on the train. I knew that the train will be luxurious and I specifically took the jacket to put on here and fit better with the decor. When packing and imagining this journey, I definitely had Hercule Poirot in mind, together with the impeccable way he dresses and the story of the Murder on the Orient Express. I wanted to feel just a little bit like Poirot!

We had some pre-dinner cocktails and amuse-bouches and then headed to the restaurants carriages for dinner which was as great as the previous day, the highlight the succulent duck breast.

Lemongrass pre-dinner cocktail

Lemongrass pre-dinner cocktail

A lot of different amuse-bouches before the dinner even started

A lot of different amuse-bouches before the dinner even started

Most of guests headed out to the Observation and bar carriage afterwards, where we had many more drinks, chatted, and sang and danced loudly, even getting the staff to join us for some dances. We were told that we were the most fun party group that stayed up the latest that they have had this season!

After too many to count glasses of rum, pisco sours, and flutes of champagne, it was time to head to bed. There was another expedition to see the sunrise above the lake we were staying at this night but I decided this night that it won’t be worth it to get out of bed. I did in fact though, wake up for the sunrise and enjoyed it from the comfort of my bed. I really just sat there for a good five or ten minutes and admired the view and great privilege I have to be here, all while wrapped up in a warm blanket.

Day 3

I woke up like this! It really was something to just sit there and watch the sunrise from the comfort of my cabin and warm bed.

I woke up like this! It really was something to just sit there and watch the sunrise from the comfort of my cabin and warm bed.

I went back to sleep after seeing the sunrise and again woke up at 7:30am or so to make it to breakfast. I started feeling slightly sad that the trip is slowly but surely coming to an end and that I won’t have any more nights to spend on the train!

After breakfast we went on a short excursion and hike towards Sumbay Caves. This was at a high altitude of around 4200 meters so even though the hike was short it was easy to quickly feel like you are completely out of shape!

We all built these stone structures on the excursion to the caves

We all built these stone structures on the excursion to the caves

After this final excursion we make it back to the train to more warm towels and beverages. The last lunch on board is served soon after.

After lunch I go pack up my room and head back to the Observation carriage where I drink some more cocktails and champagne and enjoy the Peruvian landscapes for the next three hours or so until arrival at Arequipa. I exchange contact details with all the people I met on board who I am sure I will run into at some point in the future.

Can never go wrong with more sparkling wine!

Can never go wrong with more sparkling wine!

End of the journey

Just like I was told at the beginning of the trip “you will cry when the journey will end!”, I am saddened that this surreal experience aboard this hotel on wheel is over! The guest experience manager rallies us all up again and thanks us for the time we all spent together while mentioning that we also made this a fun journey for all the staff on board! I was very happy about that - all the guests were very courteous towards the train staff and we all treated them like other people. Perhaps unsurprisingly, I usually find that the higher the price of an experience the more well-behaved the patrons are towards the staff.

As we are stepping off the train onto the station at Arequipa, all the train staff is standing at the platform and clapping for us! I run by and high-five everyone who made this journey possible!

If you are ever visiting Peru then I can very highly recommend this unforgettable journey aboard the Belmond Andean Explorer! I know that after this I want to go an another similar luxurious train journey.

All good things come to an end

All good things come to an end

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