From Arequipa to Cusco: With the luxury train through the Andes - n-tv.de
Is it the thin mountain air, the overwhelming landscape or the elegant luxury train? A trip with the new "Belmond Andean Explorer" in Peru is definitely breathtaking.
The "Belmond Andean Explorer" winds its way through the gorge of the Rio Urubamba. At Cusco, the river has dug deep furrows in the Peruvian Andes. On the left the narrow track bed clings to a rock wall, on the right the slope suddenly drops to the Urubamba lined with eucalyptus trees. On the slopes, farmers work on narrow terraces that the Incas have already wrested from the mountains.
Near the world famous Inca city of Machu Picchu, the train route of the new "Andean Explorer" looks like a film set. That must also have been thought by the German director Werner Herzog, who made film classics like "Aguirre" and "Fitzcarraldo" with Klaus Kinski at Urubamba in the 1970s. After Ollantaytambo, the river winds eastwards into the rainforest, where it flows into the Amazon. The route of the "Andean Explorer", however, leads from Cusco southwest past Lake Titicaca to Arequipa.
The new luxury passenger train has connected the two pearls of the Peruvian Andes since summer 2017. The journey takes two nights with the company that also operates the "Venice Simplon-Orient-Express" in Europe and the "Eastern & Oriental Express" in Asia. The trip from Cusco to the south is nicer because the train then passes through the most impressive areas during the day - including the spectacular, almost 4,500-meter high passes between Puno and Arequipa. If you plan your trip dramaturgically, you have to start in Arequipa. After all, there is no more impressive finale than Cusco with the Machu Picchu wonder of the world.
Whichever direction you go, you should take your time to acclimatize. Especially if you are arriving from the seaside capital of Lima. Cusco is 3416, Arequipa is at least 2300 meters high. Some travelers stay out of breath, not only because of the panorama: Arequipa is framed by volcanic cones up to 6000 meters high. If you look at the cathedral from the Plaza de Armas, the Misti volcano seems to rise directly behind the two bell towers. The mighty Feuerberg is an unmistakable sign that it is bubbling under Arequipa. In 2001, one of the church towers collapsed in an earthquake.
The old town around the cathedral, one of the most monumental structures of the Spanish conquerors in South America, was declared a World Heritage Site by Unesco in 2000. The church and the Santa Catalina Monastery, along with the 3000-meter-deep Colca Canyon, one of the deepest gorges on earth, are the region's tourist magnets. The railway line between Arequipa and Puno with its almost 4,500 meter high passes is one of the highest train routes in the world. In Andquipa the "Andean Explorer" starts in the evening on the edge of the old town. The train is a rolling luxury hotel with five-star service and historical charm. "The old wagons come from Australia," says train manager Arnaldo Ponce de Leon de la Cruz. They were restored and rebuilt in Cusco for 18 months. 24 compartments were integrated into the wagons, all with their own bathrooms including shower and toilet. There are restaurant, bar and open observation cars at the end of the train.
As soon as nimble helpers have stowed their luggage in the compartments decorated with wood paneling and polished brass, the passengers meet for an aperitif at the bar. A piano player strums jazz classics, behind the counter a bartender mixes cocktails. The interior of the bar wagon is stylish, the service perfect.
Only most of the guests don't quite fit into the colonial-style setting of the rolling bar. In other luxury trains such as the "Eastern & Oriental Express", the women in dresses and men appear at least in suits. In the "Andean Explorer" the outdoor group predominates with hiking shirts and fleece pullovers. The bartender takes it easy and diligently mixes Pisco Sour. The national drink of the Peruvians consists of three parts of the high-proof brandy Pisco, one part of lime juice, egg white and ice. "And finally, three drops of Angostura have to be added," emphasizes the bartender. The drink is delicious, but it has it all. "Especially on the first night, you should stay with you and drink plenty of water." After all, wine is also served during the dinner.
