Train rides from Machu Picchu

Carmel Stewart

One whistle you’ll struggle to hear anywhere in Peru is that of the train. There is no national railway network in the country. At one stage is its evolution it was decided that trains were expensive and unlikely to makes a profit over such a vast and mountainous terrain, so they were dropped from political manifestos and now the rail network is sporadic.

Aguas Calientes - closest train station to Machu Picchu © Carmel Stewart

The exception is the Inca settlement at Machu Picchu. Peru Rail has the franchise and so sets the timetable and charges the prices it reckons it can get away with. The cheapest one-way ticket is currently $56 US, rising to $71 for the Vistadome experience and $329 for the Hiram Bingham special. Frankly, for that money I would expect a personal appearance from the man himself, at the very least.

Even if the steep price does not act as a deterrent, the unhelpful bureaucracy surrounding the purchase of a ticket could make visitors re-think their options – even for a lively, entertaining and picturesque train journey lasting three hours. Unless you have booked in advance, the chances of buying a ticket from Aguas Calientes, the nearest station to Machu Picchu, back to Poroy, the nearest station to Cuzco, are slim. Tickets for tourist apparently cannot be printed at Aquas, although the locals seem to have no problem. Staff there willingly took our cash in the morning for an upgrade from the backpacker special to the slightly more upmarket Vistadome, telling us the tickets would be sent up in the next train from Ollantaytambo in time for our train that afternoon. However, come departure time, the man in the peaked cap decided that we could not have our tickets until the following day. A few well-chosen words, interlaced with threats of death by strangulation – it had been a long day – produced the promised pieces of paper.

Railway Entertainment © Carmel Stewart

The journey was immensely entertaining. Staff served a very basic snack with as much ceremony as a four-course dinner – linen table cloths, napkins and trays flourished aloft, all for a cup of tea and a biscuit. And, no sooner had these been cleared away with equal solemnity than waiters and waitresses were dressed up and strutting their stuff down the aisles – first in traditional costumes performing ceremonial dances and then, bizarrely, as mannequins in a fashion show, complete with price lists and order forms. Now that would go down well on New York, Sydney and London commuter trains.


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