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June 16th, 2014

The World's Highest Railway Station

Chris Parrott

By Chris Parrott

Chris Parrott describes the record-breaking Lima-Huancayo line in Peru.

Although it’s officially been reopened for tourists for some years, the Peruvian Central Railway from Desamparados station in Lima to Huancayo quickly got a reputation for not actually running on confirmed dates.

We put it to the test. Product Manager Isabelle Mazille did the trip - and it seems that now they really do mean that it will run (about once a month) on schedule, irrespective of the number of passengers.

It's hardly a gentle canter down to the coast on the Brighton Belle - quite the reverse. Twelve hours’ climbing from sea level to nearly 5000 metres, in about the same distance as from the sea front to Victoria station.

Galera, on the Ferrocarril Centro Andino at 4781m above sea level, is still the highest railway station in the world - although the tracks on the Chinese route from Qinghai to Lhasa now go higher. Why anyone (rail fans apart) might want to alight at Galera is more of a mystery. Instead you continue to Huancayo and can enjoy time exploring the region and from the rural surrounding villages.

This railway line boggles the minds of engineers and rail enthusiasts alike. 69 tunnels, 58 bridges, 6 switchbacks and 1 turn-table - the building of this railway track was no mean feat!

If you're planning to do it, acclimatise first by visiting Cusco or Arequipa. Get your body gradually used to the altitude of the high Andes. It will help you to avoid soroche (altitude sickness), which some people can suffer when ascending as quickly as the train does. There are two classes: Tourist (which has access to the open carriage at the back), and Backpacker (which doesn't). On Isabelle’s trip, both were close to full.

The trip is not for the faint-hearted, but it is for the rail enthusiasts out there and those who like to travel into the remote Andean mountain valleys.

Upon arrival in Huancayo you will be greeted by a vibrant, bustling town, rarely visited by tourists - it is hoped that the revived railway will help put this colourful and historical area back on the tourist map.

The villages show the visitor how rural Andean life has been for decades, as communities work with silverware and weavings, among the crops of corn, artichokes and potatoes and flocks of llamas. The centres of nearby Concepción and Jauja, the original capital of Peru, are full of historical delights.

As a lover of everything Peruvian, Isabelle thoroughly enjoyed this unique journey through the Andes, and she comments: "this is definitely a trip for boys who like big toys! If you are interested in trains, this journey is a must. I’m not into trains but I enjoyed discovering a less visited part of Peru."

And as this new and exciting train journey and area of Peru regains its mark on the map, the Ferrocarril Centro Andino are cautious about keeping to schedules and therefore only offer a few departures. Pre-booking is essential, and to save a 4-day wait in Huancayo (for the return rail trip), we recommend returning to Lima by public bus or private road transfer.

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