The railroad was built by Chile to compensate Bolivia for its loss of territory during the Pacific War, between 1879 and 1883. Chile won the war, and a wide strip of Bolivian land was annexed, leaving Bolivia landlocked. The idea behind the railroad was to give Bolivia access to the sea for its exports.
Construction of the Arica – La Paz Railway
The railroad between Arica and La Paz was inaugurated on May 13, 1913, and extends from the northernmost port of Chile, Arica, to the commercial capital of Bolivia, La Paz, 440 kilometers northeast.
Its construction was a remarkable feat of engineering. The railroad rises to over 4,200 meters above sea level, which makes it one of the highest railways in the World. At some points, the inclination is more than 6%. At the time of its construction, it was the steepest train lines on Earth.
The Arica – La Paz Railway passes 205 kilometers in Chile and 235 kilometers in Bolivia. The railway crosses some of the most inhospitable lands of both countries when it snakes through a fantastic landscape of deserts and snowy volcanoes. The railroad was mainly used to bring copper, tin, and wool from the Bolivian Altiplano to Arica, on the Pacific Ocean.
The construction of the railroad took seven years, employing thousands of workers. Many suffered from altitude sickness, heatstroke, and extreme cold at night.
The Course of the Railway
The route leads from Arica along the coast for about ten kilometers; then, it goes up the Lluta valley. The ascent to the Occidental Andean Range begins near the route kilometer 70 at the station “Central.” During the following 42.7 km, the train has to overcome an altitude difference of 2247 meters with the help of a cogwheel. The highest point of the route at 4257 m is at General Lagos (km 184.5). The border stations are Visviri in Chile and Charaña in Bolivia. At route kilometer 112 in the town of Puquios, the train reaches the high plateau (Altiplano) at the height of 3700 m until the train reaches Viacha at km 415.
Disruption of Service
The railroad was in service until 2001 when part of the railway was destroyed by a severe storm that washed away the rails that pass the Lluta River on the Chilean side. The Chilean Government repaired the railroad in 2002. Still, the train made very few trips after that due to the financial difficulties of the company Arica-La Paz Railway (AFALP). In November 2005, AFALP declared bankruptcy, and the operations of the railroad were interrupted entirely.
Arica – La Paz Railway Today
Today, the railroad Viacha – Charaña is administered by Ferroviaria Andina (FCA). On this part of the railroad FCA runs two weekly Ferrobuses between Viacha and Charaña in each direction. The Ferrobus runs Viacha – Charaña on Monday and Thursday and from Charaña to Viacha on Tuesday and Friday.
In Chile, run passenger trains on weekends between Arica and Paconchile and sometimes up to Central. Details about this service you find at this website: http://www.efe.cl/empresa/servicios/trenes-turisticos/arica-poncochile.html
Advice for travelers
Border crossing for Passport holders is not possible at the Charaña (Bolivia) – Visviri (Chile) border, there is nobody who stamps passports at this passage. The nearest official border-crossing is at “Tambo Quemado,” using the main road La Paz – Arica, unfortunately far away from the railroad.
The train journeys Arica – Paconchile and Viacha – Charaña is part of our tour “Rail Adventures in the Andes” that we organize from June 9 – July 1, 2020. A unique trip designed for rail enthusiasts and travelers who seek experiences away from the traditional tourist destinations.