After returning to Cusco and Machu Picchu, my plan next was to head over to Bolivia to meet one of my friends J-P who was also travelling around the area.
In order to get from Cusco over to Bolivia, I need to travel first to Puno, on Lake Titicaca and then onwards from there to Copacabana which is the first main town on the Bolivian side of the border on the lake. There’s a bus that goes from Cusco to Puno (on Lake Titicaca) which takes around six hours and costs about $25. Alternatively, there’s the train which takes ten and a half hours and costs $300. I took the train. From Puno to Copacabana, there’s no choice but to take a bus.
Looking back, I was so glad I decided to pay for the train. Rather than having a day of my holiday wasted travelling from A to B on a cramped coach, my entire day on the train became a very special part of the trip.
I took the trip at the end of April 2017 which was the very last week of the train’s service. It’s now been replaced by an even more luxurious service run by Belmond and travels onwards from Puno down to Arequipa near the border with Chile. The other key difference about the new train is that it’s a sleeper service with everything on board including a full spa. I actually took a couple of pictures of the new service on a test run during my journey – it looked amazing from the outside.
My morning started early, somewhat (a lot) hungover as the night before I’d arrived back in Cusco having taken the Hiram Bingham. Being at 3,100m above sea level didn’t help matters either. After coffee, water and some breakfast at the hotel I got to Cusco station at about 07.30 in time to start boarding. Unlike the Machu Picchu to Cusco railway, this was full size standard gauge.
At bang on 08.00 in the morning we pulled out of the station. Lunch with wine and afternoon tea were included in the price of my ticket, however breakfast was extra. Having just eaten at my hotel I decided to pass and concentrated instead on the stunning scenery and re-hydrating over my hangover.
One of the best things about the train was the last carriage was both the bar and entirely open to air. I have to say I spent most of the trip in the final carriage, drinking in the views.
It took about thirty minutes to leave the environs of Cusco – it’s a surprisingly large conurbation and you get an idea of how a lot of people in Peru live.
The train followed the route of the Urubamba river for the next few hours with some truly stunning scenery climbing the entire way.
Just before 12.30 we stopped at the highest point on the journey at 4,300m above sea level. This was a short double-tracked section which allowed another train to pass; the new Belmond train I mentioned earlier. There was also a ten minute wait for people to get off the train and visit a small market where there were a variety of people selling various local crafts. I however was far more interested in the completely stunning scenery.
Lunch was served which I’m afraid I forgot take any pictures of as I was too busy looking out of the window! Most of the train seemed to have a nap afterwards as a couple of glasses of wine at 4,000m were quite soporific.
I did manage to take a couple of time-lapse videos out of the window though.
During this part of the trip there were a variety of activities on board including a short fashion show and a Pisco Sour making lesson. I napped and looked out of the window!
A few hours later, the crew started to serve afternoon tea as we started to pass through the more built up area of Juliaca. The train passes through a busy market, with centimetres to spare between the carriage and awnings of the shops.
After leaving Juliaca, darkness started to fall and we wound our way between the shores of Lake Titicaca and the built up areas of Puno, arriving into the main station at exactly 18.30.
From there, it was a short 750m walk through the drizzle with my backpack to the Tierra Viva Puno Plaza hotel where I was staying for the night. Puno itself isn’t a terribly pretty town and there’s not much to do in the town itself, however most people tend to use it a base to visit the floating reed islands on the lake.
I decided to pass on that as I was getting up early again to head over the border to Bolivia and the town of Copacabana. The early start that day got the better of me, so as soon as I arrived at the hotel I simply crashed and slept for almost a full twelve hours. I’ll cover the journey from Puno to Copacabana in another post.