Latin American Train Journeys
Train journeys can offer a great way of adding even more to your adventure by allowing you to properly enjoy the views between your chosen destinations. There are many train journeys in Latin America that offer the very highest standards of comfort, luxury and dining, meaning you can relax and really travel in style whilst enjoying views of some of the most awe-inspiring landscapes on the planet. After all, it’s not always about the destination, it’s about the journey…
1. Old Patagonia Express, Argentina
Known locally as La Trochita (the Little Narrow Gauge), the Old Patagonian Express was immortalised by Paul Theroux in his 1979 book, The Old Patagonian Express. It offers passengers the perfect way to recapture the excitement of travel by steam locomotive, journeying from Esquel to El Maitén along its track through a narrow gauge barely a meter in width. First opened back in 1945, passengers today are transported back by this historic experience, with the sound as it chugs along, it’s whistle blowing, and added nostalgic touches including a wood-burning salamander in every carriage, the rigid wooden chairs a reminder of the train’s authenticity. Another thing that hasn’t changed since it first opened is the beautiful Andean hills and mountains that surround it. Temporarily closed in 1993 for not being profitable enough, the train was saved from extinction by the local government following strong public outcry. In 1999 the line was declared an Argentine National Heritage Site and such is the popularity of the train amongst locals they still wave to it every time it passes. Refusing to die, this train has fought off the elements and several attempts at closure over its lifetime, 2 years short of a century, and today provides one of the world’s most famous train journeys and arguably South America’s finest.
“The reason Theroux didn’t go further south is because the line doesn’t. There was a railway from Trelew via Y Gaiman towards Esquel (and Trevelin) – all Welsh settlements (and the tunnel near Y Gaiman still exists) but the line was dismantled at least 50 years ago.” Chris Parrott, JLA co-Founder.
The Old Patagonia Express is included within our Untouched Aisén Patagonia group tour, or as part of a tailor-made holiday we can create just for you.
Belmond’s Hiram Bingham is a no expense spared luxury train experience that takes you from Cusco to Machu Picchu. To compliment the truly breathtaking views of the Urumbamba valley on the way up, passengers are treated to supreme gourmet dining and live on-board entertainment to enhance the journey. Named after the American explorer who made public the existence of the now world famous Machu Picchu ruins in 1911, the Hiram Bingham is surely one of the most spectacular and luxurious rail experiences anywhere in the world and harks back to the golden age of rail travel. The winding Urubamba river churns on one side of the tracks while the other displays timeless pastoral scenes backed by snow-capped mountains. Of course, the added thrill of the journey is its destination. The scenery gradually becomes lusher and more verdent as you descend into the cloud forest and gradually reach Machu Picchu village, where the ruins of the Quechua citadel of Machu Picchu awaits.
“A real treat – but a deserved one. For most people Machu Picchu is surely the highlight of any trip to Peru – pamper yourself!” Sarah Bradley, JLA Managing Director.
Belmond’s Hiram Bingham can be included as part of a tailor-made holiday to Peru we can create just for you.
The Copper Canyon railway in Mexico is renowned as one of the most spectacular and picturesque rail journeys on earth, penetrating into the Sierra Madre mountains and Sonora Desert in north of the country. 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.
However, you can travel in either direction on the Copper Canyon railway making Los Mochis your end destination, as in our active holiday Mexico: Canyons and Kayaks. It can also of course be included as part of a personal tailor-made holiday we can create just for you.
Travelling the long distance from Cusco to the majestic Lake Titicaca, through fields worked by oxen, with grazing sheep, llamas, and women spinning, the Andean Explorer offers a unique 10 hour experience journeying between Peruvian mountains, clouds and highlands. Decorated in the subtle and delicate style of the great Pullman trains of the twenties, it includes dining cars, a car-bar, and a special outdoor observatory. Climbing above 4,300m in places, flanked by snow-capped peaks, the Andean Explorer has been mentioned as one of ‘the best journeys by train of the world’ and ‘one of the best two in South America’ by the Society of International Railway Travellers, and among the ‘best long distance tourism destinations’ by readers of The Guardian, The Observer and Guardian Unlimited.
“Ten hours on a train did not sound appealing to me but the time flew by as we chugged through stunning scenery and Andean towns.” Sophie Barber, JLA Sales Team Supervisor.
The Andean Explorer train journey can be included for you as part of a tailor-made holiday with us. An example of a great itinerary that can include it is our Boliva – Peru, Pacific to Andes.
In 2013 Ecuador will unveil the completion of a five year project that has seen its 100 year old railway network completely rebuilt. Due to the economic demands of maintenance in such steep and unforgiving terrain, its impressive system of tunnels, viaducts and switchbacks across mountains where even a mule track could not go, had been on the verge of complete extinction. Next year the ambitious project to return the network to its former glory will be realised, once again linking its coast with its Andean highlands. Already there are trains using modern GEC-Alstom electro-diesel engines covering much of the route. And from June to August, along parts of the route a brand new steam-hauled service will be introduced, with two steam engines completely overhauled as part of the project. To be precise, they were rebuilt so that steam is generated by a diesel motor rather than by a coal firebox. But steam nonetheless it will be. The steam trains have been developed exclusively for tourism to offer the highest standards of comfort, luxury and gastronomy. Made up of four carriages and with a maximum capacity of 54 passengers, the level of service for all onboard is set to be second-to-none too. The journey will offer an unrivalled insight into the country and will include several stops allowing passengers to experience the diverse cultures and cuisines along the way. A truly remarkable feat of engineering, the routes highest station at Urbina is at 3609m and the section from Palmira to Sibambe, which includes the ‘Devil’s Nose’, plummets from 3,239m to 1,836m in just 35km – a drop greater than the height of Ben Nevis. The station at Chimbacalle in Quito has been rebuilt complete with museum dedicated to the history of the railway too. The other end of the line is in Durán, at the Complejo Eloy Alvaro, where in its heyday passengers were trans-boarded onto a ferry to Guayaquil, and today connects with the new road bridge across.
To experience this journey first-hand you can book our fantastic Back on Track group tour or our tailor-made By Rail and River journey.
Why not read our latest blog about this exciting new project Shovelling White Steam?
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Charlotte Daubeney - Travel Expert
Charlotte's fascination with Latin America began with a family holiday to Belize. She went on to study Spanish in school and at university before spending a year living in Santiago, Chile.
Ben Line - Travel Expert
Ben fell in love with Latin America on a six month backpacking trip from Colombia to Mexico in 1995. Since then he has explored most of South America, including living in Peru for a year. He is now Head of Sales.
Alex Walker - Travel Expert
Chris Rendell-Dunn - Travel Expert
Anglo-Peruvian Chris grew up in Lima and spent much of his adult life in between London and Cusco as a tour leader, before settling permanently in our London-based Tailor-made and Group Tours sales team.
Sally Dodge - Travel Expert
A former Journey Latin America tour leader, Sally spent 7 years working, travelling and living throughout Latin America before returning to the UK to help people arrange their own adventures to this wonderful destination.
Lina Fuller - Travel Expert
Lina's passion for the continent where she was born really took off when she moved to Córdoba (Argentina) to study, spending the holidays travelling between Argentina and her native Colombia.