Great Rail Journeys
A round-up of Latin America’s best rail journeys, taking in the most spectacular scenery and remarkable feats of engineering from Mexico to Patagonia. Expect hairpin bends, narrow gauge railways and more than a little steam.
1. The Old Patagonian Express, Argentina
A voyage aboard the Old Patagonian Express from Esquel to El Maitén is the perfect way to recapture the excitement of travelling by steam locomotive. Riding the tracks of a narrow gauge railway just 750mm wide, the journey is superb, with stunning views of the Andes mountains. Known locally as La Trochita, which translates literally as ‘the Little Narrow Gauge’, the train was immortalised by Paul Theroux in his book, The Old Patagonian Express.
The railway opened in 1945 to link this distant part of the country to the coast and the capital, and although there have been road improvements since, nostalgia on the part of both tourists and locals have kept the old steam trains chugging along the remote and beautiful stretch of rail.
The Copper Canyon railway is renowned as one of the most spectacular and picturesque rail journeys on earth, penetrating into the Sierra Madre mountains and Sonora Desert in northern Mexico. Los Mochis is the starting point, before a stunning ride of hairpin bends, bridges and tunnels transports you to the most dramatic section of the canyon at Divisadero. We recommend staying in a hotel perched on the canyon edge, before continuing your journey the following afternoon to Chihuahua.
A vast wetland the size of France right in the heart of South America, the Pantanal is a mesmerising region spread across Brazil, Bolivia and Paraguay. It is home to a great variety of fauna, from anteaters to capybaras, all readily visible due to the wide-open spaces – and it is precisely this cornucopia of wildlife that provides the entertainment aboard this all-day trip across the plains. An eye-popping sunset completes the thrilling journey.
Orient Express’s Hiram Bingham service to Machu Picchu offers you the opportunity to enjoy one of the continent’s most scenic rail journeys while experiencing the ultimate in comfort and sophistication. The train is sumptuously kitted out, and just entering a carriage immediately transports you back to the golden age of rail travel. Two of the coaches are dining carriages offering a supreme gastronomic experience.
But even with all of these delights on hand, it’s the scenery that steals the show – the winding, seething Urubamba river churns on one side of the tracks while the other displays timeless pastoral scenes backed by snow-capped mountains. Of course, part of the thrill is also to arrive at your destination: the scenery gradually becomes lusher and more verdent as you descend into the cloud forest and gradually reach Aguascalientes, where Machu Picchu awaits.