Check out our list of the 3 Most Scenic Train Rides in South America.
Train travel has been an essential part of South America’s history and economic development and for many years it was the primary method for traveling long distances. Today, many tourists are accustomed to hopping on and off airplanes and can only enjoy the scenery from a bird’s eye view. Haven’t we all gazed longingly from the passenger seat of a car, wishing we could immerse ourselves into scenery that we might never again lay eyes on again? If that’s you, consider taking a train ride in South America and opt for a peaceful alternative to air travel.
The Andean Explorer – Train Rides in South America
Route: Machu Picchu, Cusco to Lake Titicaca
10 Hour Train Ride
The Peruvian cities of Puno and Cusco are ancient lands, connected by their Incan roots. For travelers seeking to combine Machu Picchu and Lake Titicaca, the Andean Explorer train ride is the perfect option. At one end of the train route you have Cusco, this is the entrance to Machu Picchu and the Sacred Valley. On the other end, you have Puno, the city sitting on the edge of Lake Titicaca. Puno to Cusco is about 390 kilometers (240 miles). Flying between the two destination takes only an hour, but the Andean Explorer train takes you through the Peruvian countryside, exposing passengers to a side of Peru they many travelers do not see. The train route passes through small villages along its path and provides rare glimpses into Peruvian life and the local culture.
The landscape alternates between sharp mountain peaks and rolling hills. Rivers run through the countryside where you are sure to catch a glimpses of Peru’s symbolic animals, including alpacas and vicunas. Misty clouds travel between the emerald hills and straw colored plains, a haze reminiscent of the enigmatic valley of the Incas – your next, or previous, destination. Music and entertainment, afternoon tea, and a gourmet 5-course meal are all included in the ticket price. The seating is comfortable, and there are many opportunities to stretch your legs on board, including a visit to the bar cart, dining cart (with comfortable seating) or the open air car at the end of the train.
Peru is an invigorating destination, and it can be exhausting to see everything in a short amount of time. The Andean Explorer Train offers a more relaxed pace and is a welcoming addition to any Peru tour.
Tren Crucero – Train Rides in South America
Route: Quito, Ecuador to Guayaquil, Ecuador
4 days/3 nights
The Quito to Guayaquil train line was first built in 1908. It was considered some of the most difficult terrain to lay train tracks over in the world, but trains have successfully carried passengers through the breathtaking Andes region for years, connecting the major cities of Guayaquil in southern Ecuador and Quito, in the north. This historic route has since reopened as the Tren Crucero, a steam train that travels through the breathtaking Andean countryside on an unforgettable four-day, three-night journey. Ecuador’s location on the equator means the country is home to numerous environments. The train takes passengers through the Avenue of the Volcanoes, providing surreal views of some of the country’s 30 volcanoes. The Tren Crucero includes a daily evening stop for dinner, tours, and hotel stays in cities along the historic route.
During the day, excursions are led by expert, multilingual guides. Some excursions include hiking, horseback riding, visits to thermal baths and other local historical sites. One popular excursion that passengers love is the Devil’s Nose Train ride, this takes you on a thrilling switchback train ride that zig-zags down a steep incline and drops 500 meters over the course of 12 kilometers.
Though the Tren Crucero is not the typical method of transportation for local Ecuadorians, the coaches are all designed to celebrate the national culture and history. Incredible scenery, delicious food, highly rated boutique hotels, and distinct cultural heritage sites are all included in the price of the ticket. The train is an intimate experience. During the holidays, tickets sell out quickly, so make sure to purchase in advance.
The Tren Crucero is a convenient addition to a Galapagos Islands tour, with starting points in both Quito and Guayaquil. Ecuador has a vast, unique countryside, marked with over 30 volcanoes, an incredible biodiversity, and temperate weather. The best way to explore this rich diversity is on land, and the Tren Crucero is a fun and exclusive way to experience it.
Curitiba Express Train – Train Rides in South America
Route: Atlantic Rainforest
3 Hour Day Train Ride
Curitiba is a modern city in southeastern Brazil, with an urban landscape which famously coexists within its lush, rainforest environment. The city is surrounded by the Atlantic Rainforest. Appropriately, the environmentally conscious city is the starting point for the most scenic train route in Brazil, the Serra Verde Express. Cruise through the Atlantic rainforest with open windows inviting the refreshing rainforest air into the train cars, while enjoying extraordinary views of the Serro do Mar mountain range. This experience is a delightful way to experience Brazil’s rainforests firsthand. This 3-hour train tour weaves through Brazil’s prolific rainforest, offering picturesque views of its dark olive hills and glimpses into the incredibly diverse biosphere. The region is home to over 2,000 species of plants and animals, including 60% of Brazil’s endangered species.
After the train tour, consider adding tours through Morretes and Antonina, two small cities located one hour by car from Curitiba. Morretes, a quiet, riverside colonial town, is famous for it’s creamy beef stew and seafood dishes. The port city of Antonina is home to an abundance of colorful colonial architecture. Another option is to take a boat ride after the train, to the nearby island of Ilha do Mel (Honey Island). Ilha do Mel is home to plentiful sandy beaches, and wonderful views of the striking Serro do Mer mountain range.