Making dreams come true for Peruvian children is all part of daily life for the Belmond Hiram Bingham and Belmond Andean Explorer teams. Twice a month they take youngsters of limited economic means to Machu Picchu. How do the children respond to exploring their heritage for the first time?
The 40 children clustered on the station platform can hardly contain their exuberance. As the train approaches, their chatter reaches a crescendo. Says Elmer, 9, “I’m really happy to be going on a train for the first time and I’m super excited because I’m going to see Machu Picchu!”
Elmer is just one of the Peruvian children for whom, until recently, the idea of visiting the legendary citadel was an impossible dream.
Yet, since 2013, PeruRail – operator of Belmond Hiram Bingham and Belmond Andean Explorer – has made this dream achievable for over 5,000 youngsters.
Twice a month, as part of a broad range of community initiatives, PeruRail invites children aged between five and 12 on a fun and enriching train excursion to the historic sanctuary.
Around 45 passengers, including teachers, parents and members of the PeruRail team, join the bi-monthly journeys, which take them through the breathtaking scenery of the Sacred Valley to journey along the wild Urubamba River to Machu Picchu, nearly 2500m up in the Andes. On arrival at the Sanctuary, they explore the marvels with experienced guides. Speaking in the local Quechua language and Spanish, the guides divulge fascinating facts about the iconic archaeological site, believed to have been built for the Inca emperor Pachacuti in the 15th century.
The project is the brainchild of Carla Reyes of PeruRail and Belmond Trains, Peru, and her team. “We felt it was a great opportunity to engage with our communities while promoting local culture and identity,” she says. “We choose children from the areas surrounding our train routes, prioritising those with limited economic resources. None of them have ever been to Machu Picchu. Even those living really close by haven’t had the means to go there and learn about this essential part of their heritage.”
After the trips, PeruRail often receives letters of thanks from the schools and communities, with drawings of the children’s impressions. One teacher recently wrote: “We were delighted to join the children on this journey as it was such a great way for them to learn about our history. It was lovely to share these moments of discovery with the youngsters!”
Carla agrees: “It is wonderful to witness the emotion and curiosity of the children as they admire incredible sights they’ve only ever glimpsed in photographs. The wow factor for them is amazing. It makes them feel so proud of their culture, language, identity and past.”
PeruRail funds all travel, refreshments, lunch and guides, while entrance to Machu Picchu is provided by Cusco’s Ministry of Culture. The trips are just one of the many initiatives established by PeruRail in the areas surrounding the routes of Belmond Andean Explorer, Belmond Hiram Bingham, and tourist and local trains in Cusco, Puno and Arequipa. Others include helping farmers to breed alpacas, reviving ancient weaving techniques to create new business opportunities for women and collecting and recycling discarded plastic in the Sacred Valley.
At the heart of each activity is the desire to create opportunities for local people, give children the best possible chance of a great future and safeguard the beautiful environment for generations to come.
For children like Ruth, 8, they’re priceless. After her journey to Machu Picchu, she enthused: “I saw the houses of the Incas and I learnt about how they lived. I’m going to tell my little brother all about it. I’ll never forget today!”
A vibrant journey through a time-honored land
A voyage to the heart of the Inca Empire
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