10 Best Railroad Journeys in South America – #1 The Train Lima to Huancayo

February 9, 2011 § 3 Comments

Train Lima to Huancayo

Train Lima to Huancayo

The highest railroad in the America’s and the second highest railway in the world is the train journey from Lima to Huancayo. This 12 hour journey takes you through central Peru traveling from sea level to over a staggering 15,869 feet (4,782 meters) in elevation passing through 69 tunnels, over 58 bridges and 21 switchbacks.

In 1851 Polish engineer Ernest Malinowski (the same engineer who built The Devil’s Nose in Ecuador) began plans to build the railway line. While Malinowski was choosing the route, American railroad builder Henry Meiggs was given 6 years to complete the job. Construction began in January of 1870, it is estimated that it took 10,000 men and 40 years to complete the route. While neither man would live to see the completed work the railway line known as the Railroad In The Clouds was an incredible feat of engineering and stood as the highest railway ever built until the construction of the Qingzang railway in Tibet was completed in 2006.

The journey begins at the Patio Central in Callao and follows along the Rimac River until it reaches Chichan, then passes through the Galera Tunnel (the highest point on the route) then it continues down following the Yauli River until La Oroya and then the Mantaro River along the way the train passes through 6 climate zones.

Highlights of the trip include

  • 21 zigzag switchbacks
  • The Infiernillo Bridge at 10,820 feet elevation spanning a canyon with two vast rock tunnels at each end
  • The Bridge over the Verrugas Canyon at a height of 253 feet and 574 feet in length is one of the biggest in the world
  • The Balta Tunnel which travels ¾ of a mile underground
  • The Galera Tunnel which was bore at the route’s highest point
  • 11 special turntables allowing the train to change directions

As well as beautiful scenery including breathtaking rock cliffs of the Andes Mountains to accompany you along the way.

It is incredible to think about the creative effort to design this route or the amount of effort to build the railway line over 100 years ago without the aid of any modern day equipment. The railroad journey from Lima to Huancayo is the highest railroad in the western hemisphere and is the #1 Best Railroad Journey in South America.

10 Best Railroad Journeys in South America – #2 Great Brazil Express

February 8, 2011 § Leave a comment

Iguassu Falls

Iguassu Falls

Our number 2 selection for the best railroad journeys in South America is a journey that combines trains, flights and side bus tours to create one of the best experiences in South America –The Great Brazil Express.

This rail package begins in Rio where you are met at the airport and transferred to a hotel on Copacabana Beach.  There is a
tour of Rio including the Sugar Loaf Mountain famous statue of Corcovado.  A flight from Rio takes you to Curiba where
you board the train.

Traveling on board a luxury Pullman train the railroad journey takes you through the largest remaining Atlantic Rainforest.  Surrounded by lush green forest on all sides the train clings to the side of the mountain as it travels through tunnels and
over viaducts. There are side trips including Vila Velha National Park to see the fascinating rock formations created by the wind and Guartela Canyon, the sixth longest canyons of the world as well as picturesque towns along the way.

The train continues across the great grass lands crossing through the heart of Brazil to reach its final destination of Iguassu. Iguassu Falls – often noted as a larger and more impressive series of falls than either Niagra Falls in North America or Victoria Falls in Africa.  Cut into 275 separate falls and large islands Iguassu Falls has the second greatest annual flow of any waterfall in the world.

Though not exclusively a train ride, the Great Brazil Express is an amazing Railroad Journey through some of the most breathtaking scenery of Brazil.

10 Best Railroad Journeys in South America – #3 End of the World Train

February 4, 2011 § 1 Comment

End of the World Train

End of the World Train

The Southern Fuegian Railway or the End of the World Train is the southernmost train in the world.  The history of the railway goes back to the prison which was built here in the end of the 19th century.  The original train was constructed in 1902 to transport materials to construct permanent prison.  Labor was provided by the convicts themselves. A XILOCAR, a train that ran on wooden rails, was set up to transport the materials. Its gauge was less than a meter in width and its flatbed wagons were pulled by oxen along the crude rails.

In 1909 the prison governor called for improvement of the railway line and 60 cm gauge were laid and in 1910 a steam engine was brought in.  The train line connected the prison camp with the forestry camp and the town of Ushuia.

The original train ceased operation in 1952 after the prison was closed and an earthquake severely damaged the track.  In 1994 the railway was refurbished and a new steam locomotive was brought from England which operates along with several diesel locomotives made in Argentina.

