The train journey to Machu Picchu
Traveling to Peru at the end of the rainy season in March meant that we would be risking some serious damp downsides. Instead of hiking the steep and expensive Inca Trail through a potential mess of mud and mist, we decide to take the Inca Rail train to Machu Picchu. With spectacular views and a relaxing ride, the journey is itself an attraction.
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Just past dawn, it’s quiet in Ollantaytambo, a small and challenging-to-pronounce town in the heart of Peru’s Sacred Valley. Arriving at the town’s train station, we are softly greeted by Inca Rail’s staff, who seem to sense that we’re fragile early in the morning. As we board for our 6:40 am departure, we’re welcomed by a pan flute cover of ABBA’s Chiquitita.
It’s a chill ride as some people space out while their brains warm up to the day while others sleep in the soft tan leather seats. A nap is hard to resist—if I wasn’t mentally jangling with so much Machu Picchu anticipation, I might snooze too. Todd and I take advantage of the fold out tables, great for catching up on travel writing and at holding Todd’s army of markers.
The train pulls away from the station, passing terraced farms covered in yellow wild flowers that lead up to sheer cliffs softened by clouds that disintegrate as the sun rises. Teal and green birds in search of food or nest swoop across the river that runs alongside the train tracks.
The Inca Rail train travels along more than just a picturesque transit route, people live in the gorge and have for thousands of years. Through the large train windows, we see small village graveyards filled with wooden crosses and bunches of flowers. An isolated cornfield sports a red bag on top of a wooden pole, touting the availability of chicha, a freshly fermented corn beer. We pass the spot where, in 2010, relentless rains swept away the single train track to Machu Picchu, cutting off access to the Incan ruins for months.
Our Inca Rail executive class train tickets include a choice of tea, café con leche, or freshly squeezed juices. After we choose our breakfast snacks of Parmesan chips and sesame cookies, the Inca Rail server tops us off with even more treats: brownies and chocolates filled with jam made from the local aguaymanto fruit.
Todd reads aloud from our Lonely Planet Peru guide book about the Sacred Valley’s flora and fauna. He’s fascinated by the illogic of the Torrent Duck, which has evolved to survive river rapids. As he searches for the hell-bent bird in the tumbling, churned-brown Urubamba River that rushes next to the train tracks, Todd wonders, “Why would you take the rapids if you can fly?”
At this moment, I’m feeling the same way about our smart decision to ride the Inca Rail train to Machu Picchu.
Our train ride was sponsored by Inca Rail. That said, the opinions and experiences are all ours.