All Aboard! Peru Rail’s Vistadome Train to Machu Picchu

All Aboard! Peru Rail’s Vistadome Train to Machu Picchu

There are two train companies serving Machu Picchu.  Inca Rail, whose trains run primarily from Ollantaytambo, and Peru Rail, whose trains run from either Ollantaytambo or Cusco/Poroy.

Vistadome train station

We weren’t going to Ollantaytambo, so that left me primarily looking at options with Peru Rail.  Peru Rail has three different train services:  The Hiram Bingham, the Vistadome, and the Expedition.

I really wanted to go on the luxurious Hiram Bingham train, to tell you the truth.  It’s features the amenities that first class rail travelers would have had in the 1920s.  Luxurious seating, gourmet meals, live music to entertain you, fine china and crystal… the whole nine.  But the drawback to traveling like royalty is that you have to spend like royalty. And spending nearly $900 per person round trip is way out of my league.

So, that left me with two options: the Vistadome or the Expedition offered by Peru Rail, or Executive Class offered by Inca Rail.

The Expedition costs about $140 per person round trip from Cusco, and offers snack and beverage service, a rest room, and the option to buy souvenir items and additional snacks/beverages.

The Vistadome costs from $170 to $210 per person round trip from Cusco, and offers snack and beverage service, a rest room, an evening fashion show and display of Saqra dancing, and the option to buy souvenir items and additional snacks/beverages.

That’s a difference of $30-$70 per person, with a fashion show and Saqra dance on the way back to Cusco as the only added features. And, one would hope, better food.

So the question is:  is it worth paying extra to ride Vistadome instead of Expedition?

The Vistadome has big windows that offer fantastic views of the scenery. It’s name, I believe, stems from the fact that there are even windows above you, so you can not only look out, but also look up.

Vistadome train roof windows

As we traveled, we listened to music on the sound system and occasional announcements about what we could see outside the train.  For instance, we passed the SkyLodge – the trendy hotel where you sleep in a pod that’s attached to the side of a mountain.

Vistadome scenery skylodge

Definitely cool, definitely different… but also definitely not for me!

When snack time arrived, each of us received a vegetarian sandwich. I had never heard of such a thing, and now I know why: It was dreadful. The sandwich consisted of a couple of mushrooms and some soggy vegetables on a bun. Blech.  So much for getting better food on this train than on the Expedition!

Fortunately, the scenery we passed through was beautiful.  We saw everything from cacti to cornfields, snow-covered peaks to muddy rivers. The music sounded like a strange combination of pan pipes with a techno/dance beat.  Sounds weird, but it was actually very enjoyable.

Vistadome train scenery

Vistadome train scenery

The scenery, combined with the excited anticipation of the travelers on their way to Machu Picchu and the upbeat music made for a very pleasant journey.

On our return trip (heading back to Cuzco), it was dark, so there was no scenery to look at.   Most of the people on the train were relatively quiet.  I assume it was because they had explored Machu Picchu that day and were tired as a result. (My phone’s fitness tracker said I had climbed the equivalent of 138 flights of stairs that day!) We were served vegetarian pizza, which was only slightly larger than a brownie and tasted a bit like cardboard.

With the dishes cleared and nothing much else to do, I closed my eyes and leaned back in the seat a little bit to try and get a nap.  I had just started drifting off to sleep when there was a blood-curdling screech from the other end of the car. I nearly jumped out of my skin, then turned around to see something like this:

vistadome saqra dancer

It was the very definition of a rude awakening. So while the voice on the sound system told us about the tradition of saqra dancers, I adjusted to being awake and tried to wipe the scowl off of my face.

Then it was time for the fashion show. I was impressed with the clothes modeled by attendants going up and down the aisle for us. There were shawls that converted to scarves, skirts that became dresses, and other versatile pieces. At the end of the fashion show, they brought the items through on a trolley to see if anyone wanted to purchase some (of course!). The prices were quite high, though, and I don’t recall seeing anyone in our car make a purchase.

By the time we pulled into the station at Poroy, it was 11:30 PM.  What a day!

If I knew then what I know now, would I still choose the Vistadome?  No, probably not.  The price difference isn’t worth it, unless you really love folk dancing and fashion shows. My recommendation is to book tickets on the Expedition. Use that $30-$70 per person you would have spent for Vistadome tickets to upgrade your hotel, eat a really nice meal, or buy yourself a great memento of your trip.

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