A Peruvian Adventure

Making tracks aboard South America’s first luxury sleeper train.

At 4,313 meters above sea level, southeastern Peru’s La Raya Pass seems an unlikely stop for a luxury train. But it’s here, at the literal high point of our two-night journey from Cusco to Arequipa, that the Belmond Andean Explorer has creaked to a halt, allowing passengers to stretch their legs and soak up the scenery—along with servings of muña tea, a local remedy for soroche (altitude sickness)—as the sun dips behind the ice-capped mountains that surround us.

Painted in regal midnight blue and ivory, the months-old Andean Explorer harks back to the golden era of rail travel. The former carriages of Australia’s defunct Great South Pacific Express have been remodeled by London-based interior designer Inge Moore, with 24 en-suite staterooms whose ornate moldings, vintage-style chandeliers, and gleaming marquetry floors find a sleek counterpoint in Andean slate and vibrant local textiles. Each cabin features large picture windows and even personal oxygen bottles to keep soroche at bay.

The Belmond Andean Explorer as it traverses one of the world’s highest rail routes. Photo by the author.

Guests can choose between one- and two-night itineraries linking the former Incan capital of Cusco with Lake Titicaca—the world’s highest navigable lake—and Arequipa in the country’s far south. Along the route, enthusiastic guides bring the ancient Incan ruins of Raqch’i to life during a late afternoon visit; and in the desolate beauty of the National Reserve of Aguada Blanca and Salinas, spin tales behind the 7,000-year-old rock art of the Sumbay Caves. Silver-tongued excursion manager Aly Amaut even convinces a few guests, wrapped in provided baby alpaca shawls, to leave their cabins for chilly but spectacular sunrises over the glacier-fed lake of Sara Cocha and Lake Titicaca. The latter beckons with a detour to the floating totora reed-bed villages of the Uros people, followed by a lunch of local quinoa and lake trout on the UNESCO-listed island of Taquile.

Cabin interiors evoke the golden era of train travel. Photo courtesy of Belmond.

Meals aboard the Andean Explorer are no less enticing. Star chef Diego Muñoz has designed a menu that celebrates Peruvian produce and tradition—standouts include giant corn with cheese and paprika, and corvina a la plancha (seared sea bass with Andean mint–scented broad beans, citric yogurt, and onion broth). Soroche aside, it all makes for an unforgettable adventure.

Prices for a one-night excursion are from US$1,830 per deluxe cabin, inclusive of meals, drinks, and scheduled tours; see belmond.com.

This article originally appeared in the October/November print issue of DestinAsian magazine (“Peruvian Passage”).

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