silvia
Silvia Pisci
ANDEAN EXPLORER
Av La Torre 224, Puno
16th August 2016

Crossing the Peruvian highlands for over 300 Km, Andean Explorer may not be the cheapest or shortest way to travel from Cusco to Puno, but it’s unquestionably the most spectacular. Reaching altitutes up to 4,312 meters (14,150 feet), this journey will definitely freshen up your mind and soul… Get on board with RASK!

Service
Service on the Andean Explorer was absolutely up to the standards of a luxury train, although slightly less pampering and personal comparing to the other Belmond journeys I’ve experienced (in fact, it’s important to note that Andean Explorer is not (yet!) a fully-fledged Belmond product, but the result of a collaboration between Peru Rail and Belmond).

I got to Cusco train station 30 minutes before the scheduled departure at 8am. I’ve been immediately assisted with check-in and then escorted to my seat, waiting for all other passengers to get onboard.
The train Staff was kind and helpful, very well trained and precise, although not everybody could speak English fluently.

Entertainment, meals and time at leisure alternate smoothly, offering passengers enough time to enjoy every part of the trip thoroughly. Knowing that the journey would have lasted over 10 hours, I had brought enough books and magazines to “kill the time”, but in fact I only read a few pages and spent most of the time in the panoramic coach. That’s by far the best place to contemplate the views, engage in conversations with the other passengers and enjoy the live music and shows.
Facilities
The train is composed of 4 carriages only (one for the kitchen and Staff only, 2 dining coaches and one bar, where all the entertainment takes place), plus an open-air panoramic car.
The interiors recall the charm of the old luxury trains from the 20’s, with wooden panels, big comfortable chairs and wide panoramic windows. Everything was very clean and tidy, although the hard product felt a bit outdated and in need of renovations. The good news is that this will happen soon: the new Belmond Andean Explorer will start operating in 2017, and restorations will be substantial. Most of all, the train will feature sleeping couches, becoming South America’s first luxury sleeper train. This will certainly be an ideal solution to “cut” the route: I thoroughly enjoyed the journey, but some of my fellow travellers found it way too long (it’s 300 Km only, but the train proceeds at quite a slow path).

Be ready for 10 hours without wifi. I promise you won’t miss it…
Journey
I was still half asleep when I got on the train, but I soon renounced to the idea of a little nap as I realised that the couch was getting quite crowded and animated. In fact both coaches were full, passengers from very different nationalities and ages. I ordered a coffee then moved to the open-air coach, where I ended up spending most of the journey.
The train started rolling through a tiny rack and the Peruvian highlands opened up in their majestic beauty soon after we left Cusco.

The bar coach was the core of all the entertainment: a Peruvian band started playing and was then joined by dancers and performers in traditional dresses… a very lively and enjoyable show, although the space was limited and the volume quite high; plus, I didn’t want to get involved in the show (I have a tendency to embarrass myself in this kind of situations...!) so I watched it from the adjacent panoramic coach.
The show was followed by a Pisco sour demonstration – I duly took notes, then I ordered one ;)

There was also a “fashion show” in the afternoon, which I didn’t see though (I only saw the models walking their way to the bar and thought I could happily avoid it…).

The food served on board was exquisite. I had the chance to visit the kitchen and meet the industrious team of cooks, whose skills are fine-tuned at Belmond Hotel Monasterio – a guarantee of excellence. The three-course lunch (with a drink and coffee) as well as afternoon tea with gourmet snacks are included, while breakfast and other drinks can be ordered at an extra cost.

I lack words for the beauty of the panorama that was unrolling outside the windows throughout the journey. The majesty of the Andes marks the limit between the sky and immense breath-taking landscapes, interrupted here and there by small villages where time seemed to have stopped centuries ago. I don’t recall seeing that much untouched Nature all together in my life, and I was impressed by the diversity of the flora and fauna we crossed: from lush forests to semi-desertic lands, from flocks of flamingos and other colourful birds to a multitude of wild llamas, horses, alpacas, fawns…

The “return to reality” was quite abrupt as the train reached Juliaca a entered (yes!!) its market, a huge mass of used stuff, spares of any type and materials, food… Not a place I would have ever visited by myself, although the experience was extremely suggestive.

It was dark and cold outside when we got to Puno station. My luggage had been taken off the train with all the others’ and left on the platform; I took it (they give you an identification ticket upon departure to make sure no luggage gets lost, or in the wrong hands…) and walked towards the exit, where I was picked up and transferred to my hotel.
Perceived Value
Of the different ways available to reach Puno from Cusco, Andean Explorer is the longest and usually the most expensive (around $300 per person), but with no doubts also the most suggestive. The product is not top luxury (as other Belmond trains, e.g. Belmond Hiram Bingham), but the quality of service, meals and most of all the Natural scenery make the price absolutely worthwhile. Even more if you consider that the way back Puno-Cusco, due to the low request, only costs half the price ($175, with the same inclusions)!
Verdict
Andean Explore is the most beautiful train journey I’ve ever taken, and I’ve enjoyed every minute of it. I would absolutely recommend to keep a day on anyone’s travel schedule for this unique experience: the beauty and magic of the Andean landscape is nothing I could capture with my camera, but it will stick to my heart for life.