The Andean Explorer train
There isn’t an overall coherent rail network in Latin America, but there are some incredible journeys to be made in the region nevertheless.
What better way to experience the Peruvian hinterland than on South America’s first luxury sleeper train, The Andean Explorer.
Since launching last year the latest luxury Latin rail offering from Belmond has become an instant Peruvian classic, with the operator Pura Aventura hailing it as ‘undoubtedly the best way to travel between Cusco and Lake Titicaca’.
From Belmond’s legendary hospitality to pre-dinner cocktails, afternoon tea and two dining cars serving up meals from a menu created by celebrated Peruvian chef Diego Muñoz, the onboard experience is luxurious. Add in the observation car, with its open deck, ensuring passengers make the most of the ever-changing scenery that unfolds along some of the world’s highest train routes, and it’s truly a triumph on the tracks.
Passengers can choose from four types of cabin, headed by Deluxe and Junior Doubles, and four different itineraries lasting two or three days. The two-day options are Spirit of the Andes, travelling from Lake Titicaca to Cusco via stops in Cusipata and La Raya; and Spirit of The Water, which takes in guided tours of Raqchi and La Raya as it travels from Cusco to Puno. The three-day itineraries are the Andean Plains & Islands of Discovery, from Arequipa to Cusco via Lake Titicaca and Marangani; and my personal favourite, Peruvian Highlands from Cusco to Arequipa. Here tours include Raqchi, Sumbay Caves and a visit to some of the islands of Lake Titicaca, with the added option of ending the journey slightly early to enjoy the Colca Canyon. With its stunning scenery, soaring condors and excellent hiking, the Colca Canyon makes a welcome addition to any tour of Peru. It’s home to stunning properties such as Belmond Las Casitas (belmond.com).
Other operators featuring the Explorer include Abercrombie & Kent and Cox & Kings, whose nine-night private tour, Peru: A Luxury Rail Journey, includes the two-night journey from Cuzco to Arequipa (from £3,495pp; coxandkings.co.uk).
Mexico’s Chihuahua al Pacifico train
“Reaching the Copper Canyon by the Chihuahua al Pacifico railway is one of Mexico’s classic experiences,” says Rachel Nicoll, Latin America product manager at Rainbow Tours (rainbowtours.co.uk). “For fans of rail travel, this journey has a lower price point than some other famous rail journeys in Latin America, such as trains to Machu Picchu, Lake Titicaca, and journeys on board the Belmond Andean Explorer and Tren Crucero — which is part of its appeal,” she notes.
To get even closer to the action, spend some additional time on a guided hike of the area, populated by the local Tarahumara people. Nicoll suggests tacking on a stay at Hotel Mirador in Barrancas, on the edge of the canyon. “It’s close to the highest point, so offers exceptional views,” she says.“It’s great for more budget-conscious travellers keen to enjoy the breathtaking landscape.”
Another common theme is for operators to combine the rail ride with a separate regional focus. Options include Journey Latin America’s nine-day Copper Canyon Railway and Baja Coast (from £1,893pp, excluding international flights; journeylatinamerica.co.uk), and Rainbow Tours’ eight-day Mexico City and the Copper Canyon, which combines the rail experience with time in the capital (from £2,195pp including flights).
“We recommend taking this trip between September and November when the climate is most pleasant,” says Nicoll. “The rainy season should be over, so waterfalls and rivers are at their best and the landscapes will be beautifully green.”