The taxi that I reserved through the front desk of Sonesta Posadas Del Inca Puno the night before, picked us up on time and drove us to the Peru Rail train station located in the city center of Puno Peru. The station was not yet open when we arrived. Our taxi driver, who was the same driver that took us into town from our hotel two days earlier, asked the station security guard why the station was not open, and he was told that it would open in couple of minutes. We waited outside in the cold and after about 10 minute of waiting, the big wooden doors of the station opened and we went inside. A Peru Rail employee checked our tickets, tagged our luggages and then took them away to be loaded onto to the baggage car of our Andean Explorer Train to Cusco.
The inside of the station is nice but without any heating turned on, the inside was only mildly warmer than the outside. There were outdoor type heaters, and smaller space heaters throughout the waiting room but none of them were turned on when we arrived. More and more passengers began to arrive as we sat down waiting to board the Andean Explorer Train. While the entrance to the platform was roped off, I was given permission by one of the the Andean Explorer Train staff member keeping watch, to go out onto the platform and take pictures of the Andean Explorer Train being prepared for the journey to Cusco. Other passengers who wanted to take pictures were also given the go ahead to enter onto the platform. The Andean Explorer Train consisted of one engine, one kitchen car, three passenger cars and one bar car at the very end. The bar car on the Andean Explorer has a open platform in the rear, which is a boon for picture taking.
As it got closer and closer to the Andean Explorer’s departure time, more passengers arrived and the train staff setup coffee and coca tea station for the Andean Explorer passengers in the waiting room. Tickets for the Andean Explorer Train were collected by a train staff and then returned once checkin is completed at the podium. Instead of the table that we were assigned to when I bought our tickets, we were given a different table which the Andean Explorer checkin staff wrote onto the ticket. The Andean Explorer staff also explained that no one else would be sitting with us at our newly assigned table.
When it was time to board, Andean Explorer Train staff escorted each group to the train and showed them to their assigned table. My parents and I were the second group to board the Andean Explorer Train right behind a young lady traveling solo. Once I stowed my stuff at our table, I went around the inside and outside of the Andean Explorer Train taking pictures. The bar car on the Andean Explorer, has both sofa and armchair seating in the main bar area and bench type seating in the rear quarter of the car where the open platform is located. Alcoholic drinks, except for a welcome champagne cocktail and a glass of wine during lunch, are not included in the ticket of the Andean Explorer Train. Containers containing sweet potato chips and plantain chips are distributed throughout the bar car for the passengers to help themselves to. On the Andean Explorer, drinking water is plentiful throughout the journey and soda’s are included during meal times only. The drinking water served aboard the Andean Explorer Train are poured from a five gallon bottled water jug into decanters before being served so the water is very safe to drink.
The tables and chairs inside of the passenger cars on the Andean Explorer Train vary from single, double and four person tables. The configurations are quite varied. Some two person tables are side by side while others are face to face. My parents and I were assigned a four person table with the fourth seat unoccupied, which we used for storing our carryon bags. Two out of three cars were occupied by passengers and the third car was not. Due to the low passenger volume on todays Andean Explorer Train to Cusco, the third passenger cars’s tables were not setup with the table clothes and flower like in the other two cars where passengers are traveling in. The cars are lettered A, B and C. We were in car A. Each seat already had a airline style pillow for passengers to use for the 10+ hour journey to Cusco.
The Andean Explorer departed Puno Station on time. Right after the last car passes the station ground, a station employees closes the gate to prevent anyone from accessing the rail yard. Since the Andean Explorer Train travels through the city center of Puno where people and businesses are right along the tracks, the Andean Explorer Train travels slowly through the city. Sammy, our waiter aboard the Andean Explorer came through the car taking tea and coffee orders and also taking orders for breakfast for anyone who wanted to purchase breakfast. Only lunch and afternoon tea are included on the Andean Explorer. A gentleman from Australia did purchase breakfast but my parents and I passed. In our car, I did not see anyone else ordering breakfast other than the Australian gentleman.
Once we were outside of Puno, the Andean Explorer picked up speed. By no means did we ever reach TGV speeds but in unpopulated and level areas, the Andean Explorer was traveling noticeably faster. My dad and I went to the rear open platform on the Andean Explorer to look at the passing scenery. After spending some time taking pictures from the open platform, we ordered couple of pisco sours at the bar. Along with the pisco sours my dad and I helped ourselves to the sweet potato chips and the ever-present Peruvian cancha corn nuts already on the little table.
