The view from the Orient-Express Hiram Bigham // © 2011 Mark Edward Harris
When it comes to getting to the ancient Inca city of Machu Picchu, Peru, the usual jumping-off point is the colonial Peruvian town of Cuzco. The Inca Empire’s former capital, located at an elevation of 11,200 feet, is the oldest continuously inhabited city in South America.
From Cuzco, one of the most luxurious ways to reach Machu Picchu is onboard Orient-Express’s Hiram Bingham train, named after the Yale University archeologist/explorer credited for discovering the “Lost City of the Incas” in 1911. This year marks the centennial of that historic event.
The Hiram Bingham winds past mountain peaks and along the serpentine Urubamba River to the village of Ollantaytambo in the Sacred Valley, home to an ancient temple complex called the Fortress. Some passengers disembark here to spend a night or two before continuing on to Machu Picchu. The Sol & Luna Lodge & Spa and the Hotel Rio Sagrado are world-class properties with spas located in the area.
Several high-end tour operators such as R. Crusoe & Son offer packages that explore the Sacred Valley by bus and, then, have their clients board the Orient-Express Hiram Bingham in Ollantaytambo for Machu Picchu. They later return to Cuzco by train.
The blue and gold interiors of the Hiram Bingham train cars highlight its elegant 1920’s-era decor. Two dining cars, each with a capacity of 42-seated passengers, have tables set with fine cutlery and crystal. The onboard chef creates regional cuisine accompanied by South American wines — Chile and Argentina continue to impress the wine world with their offerings.
In the observation bar, a pisco sour is the cocktail of choice. With live Peruvian music in the background, the bartenders invite passengers to learn how to make this traditional drink.
Machu Picchu is perched 2,000 feet above the Urubamba River in one of the most spectacular settings in the world. Seeing the ancient city at anytime of the day is thrilling but, at sunrise, it becomes magical. R. Crusoe & Son suggests that clients spend the night at the Machu Picchu Sanctuary Lodge (at an elevation of 8,200 feet), situated at the entrance of the site, so they can have exclusive access to Machu Picchu before other visitors arrive. Those in good shape and with decent hiking shoes can reach vantage points for dramatic picture taking.
After a morning of on-site exploration, followed by lunch at the Sanctuary Lodge, it’s time to descend the 2,000 feet to the train station and board the Orient-Express Hiram Bingham for Cuzco.
However, the luxury doesn’t have to end after disembarking the train. For those who seek elegance wherever they travel, the Hotel Monasterio is one of Peru’s finest hotels and a member of The Leading Hotels of the World. The Orient-Express-owned property was formerly a monastery and has earned national historic monument status.
The experience onboard the Hiram Bingham and in the Hotel Monasterio will help travelers get the most out of their vacations — so they will enjoy the journey, not just the destination.