About the Train to the Clouds
The Train to the Clouds (or Train of the Clouds) is an Argentine tourist rail service on the C-14 branch of the General Manuel Belgrano Railroad on the section between Salta Station and the La Polvorilla viaduct. The railroad reaches an altitude of 4220 m (13,845 feet) above sea level at its highest point.
History and particularities of the railroad between Salta and the Polvorilla Viaduct
In the past, the Train departed from the city of Salta, crossed the Lerma Valley to enter the Quebrada del Toro reaching the Puna de Atacama.
Richard Maury, the principal engineer of this railroad, discarded the commonly used rack system often used at the beginning of the 20th century. The Train does not use cogwheels, even for the steepest parts of the tracks. The Train overcomes altitude circulating through a system of zigzags and spirals.
Why the name “Train to the Clouds”?
The nickname “Tren a las Nubes” was born from a film made by two students of the National University of Tucumán during the first years of the 1960s, who traveled the Salta-Socompa section aboard the passenger train, which at that time was driven by steam engines. The cameramen asked the locomotive-driver to make a lateral discharge of stream when the Train reaches the “La Polvorilla” viaduct so that they could film it from the windows of the wagons. The steam released at the Viaduct did not dissipate quickly as a result of the low temperature at 4220 m. This effect created the illusion in the film that the Train is driving over the clouds.
Early Tourist Train Services
On July 16, 1972, the State-owned railway company offered the first official tourist rail trip from Salta to the Polvorilla Viaduct. The tourists’ services went on until 1990 when the Argentinean government sold the railroad to a private company.
Train to the Clouds today
Since 2016 (the railroad is back in public hands), the Train travels only the last 21 km (13 Miles) from San Antonio de Los Cobres to the Polvorilla Viaduct. The railway company makes the journey from Salta to San Antonio de Los Cobres with Motor Coaches along the RN 51 to the towns of Campo Quijano and Gobernador Solá until reaching El Alfarcito. Then the Coach trip continues through the Quebrada de las Cuevas and then the Muñano plain to reach San Antonio de Los Cobres.
The Motor Coaches leave the travelers at the Train Station in San Antonio de Los Cobres, where they embark on the Train to the Clouds that will take them to the Polvorilla Viaduct. The tour by Train is one hour to the Viaduct, at 4,200 meters above sea level. The Train crosses in slow motion the Viaduct and waits on one end for 30 minutes, where the local population organizes a small souvenir market for the train passengers. After 30 minutes, the Train returns to San Antonio de Los Cobres, where passengers will board the buses again to return to the city of Salta.
The Train has a small dining car, doctor’s office, and bilingual tour guides. Oxygene is available onboard the Train.
Want to experience a ride on the Tren a las Nubes by yourself? We got you covered. Check our 21-day tour “Journey from Buenos Aires to Lima“!
Watch a video of the Tren a las Nubes here: