When my favorite travel friends and I booked seats in a carriage on Belmond’s Hiram Bingham, a sleek, elegant throwback train that runs from (near) Cusco, through the Sacred Valley to Machu Picchu, we were most focused on getting to the storied 15th-century Incan citadel, poised high in the Andes Mountains in southern Peru, above the Urubamba River Valley. We’d take the train, then stay overnight at Belmond’s riveting Sanctuary Lodge, the closest hotel to the famous site — literally steps away. Guests at Sanctuary have the opportunity to enter the grounds at dawn, a coveted way to explore without the crowds — and to enter the ancient citadel again and again, if desired. Since many travelers only spend the morning or afternoon among the sacred landscape, we were keen to have that extra time to ramble amongst its nooks and crannies on guided tours or meditate solo in its energetic places. I also wished to hike up adjacent Huayna Picchu, once the haunt of Incan high priests — and a mountain that only allows a small number of walkers each day, so arriving at the trailhead early is mandatory. 

observation car aboard the hiram bingham, a belmond train
Courtesy, Hiram Bingham, A Belmond Train, Peru

But, first we had to get there — in epic style. As it turns out, our transport to otherworldly Machu Picchu, the elegant Hiram Bingham train, was as soul satisfying as the citadel itself. As Ralph Waldo Emerson wrote in Self Reliance: “It’s not the destination, it’s the journey.” And, indeed, our nearly four-hour ride took us through an array of verdant terrain alongside burbling creeks, on the edge of mountains, and through forests. As we chugged, we spied brightly dressed Peruvians, many with the tallest of hats, not to mention the occasional alpaca. The train, a nostalgic gem, with chassis crafted in South Africa and interiors by couture French train designers, was envisioned as a romantic Pullman, the Jazz Era’s quintessential luxuriant train car. Its stately symphony of polished brass, inviting bar stools, decorative nature motifs, sultry banquettes, and gleaming wood panels conjure drama — even fantasy — and nobody who rides Hiram Bingham escapes the allure. The one candid photo we have as passengers shows us sitting in our train car in various real-life poses, Pisco Sours in hand. Some of us seem lost in conversation, while others have their eyes glued to the train’s immense windows to capture the view. Timeless, in this photo, we appear as characters from a 1920s novel — perhaps soon-to-be murder suspects in an Agatha Christie story… or just travelers en route to Machu Picchu.  

More on the Train

white cloth dining set inside a moving train car in peru
Courtesy, Hiram Bingham, A Belmond Train, Peru

Serving Andean cuisine on starched white tablecloths, with a full bar, the glamorous train was named for American adventurer Hiram Bingham, who first publicized his explorations and rediscovery of Machu Picchu in 1911, bringing the archeological site to the public’s attention. Feeling like an explorer yourself (if not a character from a film or book) when onboard, you’ll chug through stunning mountainous topography, be entertained by local musicians, eat a multi-course lunch, and arrive at the citadel sooner than you wish. Don’t miss time in the Observation Car, where you can breathe in the fresh mountain air while watching the landscape unfold.

More About the Cuisine

Be among the first to experience the cooking wizardry of Jorge Munoz, who took over the culinary helm for the Hiram Bingham Train, the Andean Explorer Train, and Cusco’s Monasteiro, a Belmond Hotel in early 2024.  One of the epicurean world’s rising stars, Munoz cut his gastronomic teeth at Pakta in Barcelona, where he was awarded a Michelin star for his delectable fusion of Peruvian and Japanese dishes. Later he reigned at Astrid & Gaston in Lima. Today, he brings contemporary coastal flavors created with classic local products to plates on the train’s lunches and dinners.  Imagine starters such as a mix of quinoa varieties with seasonal vegetables dressed with Andean mint vinaigrette or cured local trout to start followed by duck ravioli or freshly caught white fish with Sudado sauce, a tomato-rich Peruvian topping. 

The Bar Car

a bar and lounge inside a moving train car in peru
Courtesy, Hiram Bingham, A Belmond Train, Peru

Of course, when in Peru, you’ll likely swill a Pisco Sour or two — and the Hiram Bingham does them up right. But, don’t limit yourself. The Hiram Bingham secured the talented Aaron Diaz, an award-winning expert in the art of conceptual cocktails to curate the train’s exhilarating and theatrical cocktail menu. Sip a Bellini-like Aguyamanto en route to Machu Picchu, which uses the local cape gooseberry, Prosecco, orange blossom drops, and matacuy, a beloved Andean digestif made from botanicals. On the way home, belly up to the bar for a Sankay, created especially for the Hiram Bingham train.  With its main ingredient the eponymous fruit, a treat said to give the chasquis (Inca messengers) their energetic powers, the vitamin-C packed libation also contains Vodka 14 Inkas, a Peruvian low-alcohol vodka. For mocktail lovers, the Tuna delivers in a base of prickly pear juice. 

* Note: En route to Machu Picchu, you can take the train from Poroy, the Cusco station or catch it in the Sacred Valley at Ollantaytambo, for a shorter ride.

Featured image courtesy of Hiram Bingham, A Belmond Train, Peru