We are happy to report that the rail journey to the famous ruins of Machu Picchu through the dramatic gorge of the Urubamba River is as comfortable and as visually stimulating as ever.
We took the evocative Hiram Bingham train— named for the Yale professor who stumbled on the Incan citadel in 1911—from Ollantaytambo in the heart of the Sacred Valley and enjoyed a relaxed lunch in the splendor of the 1920s Pullman-era dining car during the two-hour jaunt (the trip from Cusco lasts four hours). For the return trip, we opted for the Vistadome train, which is not as fancy but equally comfortable. Both trains are owned by Orient-Express and are operated by PeruRail, its joint venture partner. (PeruRail also operates the Andean Explorer train that takes 10 hours to make the journey from Cusco to Puno on Lake Titicaca.)
Only one hotel is located right at the ruins (the others are a tedious 30-minute bus ride away down a switchback mountain road, in the town of Aguas Calientes). Machu Picchu Sanctuary Lodge is an Orient-Express property and presents itself as a luxury hotel, but it is not. The luxury simply consists of being on- site and escaping the morning and evening crowds. Early and late in the day, guests can often have the ruins virtually to themselves. The rooms are perfectly comfortable, with satellite TVs, Wi-Fi connectivity and small baths with tub/shower combinations. It is essential to request one with a mountain view, especially #35 and #38-40.
The main restaurant, Tampu, has a very comfortable bar/lounge where we enjoyed a pisco sour while comparing photographs with our fellow guests. The Peruvian and Continental cuisine is surprisingly good, as is the lavish breakfast buffet. With only 31 rooms, reservations here are in high demand, especially from May through September.
Machu Picchu’s 15th-century Incan ruins, which were never looted by the conquistadors, invariably live up to expectations. But alas, up to 3,000 people a day visit the site. The crowds can be extremely tiresome, but the experience is still eminently worthwhile. And if you are staying at the Sanctuary Lodge, you may be able to enjoy some blissful moments of solitude.
MACHU PICCHU SANCTUARY LODGE 86 Classic Standard Room (full board), $1,025; Mountain View Room with Terrace, $1,410. Tel. (51) 84-984-816-956.
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