Orient-Express lends luxury to Peru trek

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CUZCO, Peru -- Orient-Express has added a touch of luxury to the rail journey from here to Machu Picchu with the inauguration of its Hiram Bingham train.

Named for the Yale University assistant professor who discovered the ruins of the lost city in 1911, the train, which launched in October, provides an alternative to the more pedestrian Vista Dome train, which had been the primary mode of transportation to Machu Picchu.

Both the Vista Dome and Hiram Bingham are operated by PeruRail, of which Orient-Express is a partner. But while both trains feature views of the spectacular Andean panorama throughout the trip, an outing on the Hiram Bingham is an experience apart.

The Hiram Bingham train is designed to offer passengers elegant dining, with meals served amid interior appointments that all but demand to be touched. The dinner tables, for example, are dark cedar and teak, the seats plush corduroy and sparkling brass lighting fixtures and dark green carpeting complete the tableau.

The menu and the service staff are borrowed from the Hotel Monasterio in Cuzco, which is owned by Orient-Express Hotels.

Nevertheless, Orient-Express describes the new train as a "safari experience," so don't look for passengers in black tie, as you might aboard the parent company's far more formal Venice-Simplon train. The Hiram Bingham, after all, is designed for people embarking on climbing expeditions.

The train departs Cuzco at 9 a.m. and arrives at the Puente Ruinas Station at 12:30 p.m. in time to get passengers to the ruins at 1 p.m. It departs from the station at 6:30 p.m. to arrive in Cuzco at 10:15 p.m.

The trip is sold as a roundtrip package with a luxury dining experience in both directions. The trip out includes brunch, and the trip back includes

afternoon tea and dinner. The program also features a tour of Machu Picchu and roundtrip bus fare from the train station to the ruins.

The train operates four days a week in the low season (from Nov. 1 to March 31): Monday, Wednesday, Friday and Saturday. From April 1 through Oct. 31, it will run every day except Tuesday.

The fact that the service is not daily is preventing some tour operators from incorporating it into programs because they need to be able to keep the stay at Machu Picchu to one night.

Abercrombie & Kent, for example, is not yet using the train on its brochure itineraries but is offering it as an option on independent packages.

The Hiram package is sold for $350 plus 18% VAT, but the most convenient way to book it is through tour operators.

Other operators using the Hiram Bingham include Tauck World Discovery, Lindblad Expeditions, Butterfield & Robinson, Country Walkers, Mountain Travel Sobek and Backroads.

For more information, call (800) 524-2420 or log on to www.orient-express.com.

To contact reporter David Cogswell, send e-mail to [email protected].

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