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3 Amazing Ferrobus Journeys in South America

Written by Peter Lauffer
April 7, 2021

Ferrobuses are the chasses of (old) overland buses put on rails. These vehicles are an exciting way to discover remote parts of South America, especially in the Andes. Ferrobuses often serve small villages in sparsely populated areas without official road access. Usually the roads are so bad that a rail vehicle journey is much more comfortable. The Gondola Carril in Chile is an exception because it is a pure tourist train. 

Gondola Carril Train between Los Andes and Rio Blanco, Chile
Gondola Carril Train between Los Andes and Rio Blanco, Chile

Chile: Gondola Carril from Los Andes to Rio Blanco

The Gondola Carril dates from the 1920s and is a national monument in Chile. It is the only operating ferrobus rail car in Chile and travels on the Trasandino narrow-gauge railroad from Los Andes (about 85km north of Santiago de Chile) along the picturesque Aconcagua Valley to Rio Blanco. This line originally connected Los Andes in Chile with Mendoza in Argentina.

Map of the Gondola Carril in Chile
Map of the Gondola Carril in Chile

The rail journey is organized about once a month and includes lunch in Rio Blanco. The 27 passengers of the train first visit the old locomotive depot in Los Andes. Along the way, a local guide explains the stunning scenery and the history of the Trasandino train. The tour includes lunch in a hotel near Rio Blanco before the train returns to Los Andes. This journey can easily be planned as a day trip from Santiago de Chile, driving with a private car from Santiago to Los Andes. 

For further information visit: https://www.efe.cl/nuestros-servicios/turisticos/gondola-carril/

FerroBus Puerto Berrio-Barrancabermeja
FerroBus Puerto Berrio-Barrancabermeja

Colombia: Ferrobus from Puerto Berrio to Barrancabermeja

Mapa Ferrocarril Puerto Berrio - Barrancabermeja
Mapa Ferrocarril Puerto Berrio - Barrancabermeja

Located on the shores of the Magdalena River, Puerto Berrio was a railway junction where the Antioquia Railway from Medellin met the Ferrocarril del Atlantico, which followed the Magdalena River to Santa Marta in the Caribbean. Today, the company FENOCO runs cargo trains on the railroad between La Dorada and Santa Marta in the Caribbean. Coopsercol Cia Ltd. operates a daily ferrobus traveling 125 km between Barrancabermeja and Puerto Berrio on this same railroad. The ferrobus leaves Barrancabermeja in the morning and returns from Puerto Berrio in the afternoon, along the way passing through many remote tropical villages in the River Magdalena plain. 

Ferrobus near Barrancabermeja
Ferrobus near Barrancabermeja

The ferrobus runs daily, including Saturdays and Sundays. The timetable is not reliable, and it is best to check departure times the day before you plan to travel. When I used the ferrobus a few months ago, we left Puerto Berrio at 1 p.m. and reached Barrancabermeja around 5 p.m. For more information, call the railway station in Barrancabermeja at (7) 611 0667. 

🚂. Travel Tip: The journey on the ferrobus is a travel adventure, so be prepared for heat and humidity. To make the trip pleasant for our tour guests, we charter a ferrobus on this railroad on our journey “Coffee, Rum, and Trains in Colombia and Panama.”

Heavy rainfalls are frequent in this tropical region, so ensure that your luggage is transported in a separate carriage and not on the train’s roof. It is best if you take this trip with only a small suitcase or backpack.

Ferrobuses in Bolivia

Bolivia is a paradise for ferrobus fans. There are three regions that ferrobuses can reach, but at the present time only the ferrobus from Viacha to Charaña is in operation. The ferrobus from Potosi to El Tear near Sucre is not circulating due to a collapsed bridge between Yotala and El Tear. The Cochabamba to Aiquile ferrobus is not running because a flood washed away the tracks near Cliza. 

Ferrobus at the El Tejar Station near Sucre / Bolivia
Ferrobus at the El Tejar Station near Sucre / Bolivia

Bolivia: Ferrobus on the Arica – La Paz Railway between Viacha and Charaña

The ferrobus from Viacha to Charaña is a journey to a very remote region of the Bolivian Altiplano. The ferrobus leaves from Viacha (near El Alto) on Mondays and Thursdays at 8:30 a.m. and travels 208km to reach Charaña around 2:30 p.m. The trip is mostly flat but becomes more scenic as the train gets closer to Charaña. 

Viacha - Charaña Train Map
Viacha - Charaña Train Map

🚂  Travel Tip: Accommodation is not available in the region of Charaña, and border crossing from Charaña to Visviri in Chile is not possible, as it is not an official border and no one there can stamp passports. This ferrobus journey can be a day trip from La Paz if a private vehicle is arranged for the return trip from Charaña to La Paz in the afternoon. Public buses are not reliable because the region is very sparsely populated. 

This ferrobus journey is part of our tour “Rail Adventures in the Andes.” For individual travelers, arrive early at the railway station to buy tickets. Sometimes it is possible to get tickets the day before at the railway station in Viacha.

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