I was prepared for a long, boring train ride, but much to my delight I was stunned at the beautiful and wide range of vistas that we passed through. Leaving Cusco it was still dark but the train ride up the side of the mountain using switch backs was a pleasant surprise and provided some nice views of Cusco in the pre dawn hours as we left the city. As we passed through the edge of the city we came into an area of farmland with large areas of freshly planted crops. Quaint farm houses dotted the countryside with creeks and small rivers meandering through the fields. Milk cows and other livestock grazed peacefully, ignoring the sounds of the train as it passed by. Small unnamed villages appeared and passed suddenly as the train kept its steady pace.
The idyllic farm scenes eventually passed as the ride brought us into cattle country. Suddenly we were surrounded by large cattle ranches with herds of beef cattle grazing contentedly in the large open grasslands. These large ranches butted up against the foothills of the mountains we were rapidly approaching.
|Urubamba river. click to enlarge|
As we passed into the foothills of the Andes the train tracks took us next to the Urubamba River which flowed gently through the valley from the mountains. Bridges made of stone crossed the river at several points providing the ranchers a way to safely cross. Stops were made at a few small towns to pick up more passengers.
Poroy and Ollantaytambo are a couple worth noting, as locals lined the tracks to sell handmade Peruvian crafts and food to people through the windows of the train. Not long after coming into the foot hills you could see signs of the ancient Inca and the terraced land they built to grow their crops on. As we passed further up into the mountains ruins of small Inca villages could be seen along the river also. The vegetation also changed with the elevation. Shrubs and small trees started showing along the edge of the river. The water in the river flowed more swiftly and rapids started showing up along the rivers course with large boulders that had washed down from the mountains in previous rainy seasons.
The higher into the mountains we went the more verdant the vegetation became. Soon we were surrounded by lush green forests as the train continued to ramble along the tracks, snaking its way into the mountains. Occasionally you would be able to see the ancient Inca Trail and hikers who had chosen the more difficult way to reach Machu Picchu. Wooden suspension bridges crossed the river to aid the hikers in their quest. As the train curved inward on the tracks when it rounded bends you would get nice views of the train itself against this magnificent backdrop.
Finally as the train rolled into Aguas Calientes I couldn’t help but reflect on this truly spectacular train ride and how it enabled me to see a part of Peru and its life that would have remained hidden to me had I chosen to sleep as did most of my companions that shared the train car with me. So my advice is to get a good night’s sleep before taking the train to see Machu Picchu. The views and insight into Peruvian life outside the cities are well worth it.