In South America doesn’t exist a coherent international rail network anymore. You have to organize most long-distance trips by bus or airplane. For this reason, discovering South America by Train is not easy, but possible if you have the time and are patient. In this article, I write about train travel on non-touristic trains, which is an exciting way to observe and discover a region and its people.
The vast majority of Latin American countries still have some active railroads with regular train services. However, the classic railroads have not the same function anymore as one or two decades ago, where they were a fundamental element of the local economies. In recent years, many railways have become an attractive tourist attraction, especially in Peru, Ecuador, Brazil, and Chile. Colombia, Bolivia, Brazil, and Chile have rediscovered the railways to transport freight for a long distance. On those railroads, passenger transport is very limited or not existing anymore.
Types of Passenger Trains in South America
First, we have the Ferrobus or Buscarril.
The Ferrobus is a bus on rails with a relatively fast diesel engine. Ferrobuses are used in Colombia, Ecuador, and Bolivia, ensuring transport for the population of remote regions with terrible road access. The Ferrobus usually has a fix departure time but arrives when it arrives. The ferrobus often stops near small communities in remote areas without a railway station. Food is seldom available on the ferrobus, but local communities sell food and drinks when the ferrobus stops. Traveling on ferrobuses is an excellent experience for the adventurous traveler. Don’t expect any comforts onboard the ferrobus. Luggage is often transported on the roof; therefore, I strongly recommend traveling with as little baggage as possible and have a waterproof suitcase or backpack.
Colombia: Puerto Berrio – Barrancabermeja
Second, there are the Standard and Express Trains.
Standard and Express are running in Brazil, Bolivia Argentina, and Chile.
These trains are pulled by diesel locomotives and run according to a timetable. The trains are quite reliable and stop only at railway stations. Most of these trains have 2 or 3 travel classes and sometimes have a dining car added to their convoy. Express trains can be considerably more expensive, featuring more comfortable wagons and bring you faster to the destination. Second class carriages can be full of passengers and luggage, so it is recommendable traveling first class.
Chile: Santiago – Talca- Temuco
*There are more long-distance trains in Argentina, but these trains are only available to citizens of low income. As a foreigner, it is not possible to get tickets.
Finally, there mixed passenger and freight trains.
They take everything and everyone with them, stop at each station and in many other intermediate places, take forever and are very cheap. Traveling on these trains can be fun if you have time.
Colombia: Puerto Berrio – Barrancabermeja,