Peru's wine is nothing special, but the cuisine is first class. On board the train, Diego Munoz from the "Monasterio" hotel in Cusco is a top chef in the country. Munoz uses Peru's whole variety of vegetables, fruits and cereals for his creations. Delicious his cappuccino from the Peruvian bean, the alpaca tortellini and the fillet of beef with Peruvian truffle. The chef refrains from guinea pigs, which need getting used to for foreigners. Despite the bed heaviness due to the multi-course menu, the first night on the train is a challenge for non-acclimatized people. The higher the train turns, the thinner the air. Some people throb their skulls, older semesters get short of breath. For many, sleep is out of the question. You lie comfortably, especially in the eight suites. In these, guests can relax in a lush double bed that is reminiscent of James Bond films.
In the event of breathlessness, a refreshing pull from the small oxygen bottle at the end of the bed helps, and for more serious symptoms a nurse on board. Peruvians like to chew coca leaves or drink coca tea against altitude sickness, which improves oxygen absorption. Lime is added to the coca leaves. So don't make them addicted. Everyone has their own secret recipe, but the simplest is: slow down and enjoy.
Elsewhere, a train journey should lead from A to B as quickly as possible, not here: The train rolls through the Andes at a maximum of 48 kilometers per hour. So you can calmly look at the passing landscape and think about some of the madness of otherwise otherwise hectic everyday life. A luxury train journey is always a journey to yourself. This venture is interrupted by excursions. After the first night, the train company swarms out in Puno on Lake Titicaca. For some, the largest lake in South America is a highlight of the roughly 550-kilometer train journey, for others simply a huge expanse of water on an unspectacular plateau. Puno is located at 3827 meters, but there are no dramatic mountains on Lake Titicaca. The snow-capped six thousand meter peaks mostly hide far behind the horizon.
On the lake, a visit to the "Island of the knitting men" (Isla Tacquile) is just as much a part of the standard tourist program as a detour to the Uros. The indigenous people who once fled to the lake from the Incas still live on and from their floating islands. This Peruvian version of the houseboat is made of thick reeds, which the Uros cleverly tie together to form stable surfaces. Families and even entire villages can be found on an island. Like the knitting men on Tacquile, the Uros like to show their culture and offer their handicrafts.
From Lake Titicaca, the train then rolls across Puno, where the tracks partly lead across streets. There is often only a few centimeters of space between the houses and the wagons. Even if the Federal Foreign Office advises caution because of a possible attack in Peru, the guests on board feel safe. "I'm not worried, major US cities are more dangerous," said a Chicago tourist.
The "Andean Explorer" does not take any risks. "In front of and behind the train, security guards use special rail vehicles," said train manager de la Cruz. Most of the time the train rolls through deserted landscapes anyway. The plateaus covered with grass are particularly impressive. There the deep blue train with the white roof shines for the bet against the blue sky with spring clouds. After a short trip to the 700-year-old pre-Inca temple ruins in Raqchi, the train rolls through the Urubamba Valley to Cusco. In 1511 Francisco Pizarro conquered the rich Inca capital for the Spanish crown. Where the four imperial streets of the Inca Empire once converged, the colonial masters built imposing palaces, churches and monasteries around the central Plaza des Armas.
Many passengers of the "Andean Explorer" get back on the next train after a night in the hotel. There are two nice ways to get to Machu Picchu: a multi-day hike through the Valle Sagrado via the Inca Trail or the "Hiram Bingham". The luxury train with gourmet restaurant and bar on board not only brings its guests comfortably, but also privileges from Cusco to the Inca fortress discovered by researcher Hiram Bingham in 1911.
Other visitors wait hours for buses to take them from the train station in the small town of Aguas Caliente to the fortress or back. The "Hiram Bingham" guests, on the other hand, are sneaked past the snakes by their guides to spend more time in the terraced Inca city. The view over the ruins at the foot of the cone-shaped Huayna Picchu is the highlight of a breathtaking train journey through the Andes.