South America’s Top Train Trips
By Jonathan Piggins
There is something romantic and adventurous about travelling by train. Perhaps it’s the scenery rushing by as you sit back and relax that gives a sense of travel in its truest sense. South America offers possibly the most varied and spectacular panoramas anywhere on the planet, making it one of the best continents to experience by train. While the train network is not sophisticated in the way it can be in Europe and North America – it retains a charm all of its own and any inspired traveller should make one of the following train journeys.
Machu Picchu by train
Declared a site of Cultural and Natural Heritage of the World, Machu Picchu was “discovered” by US explorer Hiram Bingham in 1911. It is also known as the Lost City of the Incas, and is a well-preserved site of Inca architecture, in a stunning lusciously mountainous location. It is best to book train tickets well in advance, especially during peak summer months.
The journey takes around three and a half hours and winds its way from the old Incan capital and main base in the area, Cusco, down into the cloud forest and jungle of the Machu Picchu National Park, along the banks of the Urubamba River. Some people prefer to hike the Inca Trail to the citadel and get the train back – either way it’s a fascinating journey.
Riobamba and Alausi by train in Ecuador
For a more challenging train ride, the nail biting trip from Riobamba to Alausi in central Ecuador offers a few thrills. Overlooked by St Peter’s statue, Alausi is a railway town at the top of the famous Nariz del Diablo, or Devil’s Nose, that offers magnificent views of the surrounding area.
It is considered to be one of the world’s finer railway engineering accomplishments, as it zigzags along a series of switchbacks up a precipitous mountainside.
Tren a las Nubes in Argentina
Translated, it means the “train to the clouds”, this breath-taking train journey does not disappoint. The service in the Salta Province runs from north west Argentina along the Andes range to the Chilean border, with clouds often visible under the bridges. A firm favourite for holidaymakers in Argentina, passes along 29 bridges, 13 viaducts and numerous tunnels, is one of the three highest stretches of track the world, with its highest point, La Galera, topping out at over 4,500 metres.
Old Patagonian Express, La Trochita
One of the world’s few remaining narrow gauge railways, it is run as a heritage railway in Argentina’s Patagonian region and runs along the Andes foothills from Esquel, in Chubut Province, to Ingeniero Jacobacci, in Río Negro Province. It still uses steam locomotives and was the subject of the 1978 Paul Theroux book, which was titled The Old Patagonian Express. Each wooden carriage has small windows and its own wood-burning salamander stove. While the track runs to over 100 kilometres in length, the tourist trip offered these days is a sedate two hour round trip from Esquel to the first station on the line.
Curitiba – Paranaguá Train Trip, Brazil
This is one of the most spectacular and panoramic train rides in Brazil. It goes for 62 miles across the mountains of Serra do Mar in the Brasilian southern state of Paraná. Travelling from the state capital Curitiba to the coastal town of Paranaguá, the train passes through 14 tunnels and travels over 30 bridges. The highest one, at 180 feet high, is the São João Bridge, spectacularly spans the Douro River.
This article was brought to you by Brazil holidays specialist Journey Latin America – one of the UK’s leading travel specialists in Latin American Travel.