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Train Travel in South America

Secondary Categories: South America

This month we take a look at six of South America's most iconic and spectacular train rides. From the quaint colonial charms of Buenos Aires to the dramatic jungle scenery of Southern Brazil and the dizzying heights of the Ecuadorean Andes, we've got a choo-choo for everyone...

Tren de la Costa, Buenos Aires

Where: From downtown Buenos Aires to the nearby town of Tigre, on the Parana Delta. Tigre, known in some circles as the Venice of South America is a fascinating water-based community with a great art gallery to boot. It makes for a fantastic escape from the hustle and bustle of Buenos Aires.

What: Travel in a vintage train along a route that passes through many of Buenos Aires' oldest and wealthiest neighborhoods. The gentrified stations contain murals, antiques markets, museums and eateries and the views of the Delta are great. 

When: The train operates seven days a week (check out the schedule here). You can either take the regular commuter train  (not at all gentrified, but an interesting cultural experience) to the start of the Tren de la Costa or you can catch a taxi. The Tren de la Costa only takes 25 minutes but you can hop on and off as often as you like. 

An antiques fair at Barrancas station (Photo: Jorge Gobbi)

Vistadome, Cusco to Machu Picchu

Where: All travelers (apart from those hiking the Inca Trail) catch the train to Machu Picchu. Depending on your itinerary you will depart from Cusco (3.5 hours) or Ollantaytambo (1.5 hours). 

What: Perurail offers a few distinct services. The vast majority of our travelers use the fast and comfortable Vistadome train whose huge windows extend all the way to the roof. If you're after a superior touch of luxury, we will glady book seats on the sumptuous Hiram Bingham train, where you'll travel in the lap of luxury. 

When: The trains depart several times a day but due to the immense popularity of Machu Picchu, booking in advance is essential - you can leave this to us, however!

On board the Vistadome (Photo: Supplied)

Tren Crucero, Ecuador

Where: This recently refurbished luxury train connects the capital city of Quito (high up in the mountains) with the coastal metropolis of Guayaquil. It has been voted the best train in South America every year since its launch in 2013.

What: This sumptuously outfitted, full-service train will take you back a couple of centuries to the glory days of train travel. Choose between the downhill Train of Wonders and the uphill Train to the Clouds (both 4 days, 4 nights). 

When: The train carries only fifty passengers and features about four departure dates every month. Booking, understandably, is essential. This train combines really well with all of our Galapagos itineraries as the islands can be accessed via either Quito or Guayaquil.

The Train of Wonders (Photo: Supplied)

Serra Verde Express Mountain Range Train, Southern Brazil

Where: A historic (1880s) trainline in Southern Brazil that connects the city of Curitiba to the historic lowlands town of Morretes. On Sundays, the train goes all the way to the port town of Paranagua - add one hour onto the travel time for this version.

What: This three-hour, 40-mile (!) train ride is noteworthy for its spectacular views. It follows narrow passes from the jungle mountains steeply down to the coast and takes in verdant precipices, fecund jungle scenes and sweeping ocean views.

When: This train ride makes for a great side-trip for those visiting the breathtaking Iguazu Falls (a 10-hour bus ride from Curitiba) and who want to explore the southern Brazilian coast. The train departs Curitiba at 8.30 every morning. The slightly more expensive "tourist class" tickets (book your own or get us to do it for you) include plusher seats, a guide and refreshments. 

Travelling on the Serra Verde Express (Photo: Cesar Martins)

Tren a las Nubes (Train to the Clouds), Northwest Argentina

Where: Northwest Argentina, leaves from and returns to the lovely colonial city of Salta.

What: Although initially built for transport, these days the Tren a Las Nubes is largely a tourist train whose primary purpose is to show off sky-high scenery and remarkable feats of engineering. Starting at 3,890 feet above sea level, it rises to a staggering 13,780 feet above sea level (slightly higher than the highest point on the Inca Trail). You’ll pass through 21 tunnels and over 29 bridges. The peak of the trip is at the La Polvorilla Viaduct.

When: Most ride the train for about 8 hours, and return by bus. The track is closed November through March due to heavy rains.

The Tren a las Nubes (Photo: Presidencia de la Nacion)

Andean Explorer, Peruvian highlands

Where: This plush, luxury train connects all three major highland cities in Southern Peru, Cusco (gateway to Machu Picchu) to Puno (on the shores of Lake Titicaca) and Arequipa (the so-called 'White City'.)

What: One of South America's finest trains, the Andean explorer features guided excursions to points of interest along the route, tasteful sleeper cabins with all the creature comforts, a full dining and bar service and even a spa. Choose between the full-day or one-night Cusco to Puno service (10-hour travel time and the two-night Cusco-Puno-Arequipa service. Regardless of which option you go for, you will sleep while the train is stationary so as not to miss out on the magnificent Andean scenery. 

When: Trains have select departures and are usually taken one-way. Although the scenery is spectacular, the Cusco-Puno route is a great options for travelers visiting both Lake Titicaca and Machu Picchu. You can also travel between the two areas by air or bus.

The Andean Explorer (Photo: Supplied)

Got your heart set on one of these train rides? Speak to one of our extremely knowledgeable South America Destination Experts about making your dreams become reality.

The cover image of this blog shows the Tren Crucero and was obtained from the train's official website.


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