Once my dad and I finished our pisco sours, we joined my mom back at our table. Shortly after, the Andean Explorer arrived at Juliaca Station where it stopped for a while. I am not sure if Peru Rail sells tickets to and from Juliaca Peru, but no passengers boarded from what I could tell. Juliaca Station looked more like an industrial/freight depot than a station used for passenger train service. Just as before at Puno Station, after the Andean Explorer leaves the station grounds, the gates to the station property is closed off to prevent access.
Once the Andean Explorer started to move again, I headed to the rear platform to watch and take pictures of the train slowly work its way through Juliaca Market, where vendors sell there wares close to or on the tracks. When the Andean Explorer Train comes through the market, the vendors will temporarily remove the obstructions they setup or leave them right in the middle of the track if the Andean Explorer Train can go right over it. Once the Andean Explorer passes by, vendors will put umbrellas and awnings back up and over the tracks.
During the Andean Explorer Train’s travel through Juliaca’s Market, the rear platform was full of passengers trying to record or snap pictures of the routine the vendors perform whenever the Andean Explorer Train comes through the market. In the above picture, you can see how quickly vendors restore their store setup after the Andean Explorer passes by their market stall. My parents stayed at their seats while I spent most of the Andean Explorer’s travel through the market on the rear platform. Since I studied ahead of time and knew when the Andean Explorer would begin traveling through the market, I was able to grab the spot right in the middle of the platform while others had to deal with shooting pictures fringe an angle.
The last part of the market that the Andean Explorer traveled through was what I would call a “junk yard.” Vendors were selling all kinds of used knick knacks. While I can not see any uses for the junks being sold, there must be people willing to buy them or there would not be so many vendors selling them.
Once the Andean Explorer left Juliaca’s market area, an announcement was made about an event in the bar car. My parents and I stayed at our seats and did not attend the event. One of the waitress working aboard the Andean Explorer brought a tray of the welcome drinks, which were being served in the bar car, to anyone who were not attending the event. Glasses of water, were constantly refilled throughout the 10+ hour journey to Cusco aboard the Andean Explorer. Due to the dry air along the Andean Explorer route, water was the most popular drink among the passengers.
Earlier, I asked one of the Andean Explorer staff member if I could see the kitchen car. I was told that he would ask the train manager. After couple of minutes, the staff member came back and told me that I could see the car 30 min before lunch service when things have calmed down a bit in the Andean Explorer kitchen car. Exactly 30 minutes before lunch was to be served, Sammy our waiter came to get me for the tour. I met up with the train manager who escorted me to the Andean Explorer’s kitchen car to show me around. The train manager explained to me that everything is cooked fresh aboard the train. Nothing is precooked at some commercial kitchen before being boarded onto the train.
Orders for lunch were taken shortly after the Andean Explorer departed from Puno Station. There were two choices for the main course and all of the other courses did not have a choice. Still, the crew would try their best to accommodate any allergies that you might have to any of the lunch course items.
Shortly after I returned back from the kitchen car, our waiter Sammy was busy setting up all of the tables in Car A of the Andean Explorer for lunch service. Everything on the table was hand placed piece by piece by Sammy in the proper location on the table. Sammy made sure that all of the silverwares lined up perfectly in its proper place on the table. During lunch, a glass of wine is included along with soft drinks. Bread and butter followed behind after the tables were setup.
Three kinds of bread were offered aboard the Andean Explorer during lunch. Later on, a staff member came through the Andean Explorer passenger cars refilling the bread baskets for anyone who wanted more bread. During the bread refill, we snagged more of the cheese puff bread. Next came wine, with a choice of Cabernet Sauvignon for red wine or Chardonnay for white wine. Both wines were from Chile. (I Believe) The wine service was followed by any soft drinks that passengers ordered.
During the meal service, EVERYONE working aboard the Andean Explorer was involved in serving the passengers. From the bartender to the train manager, all Andean Explorer staff members were busy serving and clearing plates from the tables. Appetizer for lunch today was smoked trout served atop quinoa blini and sour cream. Fresh cracked black pepper was offered which I accepted.
Once the appetizer course was finished and the plates cleared, the main course arrived. I ordered the beef dish which was served with a side of steamed rice. My mom ordered the quinoa and vegetable risotto style dish. Normally my mom would have ordered the beef dish, but due to the effects of altitude sickness, she wanted to stick with something light. My beef dish was good and even better when the sauce was mixed in with the rice. I was also suffering from the effects of the high altitude, so I did not finish my plate. My dad had the same problem as the rest of us.
Once the main course plates were cleared away, then came the dessert course, which was called “chocolate temptation” on the menu. The dessert course was followed by coffee and tea service for those who wanted to end the meal with a hot beverage. Just when we thought the lunch service was all over, petit fours were brought out to the tables.