The small trains leave from the End of the World Station west of Ushuaia and take passengers along the Pico Valley and Toro gorge, to the Macarena Station where you can learn about the local indigenous people from there the train makes a stop at a vista point to view Waterfalls before continuing into Tierra del Fuego National Park.

If the train was located in the northern hemisphere rather than the  southern hemisphere it would most likely be a “Santa” themed train ride.  Instead the small heated cars transport visitors incredibly 365 days a year through history and Tierra del Fuego, one of the most unique environments in the world.

10 Best Railroad Journeys in South America – #4 Andean Express

February 3, 2011 § 1 Comment

Andean Explorer

Andean Explorer

The second highest railway with regular scheduled service in the world – the Andean Explorer links Cusco and Lake Titicaca.  This spectacular 10 hour journey through the Andes Mountains is operated by Peru Rail/Orient Express.  The Andean Explorer  is operated with a fleet of refurbished 1920’s Pullman cars.  The bar car offers passengers the chance to stretch their legs on board and purchase snacks and drinks while the stunning glass and open air observation car provides both a local for the on board entertainment and a place to see the ride.

Leaving Puno (Lake Titicaca) the train travels to Juliaca where an open air market is located along the train tracks.  The merchants quickly temporarily relocated their stalls just long enough for the train to travel through the middle of the market.  As the train passes by the stalls are quickly moved back into place on the train tracks.

The train continues up to La Raya the highest point of the journey at 14,150 feet (4313 meters) it is the highest point in the journey.  The train stops allowing the passengers to take photos, stretch their legs and purchase souvenirs from local vendors.

The journey continues towards Cusco through the Rio Hutanay and Urubamba River Valleys where small towns, farms and stunning mountain landscape dominate the scenery – vicuña and alpaca are often seen.  There are several archaeological sites along the way as well including Racqui and the Temple of Wiracocha.

10 Best Railroad Journeys in South America – #5 La Trochita

February 2, 2011 § Leave a comment

La Torchita

La Trochita - The Patagonia Express

The train immortalized in Paul Theroux Novel the Old Patagonia Express is a narrow gauge railway that operates much as it first did when originally built.  A Heritage Railway the train runs on 750 mm 2 ft 5 ½ inch narrow gauge tracks, pulled by legendary 1922 stream engines it is one of the most unique and historic train rides in the world

The journey travels though the barren Patagonia plains, passing herds of sheep, guanacos, and flocks of ñandúes (large Rheas similar in appearance to the Ostrich) with mammoth snow covered mountains in the background.  Along the way there are frequent water stops so the steam engine can complete the journey. With little our few roads in the area, the La Trochita offers passengers a glimpse of Patagonia you might not normally see and a train ride that seems to travel back in time.

10 Best Railroad Journeys in South America – #6 Train to Machu Picchu

February 2, 2011 § 1 Comment

Perurail to Machu Picchu

Perurail Train to Machu Picchu

Machu Picchu is without a doubt one of the best places to visit in South America. Named one of the 7 wonders of the new world, the archaeological remains of the Incan people is an amazing site to behold. For most travelers the way they reach Machu Picchu is via a spectacular train ride.

Departing from either Cusco or the Sacred Valley the train journeys alongside the Urubamba River, passing by fields, snow capped Andes Mountains, Inca terraces and lesser known Incan sites. There are bridges, tunnels, and as you draw near to your arrival the scenery changes to the tropical cloud forest.

There are two railway lines which offer service to Machu Picchu Inca Rail and Perurail. Inca Rail offers service between the Urubamaba Valley and Machu Picchu offering either First Class or Executive Class accommodations.

Peru Rail is operated by Orient Express. Their trains depart either from the Poroy Station just outside of Cusco or the Urubamba Station near Ollantaytambo. Passengers of Peru Rail’s can choose between the levels of service they wish the levels include Backpacker, Expedition, Vistadome, and the Hiram Bingham Train which is could best be described as a travel experience the service includes brunch (in the morning) – wine and cheese (in the afternoon), local beers and wine, entrance to Machu Picchu, tea at the sanctuary lodge and onboard entertainment – a folkloric show on the way to Machu Picchu and fashion show on the return.

10 Best Railroad Journeys in South America – #7 Tren a las Nubes

February 2, 2011 § Leave a comment

Train a la Nubes

Train to the Clouds view of Llama Herd

The Tren a las nubes or Tren de las Nubes (Train to/of the Clouds) connects the northern town of Salta, Argentina with the boarder of Chile. The train ride travels through the Andes mountain range over 4,200 m (13,845 feet) making it the third highest railway in the world. Originally built for economic reasons the Tren a las nubes a Heritage Ralway the train continues for its tourist value.

