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‘My Favourite Hotel’ review: the luxury Belmond Andean Explorer train in Peru

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Today we have something a little bit different for our new reader-written feature – ‘My Favourite Hotel’:  the Andean Explorer, a luxury overnight train ride in Peru!

We are running this feature to help provide some positivity and inspiration to Head for Points over the coming weeks, and unless there is major news breaking, we hope to run one article per day.  There will be a deliberate mix of European and worldwide properties, super luxury and mid market, branded and independent. You can find all of our ‘My Favourite Hotel’ reviews here.

Reader YC asked if the Belmond Andean Explorer from Cusco to Arequipa in Peru could count as his favourite hotel.  I loved the idea, so here is YC’s review:

What is the Belmond Andean Explorer?

The Belmond Andean Explorer is a relatively new luxury train that has been operating in the Andean highlands of Peru since 2017.  It connects the three cities of Cusco, Puno (Lake Titicaca) and Arequipa and journeys are bookable as one or two nights trips.  If you have been watching ‘Race Across The World’ Series 2 on BBC2 then these places will be familiar to you.

[Rob’s edit: I strongly recommend ‘Race Across The World’, both Series 1 and Series 2, if you have never seen it.)

All journeys either start or end in Cusco.  This is very convenient as it is the base to explore Machu Picchu, and Cusco itself should also not be missed.

There are three types of rooms on board the Andean Explorer – bunk bed, twin and double rooms.

It is worth highlighting that all of these towns are at a relatively high altitude, and the train goes even higher to over 4300m at its peak.  As a result, altitude sickness can be an issue (unfortunately the free flow of alcohol doesn’t cure this) but there is a 24 hour nurse available who can provide oxygen if required.

The price of the train journey is fully inclusive of food, drinks as well as day trips.  The only cash you need on board is for tips and if you want to buy souvenirs at one of the several stops.

Belmond Andean Explorer review

My room

As expected the rooms on the Andean Explorer were small.  Just 3.1m sq to be precise!  However, our room was super cosy and the bed very comfortable. The shower was a bit cramped but totally workable. The water pressure was good and there was plenty of hot water.

The only slight issue was that you were asked to throw any used toilet paper into a small bin to avoid plumbing issues – the bins were changed a number of times during the day though.

As the rooms were small, we had to put everything we would need for the journey into a small bag and the rest of our luggage went into the baggage carriage.

Belmond Andean Explorer review

The train had a dining room, a piano bar, a spa and, right at the back, an observation deck with another bar. The piano bar had a live musician at various times throughout the day and the observation deck was a great place for taking pictures or to enjoy the scenery.

There was wi-fi available on the train, although this was spotty at times.

The journey and my highlights

I had booked the train ride from Cusco to Arequipa in a double room. Rather than discussing the journey itself (itineraries can be found online), some of my the highlights were:

  • Stargazing – The train stopped in the middle of the night when the sky was clear and there were no distracting lights from any cities. This was one of the best viewings I’ve ever had.
  • Lake Titicaca – Should be on everyone’s list if visiting Peru. It was really interesting to visit the Uros people and learn about how they live on floating islands made out of reeds.
  • Spa treatment on a train – My partner tried a spa treatment that she really enjoyed. She commented that a massage on a moving train was strangely extra soothing.
  • Late nights – One evening the guests kept the bar and music going late into the night

Belmond Andean Explorer review

Food and drink

The food in general was good, although not outstanding. A variety of red and white wine was served with meals and I’m sure any spirits could also be ordered on demand.

All meals were served in the dining room with tables either seating two or four people. This meant that on some of your meals you were paired up with other guests.  I didn’t mind this setup as it allowed for socialising and getting to know other travellers.

If the company was not to your taste, you could always retire to your room after the meal.

There was a wide variety of people on board including families, honeymooners, groups of friends and some social media influencers (of course …..)

Throughout the day, you could get an endless supply of drinks at the bar and I had more than my fair share of pisco sours and chilchanos.

There was no official dress code on board but some guests did dress up in the evenings.  You were definitely not out of place if you wore a shirt or polo.

Booking the Andean Explorer

I had booked a package deal for two for around £2750. This included the 2-night train journey and a night at the Belmond Las Casitas (Colca Canyon) at the end of the trip.

To put the price in perspective, a one-way journey on the Hiram Bingham to Machu Picchu costs $550 per person for a 3 hour journey and the Orient Express from London to Venice costs £1750 per person for a 1-night trip. While I have not been on either of these luxury trains, having looked at pictures and reviews the Andean Explorer appears to be relatively good value and superior (although it’s still a very tidy sum)!

Belmond Andean Explorer review

How was the Belmond Andean Explorer?

Overall, this is a journey that is worth adding to your bucket list.  It takes you to places you actually want to visit, the food is as good as can be given the circumstances, the vibe is not formal and the rooms & carriages are modern and very comfortable.  It is a bit expensive but when comparing to other luxury train adventures or other luxury bucket list items like a safari or visiting Antarctica, the costs seem somewhat reasonable.

I should give a shout out to the crew who were amazing with no request out of the way and who managed to address everyone by name.  One guest had accidentally dropped their phone while on the observation deck and the train ended up reversing, with a whole team searching for the missing phone until they found it!

The Belmond Andean Explorer website is here if you want to find out more.

We have a special deal if you book!

Emyr Thomas, our luxury hotel booking partner, is a member of Belmond’s Bellini Club.  Any bookings made through him come with additional benefits:

  • VIP welcome treats with a local twist
  • Flexible on board credit for your clients of up to US$100 per person per journey
  • Complimentary upgrade based on availability at time of check-in
  • For bookings of over US$5,000, you receive a US$500 Belmond gift voucher (this needs to be redeemed against a future stay booked by Emyr)

You can contact Emyr for more information using the form on this page of Head for Points.

