Become inspired and discover train rides across South America through magnificent landscapes, in both luxurious and rugged, authentic trains. Many travelers assume that traveling by train in South America must be cumbersome and unreliable, but I will mention here four train rides well worth the time and effort to acquire the train tickets.
Some of the world's best rail journeys await you in South America. One or more of the following four train journeys is bound to match your taste, whether you prefer dramatic mountain landscapes, tropical rainforests, or infinite pampas. Get ready to be introduced to some of the most exciting train trips on the South American continent.
The Perurail Titicaca Train is the former Andean Explorer Train. The charming Pullman wagons make you feel like you’re sitting in a dining car from the 1920s. You’ll enjoy stunning scenery from the windows while the train travels along the upper Urubamba Valley and across southern Peru's Altiplano region. The train also features a bar and observation car at the end of the train where you can meet other travelers, sip a pisco-sour, and enjoy the magnificent scenery. The overall journey from Cusco to Lake Titicaca takes 10 hours. Included in the ticket price is a three-course gourmet meal with a glass of excellent wine. The Perurail Titicaca Train runs two trains per week in each direction between Cusco and Puno.
The Serra Verde Express in Brazil runs from the city of Curitiba to Moretes in southeastern Brazil. The three-hour train journey crosses the tropical Serra do Mar mountain range, passing from the highlands down to sea level. Only a few trains in South America penetrate as deeply into the jungle as the Serra Verde Express does. I recommend traveling in a carriage where you can open the windows to get a better feel of the tropical journey. Air-conditioned carriages are also available if you prefer.
Visit the Serra Verde Express website for departure dates, ticket prices, and timetables.
The region of Moretes is very scenic, with many sites to visit. Therefore, consider booking a tour that includes the train journey as part of the trip and that provides a private vehicle with which to see the surroundings areas of Moretes.
Note that the journey on the Serra Verde Express is a popular excursion for local Brazilian tourists, so the morning train can get very crowded. Consider traveling to Moretes by car and then traveling back to Curitiba on the much less crowded afternoon train. The Serra Verde Express is part of our trip, "Grand Rail Tour of Brazil."
The “Expreso Oriental Super Pulman” departs from the tropical Bolivian City of Santa Cruz de la Sierra for its journey via San Jose de Chiquitos to Puerto Quijarro at the Brazilian Border. The first part of the trip to San Jose de Chiquitos is especially fascinating because the train travels this portion of the journey during daylight. Passing through the flatlands east of Santa Cruz to the Chiquitania region, one can view the area’s famous colonial Jesuit missions, many of which are UNESCO World Heritage sites. Most local travelers continue the train journey to Puerto Quijarro, where the Train arrives the following day.
The train departs from Santa Cruz on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays at 1:20 p.m. Information about the train journey and the exact timetable can be found on the Expreso Oriental website.
Locals sell drinks and snacks on the train, but it is always a good idea to have a personal food reserve with you in case the train gets delayed. Have your hotel in San Jose booked in advance and ask for the transfer from the railway station to the hotel, especially if you stay in one of the better hotels outside of town.
The Panama Canal Railway is the shortest railway journey described here. The journey lasts for one hour and stretches from Panama City on the Pacific side to Colon on the Atlantic.
The Panama Canal train leaves Panama City each Monday through Friday at 7:15 a.m. and reaches Colon at 8:15 a.m. The train follows along the Panama Canal, and at some points during the journey huge vessels can be observed traversing the Canal. The train departs for the return trip from Colon at 5:15 p.m. and reaches Panama City at 6:15 p.m. I recommend the morning trip. Note that on Saturdays and Sundays the train does not run.
The carriages are air-conditioned, and there is a dome car as part of the train. Each carriage has a small open-air area from which you can enjoy excellent views of the Panama Canal.
Not far from the Colon Station is the new stunning Aguas Claras lock and the San Lorenzo Fort. To get around in that area you will need a private car. Therefore, it is best to take the train trip as part of an organized tour.
The Panama Canal Railway journey is part of our tour "Coffee & Rum by Rail in Colombia and Panama."