Construction of the railway line began in 1921, constructed to service the local borax mines in the area. The La Polvorilla viaduct, the highest of the line, was finished on November 7, 1932. The complete railway was inaugurated on February 20, 1948. The railway has 29 bridges, 21 tunnels, 13 viaducts, 2 spirals, 2 zigzags and offers a spectacular experience. The 10 car train carries 640 passengers and operating from April to November with a yearly average of 30,000 tourists.

10 Best Railroad Journeys in South America – #8 The Devil’s Nose

February 1, 2011 § 1 Comment

Devil's Nose Train Ride Ecuador

Devil's Nose Train Ride Ecuador

Originally part of the rail line connecting Quito and Guayaquil, today the most popular train ride in Ecuador is a the train ride from Riobamba to Alausi.  The train heads down the Central Highlands through the Avenue of the Volcanoes where passengers have stunning views of the Andes snow capped Andes Peaks including Tunguragua, El Altar and Chimborazo the highest mountain in Ecuador on both sides of the train.  The most popular way to travel the route is by sitting on the roof of the old box cars offering the best view of the countryside.

The highlight of the trip is a section of the track known as the “The Devil’s Nose” at the time it was built it was called “The Most Difficult Train in the World”. An engineering marvel the makes its way up a series of nail biting zigzags to climb the sheer  stone face of the mountain climbing a gradient of  1-in-18 from 1800 meters to 2600 meters.  Engineers designed the route by having the train goes forward and backwards up the series of switchbacks that are near parallel to each other.

Part adventure ride, the The Nariz del Diablo train uses a relatively modern engine to pull the beautiful old carriages.  These days, the train is often replaced by one of two ‘autoferros’, which are basically a bus body mounted on train wheels.  You still see the same views, but it can be disappointing if you were expecting a train ride and there are also fewer seats.

10 Best Railroad Journeys in South America – # 9 Pantanal Express

February 1, 2011 § Leave a comment

Pantanal Expresss

This seven hour train ride pass through 220 km of pure nostalgia, a roadmap framed by some of the most beautiful landscapes in the world. The Pantanal train departures from Campo Grande traveling to the town of Miranda. Passengers on board are delighted by the large glass windows where they can view the largest continuous wetland in the world and the spectacular wildlife and birds that live there including the hyacinth macaw. Along the way scenery including wetlands, hills, waterfalls, and the beautiful Aquidauana River.

The original train, the Estrada de Ferro Noroeste do Brasil began the route in 1914 connecting the Pantanal with other parts of Brazil. The 20th century also saw the Pantanal’s economy boomed, with the widespread establishment of cattle ranches across the region. By the 1950s, there were also rice, soybean, coffee and sugarcane plantations popping up around the Pantanal’s perimeter. In 1981, the huge Parque Nacional Pantanal Matogrossense was established, with the aim of preserving the vulnerable ecosystem. It was declared a Ramsar Site of International Importance in 1993 and in 2000 a UNESCO world conservation site.

The Pantanal train ran on Noroeste for 81 years, until the closing of RFFSA, Brazil’s federal railway company, limited Noroeste trips to cargo only. The Serra Verde Express stepped in and 2009 began offering the Pantanal Express. The train journey continues through tunnels, bridges, steep gorges and through the largest continuous wetland in the world, the Pantanal.

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10 Best Railroad Journeys in South America

January 31, 2011 § 1 Comment

Patagonia Express

Patagonia Express


Railroads travel provides a fabulous way to see the countryside around the world.  Trains enable travelers to see sights they would miss if traveling via road or by plane. In many cases train travel takes the traveler to a bygone era when travel powered by steam was the height of fashion.

In South America the best train trips travel along the coasts,  gorges, over bridges, along canyons and over the Andes Mountains.  Discover the top 10 train journeys in South America:

10.  Wine Train Chile  – Heritage Railway

The Tren del Vino or Wine Train in Chile combines the romance of train travel with exquisite wine tasting.  The journey begins in San Fernando approximately 2 hours south of Santiago where passengers board a 1913 coal fired steam train for the journey south to the Colchaquac Valley.  The trains cars meticulously restored polished wood and velvet interiors. Passengers are treated to samplings of Chilean red and white wines and cheeses while listening to local folk musicians and a bilingual narration of the trip. Arriving in the Cachapoal Valley the train stops so passengers can tour a vineyard and enjoy a typical Chilean Lunch passengers can decide to return to Santiago same day via bus or extend their stay in the wine region.

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