Luxury PeruRail Lake Titicaca Train Ride: Cusco to Puno
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The Titicaca Train from Cusco to Puno is not only the most beautiful train ride in Peru but also one of the most scenic in the world. Also known as the Andean Explorer train, this route goes between the city center of Cusco and Puno. This train ride is so much more than transporting you from A to B. This luxury train is styled after a 1920s Pullman train and goes through the Andes Mountains, reaching over 14,000 feet of elevation. The total journey takes 10 hours and includes 2 gourmet meals, traditional Peruvian dancing, and endless panoramic views. As a sucker for train travel, our expedition through the Andes Mountains by train was a highlight of our trip to Peru.
We were one of the first people to arrive at the Cusco Wanchaq Station, located in the middle of the city. The Wanchaq station only has one passenger train that departs out of it: this one. It will be pretty hard to get on the wrong train. The station has a small but fancy waiting room with complimentary coffee and tea served. Our bags were tagged and taken away to the luggage car. Staff members then individually took each group to their seats, as violinists played.
The train is decorated in the style of a 1920s Pullman train. You’ll feel like you are in the book/movie Murder on the Orient Express, without the murder aspect. I nearly downloaded the audiobook on my phone to listen to truly get in the old train expedition mood.
Read our post on 20 Podcasts to Listen to On Your Next Trip
There are four main sections of the train: a kitchen, two dining cars, the bar, and an observation car in the back. The bathrooms are as opulent as you’d expect for this train. You are free to walk between cars the entire journey.
For the first hour, the train made its way through the expansive residential area of Cusco. Blaring its horn at every single sighting of a pedestrian or car. Since these tracks are used only once a day, early in the morning or late in the evening, many of the locals stopped and took pictures as the train went by.
Once out of Cusco, the true beauty of the Andes begins.
The majority of the next 3-4 hours we spent at the back in the observation car. The very end of the observation car was open-air, with the rest covered by large windows.
Every few hours, announced over the speakers, they had a show taking place in the bar car. It was either a fashion show, traditional dances, or a traditional band playing. You could choose to go back and watch or just relax at your seat in the dining car.
The train only makes one stop on its journey, at the point of highest elevation. Abra La Raya is a mountain pass at 14,271 feet of elevation. There are only a single set of tracks through the mountain, so this pass is used to allow trains coming from the opposite direction to continue on to Cusco. There were no other trains that day, but we stopped for 15 minutes anyway. Locals from a nearby town use this opportunity to set up a small market to sell some of their textiles. The stop also coincides with the boundary between the Cusco region and Puno region.
Immediately after everyone re-boarded the train, lunch was served. Read below for more about the meals on board.
Three-fourths of the way, the train unexpected stopped. We were in the middle of beautiful pasture land. To one side there was a farmer watching his cows and the other had a couple of homes a mile or two away from the tracks. After a few minutes of confusion, a staff member walked through informing that someone’s car had broken down right on the tracks and they had called a tow truck. 40 minutes later, the car had been moved and we were on our way again.
This train ride was the highest elevation we were at our entire trip in Peru. We had fully adjusted to the altitude in Cusco. However, the extra couple thousand feet was far more difficult to overcome than we had expected. Since we were slowly, over the course of many hours, rising in elevation, we had hoped we would adjust quickly. That was not the case. Shortly after lunch, we had massive headaches and started to feel nauseous. If you were initially affected by the high altitude in Cusco, make sure to bring Ibuprofen for this train ride, as the altitude sickness might come back.
Beside the picturesque scenery, a highlight was going through the town of Juliaca. Juliaca is a Peruvian city, 45 minutes away from Puno. Juliaca is not a town that tourists flock to. Rife with crime, Juliaca is a commercial hub with double the residents of Puno. The train passes straight through the city’s central market. The locals sell everything right on the train tracks, from car parts to fruit. The fruit is placed right between the tracks so they don’t have to be moved when the train goes by.
