Bolivian Altiplano Rail Adventure: Expreso del Sur & Wara Wara Express

Written by Peter Lauffer
May 30, 2020

"Expreso del Sur" and "Wara Wara Express" are passenger trains running between Oruro and Villazon, across the Bolivian Altiplano. These trains are the last, regular long-distance passenger trains circulating in the Andes.

The railroad between Villazon and Oruro consists of three parts. Initially, the Oruro - Uyuni railroad was part of the  Oruro - Uyuni - Antofagasta railway and opened in 1892. In 1913 the railroad was extended to the small mining town of Atocha, south of Uyuni. The railroad from Atocha to the Argentinean Border in Villazon (205 km)  opened in 1925. The reason to build the extension to Villazon was to connect the Bolivian railroad with the narrow gouge railroad of Northern Argentina.

"Wara Wara Express" and "Expreso Del Sur"

The "Wara Wara Express" is often a mixed cargo and passenger train, while the "Expreso del Sur" is a pure passenger express train. The "Wara Wara Express" makes the journey between Oruro and Villazon in about 16 hours and the "Expreso del Sur" in about 13 hours. Both trains have two weekly departures in each direction and offer similar comfort and services to the traveler.

Tupiza Railway Station

Traveling from South to North, the train journey starts in Villazon, the Bolivian border town to Argentina. The city's dominant economic activity is the trade of legal and smuggled goods in and out of Bolivia. Villazon is well known as a cheap shopping city in the neighboring Argentine provinces of Jujuy and Salta. The center of town is modern and characterized by small shops selling textiles and electronic items.

Tupiza River Valley

The first part of the route from Villazon to Tupiza offers beautiful scenery. The Train descends from a high plateau into the Tupiza River Valley. During this part of the journey, the Train does many curves and crosses spectacular gorges before it reaches the town of Tupiza, 90 km away from Villazon.

In Tupiza, the train stops for about 10 - 30 minutes. Food vendors have no access to the Train, so if you like to buy dinner, street vendors sell food and drinks in front of the railway station. Don't forget to take the train ticket with you when you leave the station.

From Tupiza, the Train travels into the night. Both trains have a dining car where you can get simple, straightforward meals, coca tea, soft drinks, or a beer.

About 3 hours after Tupiza, the Train reaches the mining town of Atocha. The Atocha Railway Station looks abandoned. After a shortstop, the train continues to Uyuni, where it arrives 2 - 3 hours later.  

Dining Car Wara Wara Express

The trains provide comfortable reclining seats in Executive and Salon Class. None of the two passenger trains offers sleeper accommodation. Meals served in the dining car are eatable but straightforward. For those who speak Spanish, the dining-car can be an exciting place to chat with locals. The trains have no air condition, but the they are heated, and you can open the windows.

Time Table "Expreso del Sur"

  • North-South Journey Tuesday & Friday
  • Dep Oruro at 14:30
  • Arr Uyuni 21:20
  • Dep Uyuni 21:40
  • Arr Tupiza 03:00 (next day)
  • Dep Tupiza 03:10
  • Arr Villazon 06:05
  • South-North Journey Wednesday & Sunday
  • Dep Villazon at 15:30
  • Arr Tupiza 18:15
  • Dep Tupiza 18:25
  • Arr Uyuni 23:50
  • Dep Uyuni 00:05 (next day)
  • Arr Oruro 07:10

For the "Expreso del Sur," you can buy tickets in  Executive and Salon Class.

Time Table "Wara Wara Express"

  • North-South Journey Wednesday & Sunday
  • Dep Oruro at 19:00
  • Arr Uyuni 02:20 (next day)
  • Dep Uyuni 02:50
  • Arr Tupiza 08:35
  • Dep Tupiza 09:05
  • Arr Villazon 12:05
  • South-North Journey Monday & Thursday
  • Dep Villazon at 15:30
  • Arr Tupiza 18:25
  • Dep Tupiza 19:00
  • Arr Uyuni 01:15 (next day)
  • Dep Uyuni 01:45
  • Arr Oruro 09:10

On the "Wara Wara Express," you can buy tickets in  Executive, Salon, and Popular Class.

I recommend foreign travelers to buy a ticket in Executive Class. You check-in your suitcase or backpack at the railway station and receive it back at your destination. Keep the receipt! A piece of hand luggage you can take on the Train.

Expreso del Sur at the Oruro Railway Station

The train-compartments have a TV where they play music or films during the whole journey. If you like it quiet during the trip, you can ask the train inspector to shut down the TV or to reduce at least its volume.

🚂 Travel Tips: When you travel from Villazon, you arrive in Uyuni in the middle of the night. Uyuni is a safe, little town where it can be freezing cold at night. I recommend reserving a hotel in Uyuni in advance. Taxis are not always available at the station. Ask the hotel for a pick-up at the railway station at these early hours.

Inside the Railway Station complex in Uyuni is the interesting "Wagon Sleepbox Hotel" available. Check the Oncle.Inn website: https://onkelinn.com/wagon-sleepbox-uyuni/

Want to experience a ride on the "Expreso del Sur" or "Wara Wara Express" by yourself? You can do so by joining our Majestic Andean Rail Adventure, where we travel onboard the "Expreso del Sur" from Oruro to Uyuni or on the Buenos Aires to Lima: Salt Flats, Lakes and Machu Picchu where we use the "Wara Wara Express" from Villazon to Uyuni.