Machu Picchu: Journey on the Hiram Bingham Train + the Sanctuary Lodge
We departed for Machu Picchu from Hotel Monasterio in Cusco on Monday morning. We were slated to be on board the Orient-Express’ Hiram Bingham train from Poroy (Cusco’s station) to Aguas Calientes (Machu Picchu’s station) as part of our journey. As I mentioned a while back, we had spent very little time working out all of our trip’s logistics beforehand due to our focus on the wedding. The one area that we were most unclear about was this leg of the trip. We spent some time with the concierge at Hotel Monasterio getting everything sorted before our departure. For anyone else looking to board this train and embark on a journey similar to ours, here are a few things we discovered:
1) The train station at Poroy ended up being closed due to a landslide in the region. This meant that we were actually going to board a bus from Poroy to Rio Sagrado, a train station in the Sacred Valley that was about an hour and a half from Cusco. Considering the train experience was a substantial part of the trip (not just the transportation element), we were a bit bummed.
2) You’re allowed only a small amount of luggage on the train. We were spending the night at the Machu Picchu Sanctuary Lodge near the gates of Machu Picchu and had intended to travel with all of our luggage throughout the trip. Instead of taking our luggage as planned, we had to pack our necessities into a small carry-on and get our luggage to Tambo del Inka, the hotel we’d be checking into after our night in Machu Picchu. (I know this sounds confusing; it was a bit of a logistical challenge).
The concierge suggested that we send our luggage in a private car to Tambo del Inka from Cusco. This would cost us roughly $130 and we were a bit skeptical about sending all of our belongings in a cab and crossing our fingers. Instead, we decided to get up early and hire private transportation to get us from Hotel Monasterio in Cusco to Tambo del Inka in the Sacred Valley where we could drop off our luggage. From there, our driver took us to the Rio Sagrado station to board the Hiram Bingham train for our trip to Machu Picchu. The total cost of this trip (about an hour and a half) was S/. 170 (about $60).
It was a bit hellish to figure everything out initially but it ended up working out perfectly. We hopped in our cab at 7AM and journeyed through a few small towns on the way to Urubamba in the Sacred Valley. In some ways it was like a short, private tour and provided a more comfortable trip than a bus would have. One thing to note is that taxis are incredible affordable in Peru. Remarkably so. We’ve taken cabs everywhere since our arrival and have been astounded by how efficient and cost-effective they have been across the board. (Keep in mind, this is the case with standard taxis, not cars provided by the hotels.)
We arrived at the Rio Sagrado station about an hour before the train was set to depart. The station is actually adjacent to the Rio Sagrado hotel, part of the Orient-Express collection. The extra hour gave us a chance to explore the grounds and settle in before boarding the train.
The train itself ended up being a very cool experience. There are other more cost-effective options for those looking to get from Point A to Point B (PeruRail and IncaRail are less plush alternatives). The Hiram Bingham train is a bit more about experience than efficiency. We went 35 miles in about 3 1/2 hours during which time we had an open bar, lunch service and live music. The views from the observation cart didn’t hurt either.
We disembarked at Aguas Calientes, which is the terminal point for all trains heading to Machu Picchu. From here, we boarded the bus (included in the ticket cost) to the gates of Machu Picchu. The Sanctuary Lodge, where we stayed the night, was right outside of the gates. I’m getting a bit ahead of myself in touching on the Sanctuary Lodge, but this seems like a natural place to include a few thoughts on our hotel.
The Sanctuary Lodge is the only hotel near the gates of Machu Picchu. All other hotels and hostels in the area are located at the base of the mountain near the Aguas Calientes station. Naturally, waking up with Machu Picchu outside of your front door is a huge draw for visitors, but the rooms come at a hefty premium. There are 31 rooms in total and rooms range from $1000 – $1400 or so, plus taxes. We decided to spend a bit extra and go for the mountain view room. We were already spending an astronomical amount for a room plus it’s our honeymoon so we thought the view would add a bit more to the experience. Honestly, the view is unnecessary. You’re out during the day (when you’d see the mountains) and at night, you could just as easily be in a terrace room. The main dining area looks out onto the mountains and all guests get the same view from there.
It was really nice being able to get up early for sunrise and walk right to the gates of Machu Picchu for the 6AM opening. However, if you don’t mind getting up early (think 4AM or so), there’s a bus ($9.50) from Aguas Calientes that gets you to the gates before opening. By the time they were letting visitors in, there was a crazy line for people wanting to be in the park for sunrise. I’m happy that we had such a nice experience at the Lodge, however if we were going back I’d have a hard time not opting for a more affordable option in Aguas Calientes. The town is welcoming, there are cute craft markets and the transportation from the base (about 20 – 25 minutes to the gates of Machu Picchu) makes the citadel easily accessible.
Have any of you taken the Hiram Bingham train or stayed in Aguas Calientes? What did you think?
Stay tuned for pictures from Machu Picchu!
xo from the Sacred Valley,