The train has to slow down to a snail’s pace just to get through the area without hitting one of the many cars driving over the tracks or the pedestrians walking through the markets. Due to the slight delay from earlier, we arrived in Juliaca right at rush hour. There were thousands of people out, many with young children eager to wave to the passing train.
It is hard to not have a tinge of us and them feeling or guilt. The more wealthy primarily-white tourists up in a train above the locals, forcing ourselves right through the market. The feeling eases a bit as you see how happy the little kids are to wave to the train. Trains seem to be a global fascination.
Just as we passed the market and started to speed up again, an announcement informed us to return to the dining cars for afternoon tea.
It was now nearly pitch black and we had 45 minutes left of our train journey. It was a quiet journey hugging along the coast of Lake Titicaca, which we wouldn’t see until the next morning. Once we arrived at the Puno Station at 6:30pm, they had us wait a few minutes to get all of our luggage out of the storage car. From the station, we walked to our hotel where.. surprise surprise.. we saw 5 other couples that were on our train with us checking in. We had walked the .4 mile walk to our hotel and beat most of the people who took taxis.
Beautiful Andean Scenery
A 10-hour train right might seem long, but you’ll never be able to get enough of the gorgeous scenery the train passes through.
The Andes Mountain Range spans the entire western edge of South America. All the way up north starting at Venezuela, down to the southern tip of Chile and Argentina. The entire range is 7000km long. This train just goes through 388km of it.
The train starts in the city center of Cusco and ends in the center of Puno. From Cusco (altitude 11,152ft) you ascend to an elevation of 14,261ft (4333m) at the half-way point and then descend again back to 12,556ft.
For the first half, the train follows alongside the impressive Urubamba River, in a narrow mountain valley. You pass by the occasional farmer leading his llamas around or a small village with school children playing soccer. The train curves with the mountainside to its right.
After the snow-capped peaks of Abra La Raya, the second half of the journey goes through a wider valley with magnificent pastures.
Meals on Board
As you would expect on a luxury train service, the meals were delicious. Lunch and afternoon tea are included in the cost of the train, but breakfast is an additional cost. Shortly after departing the Cusco station, the staff took breakfast orders. The cost of breakfast ranged from $5 for eggs on toast to $15 for a full American, with an extra $5 per specialty coffees or hot drinks. After taking breakfast orders, they took orders for lunch and noted any dietary restrictions. Vegetarian options were listed on the menu, but for significant dietary restrictions, you will likely need to contact PeruRail in advance to be ensure being accommodated
The bar opens a couple hours in and a free welcome drink, similar to a Pisco Sour, is served. The staff takes advantage of the stop at La Raya to set up lunch. The meal changes with the seasons but for lunch, we were treated to pesto potato soup, vegetable quinoa, and a creamy chocolate cake. We were also given a basket full of bread at that start which we devoured quicker than I’d like to admit. The plates were the perfect portion size and distributed quickly down the train from the forward kitchen car. The three-course lunch was served with your choice of white or red wine, and water or soda.
By the time Afternoon tea came around, the higher altitude had gotten to us. The mild altitude sickness made us lose our appetite and a bit nauseous. I still ate the small finger sandwiches, which were delicious, but Eric had to pass on them. We are not big tea drinkers, but they did have an interesting homemade tea blend.
So, here we are. How much does it cost to experience a bit of old-fashioned glamor on board a train traveling through some of the most beautiful landscapes in the world?
$240 per person
This price includes the 2 gourmet meals (lunch & afternoon tea), but not breakfast. It also does not include any drinks you would like to enjoy from the bar, besides a glass of wine at lunch.
The train goes from Cusco to Puno every Wednesday, Friday, and Sunday. And from Puno to Cusco every Thursday, Saturday, and Monday. Price is the same for both ways.
While there are several ways to get from Cusco to Puno, none quite as scenic, luxury, romantic, or enjoyable. This was truly an unforgettable experience, worth the extra charge.