Wednesday, July 20, 2011

The Train to Machu Picchu

Machu Picchu and I have something in common: we share the same birthday! Sunday, July 24th, marks the 100th Anniversary of Hiram Bingham’s "re-discovery" of Machu Picchu, the “Lost City of the Incas” in Peru. This is sort of like an old friend, whom I haven’t seen in years, bumping into me at the grocery store and proclaiming, “I’ve discovered you!” Neither one of us was ever really “lost”!

Never-the-less, to celebrate the Anniversary of the introduction of this ancient Incan city to the rest of the world, I thought it would be an apropos time to write about my most recent visit to Machu Picchu.

It was still dark o'clock when our alarm clock went off in our hotel room in Cusco, Peru. Regardless, we woke up with a feeling of elation because this was the day we had been looking forward to, for over three years! 

The streets of Cusco were deserted when a taxi picked us up from our hotel and drove us to the Poroy train station about twenty minutes away. My husband, Ashton, and I were taking the PeruRail VistaDome train to the town of Aguas Calientes, the train stop for Machu Picchu.
The train station waiting room appeared new, clean, and had some seating. However, it wasn’t heated and, despite being bundled up in layers, we could still see our breath in the cold mountain air. The PeruRail staff scurried around carrying provisions, polishing, and preparing the train. They took great care in cleaning the windows, which we appreciated, since we chose the VistaDome for the scenic views it would provide.

The Waiting Room at the Poroy Train Station near Cusco, Peru

The train was modern and comfortable, a far cry from the local trains I took 20 years ago. Back then, travelers and locals were packed in together, standing room only, with the vegetables and the animals. I understand that PeruRail has been operating this train service now for 10 years. There are three types of trains: The Backpackers train, the VistaDome, and the luxurious Hiram Bingham Orient Express. We opted for the mid-range VistaDome, because I’m a sucker for views. We bought our tickets ahead of time from home, through PeruRail's website. 

The train platform

The PeruRail VistaDome Train

Yours truly ready to board the train for Machu Picchu!

After finding our seat, we settled in for a scenic train ride. Ashton and I realized that, incredibly, it was our first train journey together; something to celebrate! Break out the Inca Kola! (Boy I miss that stuff now)! 

The VistaDome

 At first we passed farmland and a lot of adobe farm houses. Freshly made adobe bricks were spread on the ground, drying. The scenery reminded me of the California Central Valley, where I grew up, and I wasn't very impressed. But, it was still relaxing and wonderful sitting back comfortably, watching the scenery go by, while listening to the pleasant Peruvian Andean music being piped through the train's speakers. The entire trip was going to be about three hours.

We Passed a few villages and observed the locals  going about their daily business.

At some point we were served lunch by our train attendants. 
It was accompanied by the ubiquitous, and yummy, Maté de Coca (Coca leaf tea).

Kilometer 82, one of the starting points for the Inca Trail

Then, we started to spot snow covered peaks in the distance. 

At one point the train stopped, and completed a couple of switchbacks. This is where it got more interesting. 

On one side—mine mostly—the train was so close to the rock wall that I felt we would collide with it at any moment.
Upon arrival at Aguas Calientes or “Machu Picchu Town”, as it is sometimes referred to,  we disembarked, looked around, and took stock of our surroundings. I thought: Boy, this sure looked different from what it did 20 years ago!  We walked out of the train station and were immediately met by a bunch of people, holding up signs with hotel names. Ashton and I were ready to make our way to our hotel when we noticed a guy holding up a sign that read, “Gringo Bills”, our destination; How convenient. This was unbelievable! 

The exit from the Machu Picchu Train Station leads straight into the market!
 To reach the street you must navigate through a gauntlet of sales people!

Hotel Representatives hold up signs with the name of their respective hotels.

We waited for two other couples and then the gentleman placed all of our bags on a cart and we all followed him, through the gauntlet of the market, over a bridge crossing a creek that meets up with the Urubamba River, through skinny streets of Aguas Calientes, and up to our hotel. After 
dropping off our luggage we immediately set off to spend the afternoon at Machu Picchu!

Stay Tuned for more on Machu Picchu and Aguas Calientes.


  1. Love it! And a very happy (early) birthday to you both! So true - few places have spread and sprawled at such a remarkable pace as end of that train line at Aguas Calientes. But discovereing, or re-discovering, Machu Picchu is so worth it!

  2. Thank you so much for taking the time to read it, and comment. Oh, and thanks for the b-day wishes! Greatly appreciated! :)