Cuzco – from Cuzco (Cusco), the train heads south-east, following the Huatanay River through green fields dotted with willow trees and eucalyptus groves, and passing outlying communities gathered around colonial churches.
25 Km from Cuzco – the train passes through Oropesa, an early-rising community whose forty-seven bakeries have provided Cuzco (Cusco) with its daily bread for generations.
32 Km – before reaching Lake Muina, the train turns to the left, crossing the valley road, to join the Vilcanota River at Huambutio as it plunges sharply into its gorge before widening into the great Urubamba canyon.
40 Km – at Rumicolca, we are close to the great stone gateway of the same name which, for the Incas, silently guarded the southern approach to Cuzco (Cusco). For the much earlier Wari culture it served as an aqueduct, channeling water from the picturesque Laguna de Lucre to their walled city at Pikillacta.
45 Km – the church at Andahuaylillas is one of the jewels in Cuzco’s colonial crown and boasts a magnificent series of murals and superb colonial-era paintings, all on diverse religious themes.
59 Km – at Urcos lies the lake which gives the village its name. Urcos is both a popular spot for weekenders from Cuzco (Cusco) and as local legend suggests, the repository of Inca gold hidden there forever by local chieftains, anxious to prevent the Spanish from melting down their sacred objects.
80 Km – the two villages of Cusipata and Checacupe (at 99 km) hide unexpected treasures of both pre-Columbian and colonial origin, from fine Inca and pre-Inca remains, to yet another ornately-decorated 17th century church.
120 Km – at Raqchi, just before the San Pedro railway station, the remains of the great temple of Viracocha, the creator god, can just be seen to the left of the train. Raqchi has been described by John Hemming as “probably the largest roofed building ever built by the Incas”. Seventeen km beyond San Pedro, the train stops at Sicuani, a bustling island of commerce amid a barren landscape. Aymara women ferry their goods around this important market town on nimbly-chauffeured taxi-tricycles, or sit impassively before their wares awaiting a buyer.
186 Km – at Marangani, where an English-style manor house built in the last century is still home to the descendents of the wool barons who established the regions only textile factory there more than one hundred years ago, Cuzco’s fertile hills give way to the high plain known as the Altiplano.
The train continues to climb for another 27 Km, past the thermal baths at Aguas Calientes to La Raya, 210 Km from Puno. At 4,321 meters above sea level this is the highest point on the journey, a cold, remote place whose surrounding snow-draped peaks are often shrouded by mist or fine rain, and whose eerie silence is at least partly attributable to eardrums blocked by the dizzying altitude. Crossing this great watershed, the train travels across a sea of seemingly-endless coarse grassland through villages lost to time for all but the Coca Cola company and local breweries.
281 Km – the train reaches Juliaca, a commercial railway-junction town of around 150,000 inhabitants, whose rampant buying and selling seems at times to virtually spill onto the tracks and force the train to pick its way through their stalls.
Juliaca is the last stop on this journey through Andean highland culture before reaching Puno (3,855 meters), an expanding, low-roofed university town spread around an austere cathedral, which, since its foundation in 1668, has strengthened its tenuous grip on the shores of Lake Titicaca by gradually scaling the surrounding hills.