After a good night’s sleep and a leisurely morning at the Hotel Jose Antonio in Puno, we arrive at Belmond’s private railway station at the port in Puno by 11 a.m. The expansive Andean Explorer Train is waiting for us at Puno’s Lake Titicaca pier, just next to the shabby Ollanta Steam Ship, which is parked there awaiting renovation. The train operator Belmond organizes our check-in to the Andean Explorer Train quickly and professionally. In the meantime, we meet our fellow train travelers and have time to drink a glass of champagne in the station’s waiting room. The train starts to move while all the travelers congregate in the bar car to listen to the tour program and instructions about the train’s security measures. The guests are then guided individually to their train cabins and shown the features of their luxury accommodations.
As soon as the train leaves the city of Puno behind, the shoreline of the Lake Titicaca comes into view. We soon observe from the train the “Floating Islands of the Uros,” a stop we do not include on our tours because we visit the much more authentic Sun Island on the Bolivian side of the Lake.
The first highlight of the train journey happens in Juliaca at km 43, about an hour after the train has departed from Puno. As soon as the train leaves the Juliaca railway station, the train follows the busy, narrow market street in central Juliaca for about 10-15 minutes. Market sellers must momentarily shut down their colorful stalls as the train passes before reopening them behind the train. The passage through the market is a fantastic spectacle to watch from the observation car at the tail of the train.
As soon as the train leaves Juliaca’s city center, the train crew serves a delicious three-course a la carte lunch in the train’s dining car. An excellent wine selection to accompany the meals is available on the train. During the rest of the afternoon, train guests have time to enjoy the passing views from the windows of their cabins or from the observation car. The region between Juliaca and the ascent to La Raya is very flat and represents the highest part of the South American Altiplano. About 10 km before arriving at the Station of La Raya, the train enters a valley from which approaching snow-capped peaks are visible from the train windows.
At 4335 m (14,222 ft) above sea level, La Raya is the highest point of the Andean Explorer Train journey between Puno and Cusco. The train reaches La Raya just before dark falls, the last sunbeam normally illuminating the glaciers covering the high mountains nearby.
In La Raya a small souvenir market is organized where indigenous women from nearby villages sell textiles. We have 10-20 minutes to stroll through the stalls there before the train continues towards Cusco. As soon as the train enters the upper Vilcanota Valley, it gets dark outside. A piano player begins entertaining the guests in the bar car while staff serve aperitifs. The fabulous three-course dinner starts around 7:30 p.m. and concludes before the train reaches the railway station in Cusipata near 9:00 p.m. The dinner on the moving train is an experience in itself. After dinner, the bar opens, where we can have a drink before retiring for a good night of sleep.
The journey continues at 5:30 a.m. the following day as the train departs for Cusco. A delicious breakfast is served beginning at 6:00 a.m. either in the dining car or by room service to your cabin. During the last leg of the trip, the train follows the Vilcanota River, now called the Urubamba River, and enters the Rio Huatanay Valley. The train follows this small river for about an hour, arriving in Cusco at 7:35 a.m.
The Andean Explorer Train Journey is available as a short trip Cusco–Puno or Puno–Cusco and as a more extended trip Cusco–Puno–Arequipa or Arequipa–Puno–Cusco. The extended trip includes an excursion to Lake Titicaca, where one can visit the Uros floating islands and Taquile Island. In 2020, we don’t have the Andean Explorer Train in any of our tour programs. However, the Perurail Titicaca Train from Puno to Cusco is part of our two tours Buenos Aires to Lima: High Andes & Machu Picchu and Majestic Andean Rail Adventure.
🚂 Travel Tip: My personal favorite journey on the Belmond Andean Explorer Train is from Cusco to Arequipa, a journey which is truly a once-in-a-lifetime experience.