silvia
Silvia Pisci
INCA RAIL – PRESIDENTIAL CLASS
4th October 2016

The only chartered carriage operating to/from Machu Picchu, Inca Princess by Inca Rail is the ultimate luxury train experience, and we certainly couldn’t leave Peru before trying it!

 

Service
It was around 6.30pm when I got to Aguas Calientes station, 30 minutes before the scheduled departure. The station was very crowded, but I easily located an Inca Rail assistant who asked me to wait there (in front of the platforms), while she communicated my arrival to her colleagues by walkie-talkie.
I waited there about 10 minutes, standing, slightly disappointed to realize that Inca Rail doesn’t have a dedicated lounge (like Belmond does in the same station), and that there wasn’t a chair or something where I could sit, as I was exhausted after the long day in Machu Picchu. My friend and I were the only two passengers standing on a separate line, while next to us all the others were clumping on a queue that kept getting longer and longer… making me feel very relieved on one side, on the other a bit embarrassed for all those curious/jealous eyes on us…

We were then escorted to our carriage (it was actually right in front of the entrance to the platforms), where we’ve been greeted by the elegant Staff and escorted to our seats. It was only then when I realized we had the WHOLE coach for our exclusive use! Yes, I got overly excited and I didn’t do anything to hide it.

Minutes after (the train hadn’t left the station yet) we’ve been welcomed by our dedicated butler, who gave us a quick introduction about the train facilities, the dinner menu and the journey, while pouring champagne on our glasses.

We had a Staff of five members at our complete disposal (including a private chef by Lima's Cordon Bleu School) and they pampered us throughout the journey – each of them impeccable in his own duty, extremely attentive but not too stifling.

There was nothing like live music or entertainment on board: the whole journey, in fact, is designed as a private, intimate experience (the coach can carry a maximum of 8 passengers) – very different from anything else I had previously tried, and definitely unique in the most positive way.
Facilities
Differently from Belmond Hiram Bingham (which I use as reference since it’s the only real competitor operating on the same route) the Inca Princess is not a luxury train, but just one carriage on the “regular” Inca Rail train to/from Ollantaytambo-Machu Picchu. As such, the train doesn’t look anything special from the outside, and I was in fact underwhelmed at the beginning, while waiting to get onboard… But then...Surprise!!

The coach is pleasantly decorated, elegant and cozy with its wooden panels, colourful tapestries and Andean artworks here and there. There are four dining tables, a living area with an L-shaped leather sofa, a well-stocked bar and a washroom (tiny but tasteful and well equipped), plus a little balcony to enjoy the breeze as the train rolls through the Sacred Valley.

In addition to the spacious windows set on the side of each table there are smaller overhead ones, so the wagon must be filled with natural light on the morning route. Instead, most of my time on board was immersed in the dark: a completely different journey for sure, so it’s important to be clear on what you’re expecting the most from the experience - amazing views on the way to Machu Picchu, or a romantic tête-à-tête with your loved one.

All in all, the space recreates the intimacy of a living room rather than the pomposity of a chic restaurant… I felt at ease and very relaxed despite being, with my friend, the only passenger on the coach.

To complete the atmosphere, soft music (a pleasant mix of classical, jazz and local songs) plays in the background along the way.
Journey
The journey Aguas Calientes-Ollantaytambo only lasts 1.5 hours, but nothing about it feels rushed or pressured. Quite the opposite in fact: timings were perfect to enjoy an aperitif, the 3-course dinner, and a last glass of wine before getting off the train. Our butler was perfectly on top of the schedule, so while he was allowing us all the privacy and time to enjoy the experience at best, he was able to “guide us” along the journey – suggesting, for example, to have a drink in the living area before dinner was served in another 20 minutes…

Understandably, there’s not enough time to prepare a dinner from a full à-la-carte menu, reason why, days in advance, I was contacted by email and asked to advise about any food allergies or even just preferences they should have taken into account. I never miss the chance to be a bit fussy at the restaurant, but I couldn’t imagine that they would have come up with a fully customized menu for me...

The meal was excellent: fresh products, local delicate recipes, and different South American wines to pair the three courses. Every dish was beautifully presented and explained by the waiters. Full marks to the service.

After dinner the butler invited us to sit at the bar and try one of the barman’s signature cocktails, but by that time my friend and I had already drunk a number of glasses, so we apologetically declined… It' was clear, anyway, that they don’t save on good quality wines and spirits: they would have kept opening bottles without hesitation, if only we asked them so… Long life to Open Bar!

It was about 8.30 when we reached Ollantaytambo. The entire Staff was there to say goodbye and help us with the luggage, and they even gave us lovely personalized farewell present.
Perceived Value
A one-way journey aboard the Inca Rail costs $5,000. While it may sound overly expensive, it's not that bad at all if you split it in 8 (it's actually much cheaper than chartering any other luxury train on the area). On the other side, it's such a unique experience that the price is worth it even just for 2 people.
Verdict
The experience aboard Inca Princess was absolutely unique, not comparable to any other train journeys I’ve done before. The intimacy as well as the personalized service you get make Inca Princess a superb choice for honeymooners (well, couples in general), but also for special family celebrations.
While kids would certainly enjoy the mid-morning or afternoon train better (when you can enjoy the views outside and the breeze from the balcony), anyone considering the Inca Princess for a romantic date should definitely book the evening journey.
I couldn't imagine a better way to seal the magic memories of a day in Machu Picchu.