Peru has a very limited train network, but train travel in Peru is a great alternative to domestic flights and long-distance buses. Tourists can travel with PeruRail throughout the year, but the wet season can bring mudslides that may shut down services. Due to this problem, Ferrocarril Central Andino offers services exclusively during the dry season. The best season for train travel in the highlands is May to August, when the weather is at its most pleasant. Just keep in mind that luggage theft is a common problem on Peruvian trains — keep all your valuables on your person or stow them as near as possible.
Cusco/Ollantaytambo to Machu Picchu
PeruRail, Machu Picchu Train and Inca Rail all run trains to Machu Picchu station in Aguas Calientes. PeruRail has four different classes of train, three of which are open to foreigners: The Hiram Bingham (super-deluxe, from around $334 each way per person, including meals), The Vistadome (mid-range, around $71 one-way including complimentary snacks and non-alcoholic drinks), The Expedition (budget, $48 each way). Each depart daily from Poroy — about 20 minutes from Cusco. Machu Picchu Train and Inca Rail ($75) depart from Ollantaytambo station. All train arrive to Aguas Calientes, about 8km from Machu Picchu. A bus link runs every 30 minutes from the station to the ruins ($10 return).
Cusco to Puno
PeruRail’s Andean Explorer train connects Cusco’s Wanchaq station to the southern city of Puno, near Lake Titicaca. Climbing out of Cusco and then traversing the Peruvian high plains, the journey last ten hours and passes through some pretty stunning scenery. There are three departures each week from November to March, with four weekly departures from April to October. Train tickets from Cuzco to Puno start at around $225, while Puno to Cuzco are around $136.
Lima to Huancayo (Ferrocarril Central Andino)
The Ferrocarril Central Andino, which connects Lima to Huancayo, is the highest railway in South America and the second highest in the world, reaching a maximum height of 15,688 feet (4782 meters) above sea level. It is arguably the most spectacular train journey in Peru, passing through 69 tunnels, crossing 58 bridges and zigzagging through six switchbacks. Passenger services are limited, with only one or two departures each month, announced on the Ferrocarril Central Andino website. Advanced bookings are necessary. The train departs from Desamparados station in Lima, with the trip to Huancayo taking about 12 hours. Rates begin at $195.00.
Huancayo to Huancavelica
One of the oldest trains in South America still providing regular passenger service, the El Ferrocarril Huancayo-Huancavelica, also known as ‘El Tren Macho’, runs 128 km through the sierra central del Perú. The train leaves Huancayo on Mon/Wed/Fri and returns from Huancavelica on Tue/Thu/Sat. Departure time is 6:30am both ways. Tourist ‘Buffet’ class tickets cost $5 and the ride lasts 5-6 hours. A faster, more expensive auto-vagón leaves at 5:30pm each Friday. Buy tickets in advance if possible.
Tacna to Arica
In the far south of Peru, cut off from any other lines, this isolated rail service ferries passengers across the Peru-Chile border. The 37-mile route takes about 1½ hours. There are typically two daily departures from Monday to Saturday, at 10am and 7pm. Trains ($1.75) depart from Estación Ferrocarril Arica-Tacna.
- Contributed by David Jennings