Passing through the lush grounds of Tambo del Inka in the Sacred Valley of Peru, my eyes flit as I look for the first glimpse of my ride to Machu Picchu: a 1920s-style luxury train by PeruRail. As someone who’s inexperienced with train travel – and someone who never received their Hogwarts letter – I’m ecstatic to be traveling to a bucket-list destination in such a posh and Potter way. After walking for about five minutes, I come upon the train tracks, and a sleek blue-and-gold train awaits. As I board, I’m greeted with a citrus and lemongrass Andean iced tea, and I step up onto the train, in awe of its classic beauty.
In the dining car, white tablecloths drape tables topped with vases full of flowers, and wine glasses sit ready to be filled. I settle my things in the overhead gold storage racks (wondering if Harry Potter could be up there using his invisibility cloak) and take my tea to the observation bar car, which has windows all around and above for panoramic views. As the train chugs along, I rotate between sitting on a cozy bench with plush pillows and standing against the railing at the very back of the train, where an open-air viewing platform creates the perfect spot for waving back at village children as they yell “hola!” at us, running out their front doors to catch a glimpse of the train.
The views keep me occupied, as we pass mountains and valleys and open fields where farmers lead their oxen along rows and plow. In Pachar, women in vibrant, tradition garb walk alongside the road with their llamas and alpacas, occasionally giving us a wave or a smile. After a brief stop to pick up more passengers in Ollantayambo, lunch is served: a three-course spectacle of panquitas (creamy corn with Paria cheese and huancaína sauce), roasted chicken with Andean herbs, cassava puree, Sacred Valley tubers, and Maras salt; and tres leches cake with cape gooseberry and pisco, all washed down with a glass of Peruvian wine. The spellbinding Andean views continue as we snake along the Urubamba River, full of gurgling water rushing over boulders and mountains all around. Before long we arrive in Aguas Calientes, the base town for our Machu Picchu adventure.
After a day of trekking around one of the new seven wonders of the world, we board PeruRail once more for our journey back to the Sacred Valley. We’re greeted again with iced Andean tea, and directed back to the observation bar car for an onboard pisco sour lesson. After learning about the components for a perfect pisco sour (pisco, fresh lime juice, egg white, simple syrup, and Angostura bitters), a bartender passes around samples for all. Exhausted, I guzzle down my pisco sour and order a chilcano (a Peruvian cocktail with pisco, ginger ale, and lime juice) before heading into the dining car for dinner. Lamps on tables glow throughout the car, making a tranquil ambiance as we drift through the dark night. Dinner is a dream after a long day, complete with local pumpkin cream soup with croutons and fine herbs; beef cheek stew with rustic mashed potatoes, Peruvian chili, and homestyle chimichurri; and baked pineapple with anise, purple corn mousse, cream, and chancaca butterscotch. After more wine, I slip in and out of sleep until we arrive back at Tambo del Inka.
Ambling back to my room, I reflect on this spectacular day. I feel a lot like Harry Potter returning to the muggle world: sad that the magic has come to an end, but hopeful for more on my next train adventure.
Where to stay
Tambo del Inka is the only hotel in Urubamba with a private train station to Machu Picchu. The hotel sits at a lower altitude than Cusco, making it a great location to get accustomed to the elevation of Machu Picchu. Anchored in the Sacred Valley, the 128-room hotel offers scenic views of the Andes and the Urubamba River from private balconies and terraces, and includes refined dining options featuring organic ingredients from its on-site garden. The hotel offers pisco sour tastings, pizza nights, a therapeutic spa, and a serene heated pool among its activities. Decorated with local designs, the hotel blends culture and modernity and is the first hotel in Peru with LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) certification, stemming from its commitment to caring about its environmental impact when building the hotel.