From Urubamba we were heading down to Lake Titikaka on the border with Bolivia. What’s the best way to go? Well, you could take a bus, a long bus to Puno, the major Peruvian city on the lake. Or, if you want to splurge, you could take the Andean Explorer, a luxury train that crosses through amazing scenery across the Andes down to Lake Titikaka. So we went with the Andean Explorer.
Back in the day, before they had paved the highway to Puno, the train was the only realistic option for getting from Cuzco to the lake. Today the highway is paved and buses are an entirely reasonable option if you’re willing to sit on a bus for eight or nine hours; they even follow pretty much the same route, so you see the same scenery. The train, though, is a way to see Andean Peru in style, in comfortable wing-back chairs, with table cloths, wine, pisco sours, a nice lunch, great tea service, a bar, and semi-open observation car. It genuinely feels like a throwback to the glories of the late 19th century plus internet access so you can keep tabs on how the stock market is doing.
We loved it. We’d done something similar in Switzerland, when we took the Glacier Express from Zermatt to St. Moritz. We both thought this was significantly better; better food, better service, more comfortable, maybe even better scenery (though the Swiss Alps aren’t exactly boring). It’s a ten-and-a-half hour journey, so doing it in style and class makes for a pretty fabulous day. To give you a sense of “style,” I learned while reading up on the route that the car interiors were designed by the same firm that designed Singapore Airlines’ First Class cabins, generally conceded to be the best in the business.You’d sit, maybe read a little, look out the windows, watch the mountains go by. Our car was almost entirely an Australian tour group with a guide Mark & I loved talking to. The only non-Australians in the group was an American couple from Oregon who won’t travel with American tours for fear they’ll have to deal with Republican.s Gotta love them!
One of the highlights was stopping at La Raya Pass, the high point of the trip at 14,150 feet above sea level. We think that’s the highest either of us have ever been, and it definitely had the feel of just a remarkable and remarkably remote place on earth. From there we descended to Puno, still over 12,000 feet, on our way to explore Lake Titikaka and then move on to Bolivia.