Exploring the Andes

World Journeys Director Chris Lyons is currently hosting a small group of Kiwis on a Grand Tour of South America, and reports back on their experience on the Andean Explorer between Cuzco and Lake Titicaca in Peru.

Ten hours sounds like a long time on a train, but in when it’s the very comfortable Andean Explorer, time passes very quickly. On arrival at the private train station in Cuzco, we were welcomed by a small band playing traditional Andean music before boarding the train for an 8am departure. On board, the comfortable and spacious seats, lamps on tables with white linen tablecloths and polished brass and wood panelling, all hark back to an earlier era. Leaving Cuzco we enjoyed wonderful views of the ever changing scenery from our seats and from the excellent lounge and observation car at the rear of the train…a great place to take photos of the constantly changing vistas.

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As the train trundles along at a sedate pace, the observation car is the place to be as the morning is filled with musical performances, fashion shows and the chance to enjoy a complimentary ‘pisco sour’, the national drink of Peru. All the while the train slowly climbs, passing large herds of grazing llama, until it reaches the one and only stop where guests may disembark, at La Raya which is the highest point on the line at 4,319 metres….some 500 metres higher than Aorangi Mount Cook! After a 15 minute stop and a chance to inspect the engine or buy some souvenirs, it is back on the train for a delicious three-course lunch with wine. The landscape starts to flatten out as you approach the ‘Altiplano’, an enormous alpine plain that connects Peru and Bolivia and is the location of the world’s highest navigable lake, Lake Titicaca. The group enjoyed another musical performance, this time with performers in colourful festival costumes.

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Just before afternoon tea is served the train passes through Juliaca, the largest town on the journey. Here the train slowly passes through an enormous and colourfully chaotic market located on each side of the track. Selling everything from car parts to refrigerators, clothing, and furniture, there are even books and shoes laid out between the railway sleepers – an extraordinary sight, and best enjoyed from the observation car. I guarantee you will have never seen anything like it elsewhere! Finally, around 6pm we arrived at Puno, after a day of amazing scenery and some great ambience on the train, interspersed with unique sights, delicious food and excellent service. In this case, ten hours on the train is almost not long enough!

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I highly recommend this experience as part of our Grand Tour of South America, which features the Amazon, a Galapagos Cruise, Cuzco and Machu Picchu, the Andean Explorer, a lake crossing to La Paz, Rio de Janeiro, Iguassu Falls and Buenos Aires.