Best Latin American rail journeys

Put simply, Latin America is beautiful. Think tropical jungles, seething wetlands, expansive deserts, colourful exotic wildlife and ancient buildings and sites once inhabited by some truly interesting civilisations. All of which can be seen from the comfort of a rail carriage on some of the best train trips on the planet.

With the help of Contours Travel and Pura Adventure, we’ve found nine of the best rail trips in Latin America.

Hiram Bingham, Machu Picchu, Peru
It’s one of the most beautiful rail routes in the world. The train travels from Cuzco – the ancient capital of the Inca empire – along the Urubamba River, through the Andean plains to beautiful Lake Titicaca, the largest lake in South America and the highest in the world, then past the vast Colca Canyon and the World Heritage city of Arequipa. Passengers will see rustic communities and farms in a narrow valley, lush forests and snow-capped mountains from ‘economy’ carriages in the Explorer or in the luxury of the Hiram Bingham Deluxe – one of the most luxurious carriages in the world.

Hiram Bingham offers day trips from Poroy to the Inca citadel and can be made either as a day excursion (3hrs 15mins each way) or with an overnight stay. The trip includes appetisers, brunch, live music and a gourmet dinner on board. Guides are on board throughout the journey to offer an insight into the story of this Andean treasure.

Tren a Las Nubes, Argentina
Tren a Las Nubes is often ranked as one of the world’s best rail adventures. Reaching heights of around 4200m, it’s little wonder this journey is known as ‘Train to the Clouds’. The railway connects north-west Argentina with the Chilean border in the Andes mountain range and is one of the Argentina’s most popular tourist attractions. The highlight is passing over the Viaducto La Polvorilla – a 64m-high, 232m-long viaduct. You’ll want to have your camera ready for a once-in-a-lifetime snapshot.

Tren Crucero, Riobamba, Ecuador
With just four carriages (two dining and two lounge cars), this little train provides passengers with an intimate experience as they travel from Ecuador’s capital, Quito, through the Andes over snow-capped mountains and past volcanoes before arriving in the coastal city of Guayaquil. The highlight of the journey is undoubtedly the steep descent through wild mountain scenery known as the ‘Devil’s Nose’, where, at 45 degrees, you’ll descend 500m over the course of only 12km, while looking down over Ecuador’s diverse natural beauty.

It’s a popular attraction, though, so book in advance to ensure your seat.

Tren del Vino, Colchagua, Chile
They had you at ‘wine’, right? Tren del Vino – the Wine Train – is the rail journey for oenophiles and rail fans alike (which means it’s often perfect for couples!). Running from Santiago into the Colchagua Valley, wine lovers will find some of the country’s finest wineries. Weekly rail tours pass by vast vineyards, colonial estates and prestigious wineries with passengers enjoying wine tasting to the folksy tunes of Chilean musicians. After a two-hour journey to Santa Cruz, you can hop off and wander along to local vineyards. It’s a great way to taste some of Chile’s finest without having to drive.

Pantanal Express, Mato Grosso do Sul, Brazil
The Pantanal Express travels through the largest continuous wetland in the world. The seven-hour journey takes in Brazil’s history, biodiversity and culture, starting in Campo Grande, the capital of Mato Grosso do Sul and passing by the hills and waterfalls of the Maracaju Range. Passengers enjoy a three-hour stop for lunch and sightseeing at Aquidauana. The train features large glass windows from which to view the stunning wildlife and birds that live along the way. It runs only a few weekends a year, so booking in advance is necessary.

Tren del Fin del Mundo, Argentina
The Southern Fuegian Railway is the southernmost functioning railway in the world and was once used to transport prisoners and freight to the prison of Ushuaia. Nowadays, the beautifully restored ‘Train of the End of the World’ takes travellers from Ushuaia to the Tierra del Fuego National Park. It travels past some of the world’s most stunning landscapes, from Patagonian lakes to snow-capped peaks, while guides offer insight into the rich history of the railway and the region.

Copper Canyon Railway, Chihuahua, Mexico
The Copper Canyon Railway is Mexico’s only passenger train. The Chihuahua al Pacifico – or ‘El Chepe’ – takes passengers from the desert to the Pacific coast in north-west Mexico, crossing some of the country’s most rugged, but breathtaking, terrain. It passes sheer canyon walls, hugs the edge of mountains and crosses deep ravines. The railway has been operating for more than 50 years and stretches over 650km from Chihuahua to Los Mochis on the coast, crossing 36 bridges and running through 87 tunnels.

Panama Canal Railway, Panama
It’s only an hour-long tour, but it’s a perfect way to see the Panama Canal. The glass-domed train offers spectacular views of a truly remarkable engineering feat as well as vine-engulfed jungle abundant with wildlife. Passengers will enjoy a short but sweet ride from Colon on the Atlantic coast to Panama City on the Pacific, while enjoying the experience of luxury train travel.

Have you been on any of these rail journeys? Which of these would you like to try?

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Written by Leon Della Bosca

Publisher of YourLifeChoices – Australia's most-trusted and longest-running retirement website. A trusted voice on Australia's retirement landscape, including retirement income and planning, government entitlements, lifestyle and news and information relevant to Australians over 50. Leon has worked in publishing for more than 25 years and is also a travel writer and editor, graphic designer and photographer.

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