The sign promises a lot. Inca Rail – a Mystic Experience. I took the train and I can tell – there is nothing mystic about it. It is a (maybe) 40km trip at a price so high that German ICE suddenly seems like a cheap option.
The problem is – however incredible it sounds – that there is no other option to get to Machu Picchu. Not everybody can/wants to go the crowded Inca trail (which btw is expensive as well). So unless you are ready to spend hours on the bus and then hours hiking on your own (there is an alternative route through the village of Santa Teresa), you are pretty much stack with the train. And what is better for bussiness than monopoly on something as desired as transport to Machu Picchu? Gringos will pay anything…
The second provider of the train connection – Peru Rail – does not claim to have the mystic touch. But the price for the tourist class is exactly the same. Peru Rail has also the famous Hiram Bingham service – a luxury trip for modest 400$ one way! Included in the (cheapest) tourist price is the the snack on board – which means that out of the 50$ you pay, the company will spend 50c to give you a cup of coke and a package of peanuts.
You wonder how Peruvians are able to pay the price? Well, they pay around 10x less than we, the foreigners, do. Seems fair, right? But (here comes the ‘but’) – they have to travel in separate lower-quality wagons and are not allowed to take certain trains! The connections at ‘peak hours’ – read ‘hours comfortable to reach and leave Machu Picchu’ – are reserved only for foreigners! Suddenly does not seem so fair any more… The only ‘fair’ thing about it is that both sides feels cheated on – foreigners because of the ridiculously high price, and Peruvians because of obvious discrimination with the train serivices. (I wrote about discrimination in Peru before, the Machu Picchu train is just another example of it..)
The sad thing is that even if the price for Peruvians is lower, it is still too high for most. 20 soles that a person has to pay for a train ticket, plus 60 soles for the entrance to the ruins is sometimes a weekly family budget! And the family trip with children? Forget it… Out of the farmers that live in the Urubamba valley maybe 1% entered Machu Picchu, and out of them most did it 10-20 years ago when it was for free..
One more interesting fact at the end. The Peru Rail, a very prosperous company, is -ironically – owned by Chile.