For too long, there’s been a significant gap in my personal map of South America. I’ve covered most of it by plane, coach, ferry and horse, but never Peru and never anywhere by train.
At the start of the year, a friend was touring the country, documenting it constantly on Instagram. I found myself checking impatiently for fresh posts, newly obsessed with scenery that I still, frustratingly, had yet to see for myself.
At the same time, everywhere I looked, Peru was calling: its cuisine had taken over from pulled pork as the in-thing, and South American chef Virgilio Martínez was now the pin-up boy of international fine dining. In Soho and Shoreditch, you couldn’t move for ceviche.
I had also become fixated with the fancy new sleeper train that was running in Peru. Last year, Belmond launched the Andean Explorer, bringing plush, boutique-hotel tropes, South American handicraft and a grand piano to the rails running through the high-altitude landscape that stretches from Arequipa to Cusco.
To mark its first anniversary, Belmond added a spa car to the train, so you could be massaged while passing fields full of pretty vicuñas and llamas.
I love luxury trains with the same passion that I hate airports. In the midst of a dark London winter, it was all adding up. Before my friend had got over her jet lag, I’d splurged on a return ticket to Lima. Tourism in Peru, as I discovered when planning my journey, is getting slicker by the minute and Belmond – the brand formerly known as Orient Express – has much of it sewn up, with its own five-star hotels almost everywhere you would consider visiting.
A specialist tour operator for the country, Aracari, recently launched a tour that takes the Belmond Andean Explorer as the core experience for a broader two-week trip. You start off rebooting from jet lag by the pool at the super-chic Belmond Miraflores Park in Lima – where you periodically find yourself swimming in a cloud that’s rolled in off the sea – then fly to Cusco. You visit Machu Picchu, explore the city and landscape, then spend two nights on the sleeper train to Arequipa, going deep into the Colca Valley.
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