You don’t need to be a 5 year old to love trains. Although many are ashamed of it, we all know taking the train is fun. It certainly takes us backs to the days when we were young and foolish, backpacking our way through Europe. With some of the most spectacular landscapes you could ever dream of, South America is the perfect place to hop on a magical train ride, winding through lush forest and mountains, climbing up to the sky, or descending to the bottom of the world.
Hiram Bingham Train to Machu Picchu, Peru
Everyone has heard of the magnificent Machu Picchu citadel. Built under the glorious Inca Empire, this majestic fortress has been standing strong on its mountain top for centuries. The site’s remote location of the ruins in the heart of Peru’s fertile Sacred Valley makes it hard to reach, and even more daunting. The only way to reach Machu Picchu is to take the train to the closest town, Aguas Calientes. And what a train.
For the authentic once-in-a-lifetime “all inclusive trip to Machu Picchu,” travel on the Hiram Bingham Train. Named after the explorer who re-discovered the site in 1911, this Orient-Express style train offers the ultimate Machu Picchu experience. As soon as you step on, you’ll be transported into another world: fully carpeted wagons, dim lights, comfortable seats, and golden décor are all part of the trick. The train ride is simply enthralling as it winds through exotic tropical forests along a roaring river dominated by the Andes.
Just relax and enjoy the breathtaking scenery while you’re served mouthwatering meals in one of the 2 decked-out dining wagons. Lift your head up and peer through the observation car’s glass ceiling to catch a glimpse of mountain peaks piercing through the clouds. Soon enough, you’ll be at Machu Picchu.
Train to the Clouds in Salta, Argentina
Be prepared for the train ride of a lifetime at more than 13,800 feet (4,200 meters) above sea level! This one is not for the faint of heart or the easily bored. A trip on the world’s third highest railway is one that cannot be taken lightly. It’s expensive, yes. It’s long, yes. It’s worth it, of course.
The Tren de las Nubes (Train to the Clouds) operates in the Salta region in northern Argentina. This train won’t take you anywhere as it ends right where it starts, but you’re in for the ultimate train ride.
At 21 miles an hour, the 270-mile (434 km) journey to the imposing Polvorilla viaduct takes about 15 hours with two stops along the way. When you reach the end of the railway, the engine is moved to the other end of the train, seats are reversed and you start the journey back to Salta.
This railway itself is an impressive piece of work that will leave in awe anyone with the slightest notions of engineering. Designed by American engineer Richard Fontaine Maury, the train passes over 29 bridges, through 21 tunnels, across 13 viaducts and along 4 spirals and zigzags, literally traveling through clouds that envelop the railway at this altitude.
The real treat is the splendid landscape unraveling on the way. Lush tobacco fields, herds of cattle, gauchos on the back of their horses, and striking, arid lunar lands, follow one another. The train travels through various natural habitats, from fertile valleys to the arid Quebrada del Toro (Bull’s Gorge).
Train at the End of the World in Ushuaia, Argentina
You are at the end of the world. Kind of. The world actually continues down to the glacial Antarctic continent, but Ushuaia is indeed the southernmost city in the world. Traveling here can be a badge of honor. How many people can say they’ve been to the end of the world? And yet better, who can say they rode the Train at the End of the World?
The Tren del Fin del Mundo offers the enchanting opportunity to ride through some of the planet’s most spectacular landscapes. Departing from Ushuaia, the train takes its passengers through the strikingly beautiful Tierra del Fuego National Park.
Settle comfortably in your seat in one of the elegant coaches and enjoy the ride. Their design was inspired by steam locomotives used in the first half of the century, and they have full size windows to allow for unobstructed views of the wonderfully desolate Patagonian region. Painted in bright red and green colors with wooden interiors, the wagons make for an odd sight as they chug alongside the river, passing waterfalls, forests and imposing mountain peaks, and pulled by classic steam locomotives.
The railway was built in the early 20th century, shortly after Ushuaia was settled as a penal colony to house the country’s most dangerous criminals. Prisoners used the train to transport local materials from the park to the settlement. Shut down after an earthquake in 1949 the “Convict Train” stopped running for decades, only resuming its historical route in 1994.
The route goes from the main station in Ushuaia to the national park station inside of the Tierra del Fuego Park. From there, passengers can either ride the train back to Ushuaia later in the day, or continue on deeper into the park on their own.