Once lunch service was completed, the Andean Explorer Train by now was completely out of any city or town, and making the slow climb up to La Raya, which is the highest elevation of this trip. I was out on the rear open platform where my mom joined me. The Andean Explorer Train made a stop at a siding to meet up with the Andean Explorer Train traveling along the opposite direction to Puno from Cusco. During the Andean Explorer’s stop, three local women came up to the platform to sell their wares. They scared the crap out of me when they popped up while I was leaning on the rail of the bar car taking pictures. One of the passengers bough something from the woman on the far left. My mom, feeling sorry for the women, had me buy a llama from one of the woman who did not sell anything. Then my mom feeling sorry for the third woman who made no sale at all, had me buy another llama, this time a brown one from the woman in the middle.
The two llamas made it back home with us and now sit on the shelf with other knick knacks from my parents travel around the world. When the Andean Explorer Train began to move again, the three women chased after the train. None of the passengers aboard the Andean Explorer Train had a clue why they were chasing after a moving train, but less than a minute later, the Andean Explorer stopped again, for one of the onboard railroad crew to manually throw the switch for our train to reenter the mainline track. The three ladies knew this and two of them finally caught up with the Andean Explorer again attempt one last sale to the train passengers. The gentleman from Australia just gave one of the ladies money but did not take any merchandise.
Once the Andean Explorer was on the mainline and moving again, everyone on the platform waved goodbye to the two remaining women as the train picked up speed and the women got smaller in the distance. Once we arrived at La Raya, passengers disembarked to get some fresh air, some smoked and others shopped at the local artisan market. Neither my parents nor I bought anything, but many passengers boarded the train with purchases from the market.
La Raya, is the highest point on our journey from Puno to Cusco and while the stop here at La Raya I do not think has any technical necessity for the Andean Explorer Train, the stop is made by the Andean Explorer traveling in both directions of travel. The stop I am guessing is purely to give the locals an opportunity to sell their products to the Andean Explorer passengers.
Once everyone was back aboard the train, the Andean Explorer continued on its journey to Cusco. After leaving La Raya, the scenery changes to farms and small villages nestled in a valley with a river running through it. The Urubamba river, starts in La Raya, and eventually meets up with the Amazon River. The water from La Raya, will eventually end up in the Atlantic Ocean, after crossing the South American Continent.
While the valley was beautiful, there were a lot of field and mountain side purposely being burned by village residents and farmers. The smoke from the fires mixed with the dry air, was wreaking havoc on the Andean Explorer passenger’s sinuses. There was a lot of nose blowing going on during the Andean Explorer’s route through the valley. Onboard the Andean Explorer, there was a fashion show in the bar car, but my parents nor I went to see it. Traditional Peruvian music and dancing was also performed in the bar car for those who wanted to watch. We stuck with watching the scenery go by through the window from our table.
Around 5PM, Sammy came through the car setting the tables for afternoon tea service. While there were options for other tea or coffee, we tried the special herbal blend tea made from fresh herbs. Along with the tea was a plate for each passenger containing two sandwiches and two dessert and a fruit garnish. Everything tasted great and the portions were just the right size to hold us over until dinner in Cusco. Just as before during lunch service, all Andean Explorer Train crew members, were involved in serving passengers from the bartender to the train manager.
Once the afternoon tea service was over and cleared away, Sammy came through the car with the bill for bar and food items that were ordered. I paid for the two psico sours that my dad and I had earlier in the trip with my credit card. Next, the train manager came through each car, asking the passengers about their next plans after disembarking from the Andean Explorer, and arranging taxis for anyone who needed them. When the manager came to our table, I let him know that we were checking into the Palacio Del Inka Hotel and he offered to get us a taxi which I accepted. The train manager also informed me how much the taxi ride would cost from the station to our hotel.
Once the Andean Explorer Train arrived into Cusco, passengers were asked to stay aboard the train for a bit so that the luggages could be unloaded from the baggage car for the passengers to reclaim. As soon as Sammy got the word that it was ok to let the passengers out, the doors of our car was opened and we disembarked after double checking to make sure nothing fell out of our pockets during the 10+ hour ride from Puno aboard the Andean Explorer.
In conclusion, while the Andean Explorer might not be the fastest way to get from Puno to Cusco, it is the most luxurious way to get between the two cities. The Andean Explorer Train is not a daily train and the schedule changes based on the season. If you are in Peru, and traveling between Puno and Cusco, give the Andean Explorer Train a try. The Andean explorer gives you the opportunity to see Peru from the rear open deck platform all the while traveling and eating in affordable luxury.