(Want to earn more hotel points?  Click here to see our complete list of promotions from the major hotel chains or use the ‘Hotel Promos’ link in the menu bar at the top of the page.)

Comments (40)

  • tony says:

    Nice review – looked this up after seeing it on BBC2 the other week. Is that £2750 per person, or for the two together?

  • Jill (Kinkell) says:

    Great review. We have a Perú and Galapagos trip in the pipeline for this Oct/Nov. Thought about the Andean Explorer but pleased to read the PeruRail is pretty good too…. which we are booked on. We’re taking the bus trip from Arequipa to Puno stopping in Colca. A bit apprehensive about the trip in the current situation and would rather delay it. Thoughts?

    • Novice says:

      I would recommend delaying as it might take away from the tour as if you can go, you might be stressed about everything else. But in the end, everyone is different and really it is your personal decision and you shouldn’t be swayed by what others say here.

    • Richard says:

      On our trip in 2017 we took the bus from Puno to Arequipa via Chivay and Colca Canyon. We stayed for 2 nights at Colca Lodge and saw the Condors at Cruz del Condor before going on briefly to Cabanaconde. It was brilliant and one of the highlights of our trip. Just be aware of the altitude – Arequipa is at ok at about 2300mtrs but Puno is high at 3800mtrs – if you go to Taquile Island on Lake Titicaca it is over 4000mtrs.

      We are booked to go to Australia via Singapore in November and I am also very apprehensive. I think we probably won’t have much choice anyway due to entry restrictions and it will have to be delayed which I would much prefer in the current situation. I have paid for most of it upfront and I don’t know yet how flexible the airline (Qatar) or the train, hotels etc are going to be.

  • Tony Currie says:

    Another great report that has brought back good memories, thanks.

    On our first major overseas trip we did the predecessor of this trip back in 2012, not a sleeper, but a three car two-class train from Cusco to Puno, before travelling onwards across Lake Titicaca, via the Uros Islands and another island in the middle of the lake. Then onwards to La Paz Alto and down to La Paz for a few days, on to Iguacu Falls, both sides, BA, Uruguay, Rio and home. We “did” Machu Pichu and Sacsayhauman from Cusco, having flown in there from a couple of nights in Lima.

    The most amusing (although not at the time) memory I have of our 3 nights in Cusco was arriving at the hotel about 10am, having caught an early flight up from sea level Lima, to be greeted by a trip up 3 flights of stairs to our room. We had just climbed 3000+ metres and were being asked to do another 15 or so, but that killed us off for a few hours. It didn’t phase the squat Indian who carried our two large bags and three carryons up with him and disappeared ahead of us, looking at us in faint amusement as we arrived and collapsed straight onto the bed!

    There are still plenty of parts of Peru that we’d like to visit, Nazca Lines, coastal valley civilizations in the North, Arequipa and the Parc Nacional Manu, at least!

    My main memories of the 10 hour train trip were the zigzag ride out of Cusco (I think that may have been bypassed now), stopping at the highest rail halt in the world, endless views of distant mountains and llama/alpaca herds and the journey through a bustling market at about 4mph whilst the stakeholders moved their goods off the tracks ahead of us and then replaced them once we’d passed through.

    It was the first of a number of long-distance train trips we’ve done, but by far the best so far. The next best was the Premier Classe train in SA (a lot cheaper than Rovos Rail and the Blue Train, travelling much the same route from JoBurg to CPT, in the attractive club and restaurant cars, but sadly, so I am informed by my SA friends, no longer reliable enough to book.

    • Took the Premier Class from JNB to CPT in January – great train, there were just 40 passengers! Really comfortable berths, food was pretty good too. Train was, of course, half a day late!

      Worst train in the world, sleeper from Yangon to Mandalay: compartment looked like a hallucinogenic psycho had spent the night with his axe in it! Track was so bad I had to keep telling myself that the ancient carriages had obviously not derailed in the past 30+ years, so they probably wouldn’t tonight! So rough that my legs would fly up into the air at times!

      Train from the old Bangkok airport to the Thia border really comfy, with a dining car and great Thai staff and customers to chat to. No alcohol allowed. Then the world’s shortest international train journey across to Laos.

      And the Tazara – Dar Es Salaam to Zambia. the old train, now replaced, dirtier than a London doorway. We were the only Europeans. Rice and chicken for every meal. Great crack with the locals, disgusting toilets and fabulous scenery.

      Final great journey: the MV Liemba on Lake Tanganyika. Look up the video in Vimeo, The world’s oldest operating passenger/cargo ship. Featured in The African Queen. Amazing!

  • Neil Donoghue says:

    Was fortune enough to experience this train journey and the Orient Express over last few years. From personal experience, they are both worth every penny.

  • Kev 85 says:

    “ social media influencers”

    I would have been tempted to retire to my room before my meal if I was sat near any of these types.

    Good review. Really enjoyed reading it

  • Lottie says:

    We went to Chile and Peru with our 6 year old last year. He deemed Chile boring, too many long drives with the same scenery, although we loved it. He thought Peru was fantastic though and wants to go again, we stayed in Iquitos then in the jungle which was a great experience. I then used a Marriott travel voucher to stay at the Tambo del Inka , although we only stayed 5 nights of the 7 it was still great value. We hired a car in Cuzco and drove ourselves to the hotel and to different sights every day, including taking the train to Machu pichu , fantastic trip and way better than I thought t would be.

  • In 2001 I took the train from Arequipa and Puno. The track was extremely rough, making the trip most unpleasant. The bus would have been better. So, did they fix the tracks?