I had my first truly luxurious train experience in Peru. Named after Hiram Bingham, who rediscovered Machu Picchu in 1911, this is one of the world's great train journeys. You start in Cusco, and it's 3.5 hours each way to a tiny town called Aguas Calientes. After arrival in Aguas Calientes, you board a 20-minute bus ride that takes you to the site of Machu Picchu. On the way there, there is some commentary and you're served a light lunch. I loved the fresh lemonade and hanging out in the back with the open-air observation car to watch the distinctly Andean landscape roll by.
The closer you get to Machu Picchu, the more lush and verdant the terrain gets. On the way back, it's completely dark so you're served a longer dinner and the live music really gets everyone going. Two words: DANCE PARTY!! And a fantastic pisco sour. The train also arrives later and leaves later than everyone else - so you have a less crowded site at the end of the day. If you ride the Hiram Bingham, you can have tea in the Machu Picchu Sanctuary Lodge, the only hotel on site, starting at 4 p.m. before the train leaves.
I love moments in life where you are with complete strangers that become very important because of what you're experiencing with them. This train ride was one of those days. I was with a fantastic group of people - much of the Orient-Express executive team that was there for the opening of Palacio Nazarenas, a fabulous British journalist, and the British ambassador to Peru. We were all on this incredible journey to see one of the world's most iconic sites. And it just bonds you in a way that you never forget.