Is it possible to travel over long distances by train in South America? Yes, indeed. There are long-distance trains in Argentina, Chile, Bolivia, Brazil, Peru, and perhaps soon in Ecuador.
Argentina has the densest railway network of all South American countries. The center of the Argentinean railway network is in Buenos Aires. Currently, it appears that Argentineans are rediscovering the comfort of traveling by train over long distances. The demand for train travel is increasing, and some lines offer multiple rail connections per day, especially just before and on the weekends.
It can be challenging for a foreign visitor to buy tickets and obtain reservations on some Argentinean trains, and it is nearly impossible for a non-Argentinean citizen to get a train ticket from Buenos Aires to Tucuman.
Available long-distance trains in Argentina include:
- Buenos Aires - Rosario - Tucuman
- Buenos Aires - Rosario - Cordoba
- Buenos Aires - Bahia Blanca
- Buenos Aires - Mar del Plata
- Viedma - Bariloche
All long-distance passenger trains in Chile leave Santiago Alameda Railway Station and run from Santiago de Chile southward to Chillan for over 398 km (247 Miles). From there, on specific dates, night trains continue to Temuco or Constitucion.
Between Santiago de Chile and Chillan, various passenger trains circulate each day. Trains from Santiago to Temuco or Constitucion are overnight trains that run on specific dates only.
Passenger trains in Chile have two classes, "Preferente" (First Class) and Salón (Second Class).
No long-distance passenger trains run north of Santiago.
Bolivia has two independent railway networks: One runs across the Andean Altiplano from the small border town of Villazon to Lake Titicaca. The other operates in the eastern lowlands, one line of which goes southward to Yacuiba at the Argentinean border and the other eastward to Puerto Quijarro at the Brazilian Border.
Regular passenger trains run on the Andean Rail Network between Ouro and Villazon, and one monthly tourist train runs from El Alto (La Paz) to Guaqui at Lake Titicaca.
Between Ouro and Villazon, four trains run in each direction. Expreso del Sur is the fastest of these, taking 15-16 hours to travel 600km (373 Miles). The Wara Wara Express travels on the same route but makes more stops. Both trains offer the same classes and services onboard.
The tourist train from El Alto to Guaqui runs the second Sunday of every month. The train stops in Tiwanaku, one of Bolivia's most important archeological sites, before it reaches Guaqui on the shores of Lake Titicaca.
The eastern lowland network has two lines on which passenger trains run for long distances. The train from Santa Cruz de la Sierra travels southward 536km (333 Miles) to Yacuiba at the Argentinean border. There are two weekly runs in each direction on this tropical railway. The train has no air-conditioned carriages, however, and for this reason the journey is not very comfortable.
From Santa Cruz de la Sierra to Puerto Quijarro in the east, the train is called "Expreso Oriental" and is much more comfortable than the Yacuiba train. The Expreso Oriental is air-conditioned, has a restaurant carriage, and offers various travel classes. Even better and faster on the same route is the Ferrobus, which stops at larger villages only. Both trains run three times per week in each direction.
Vale, one of the world's largest mining companies, manages the remaining long-distance passenger trains in Brazil.
The first of these runs between Belo Horizonte and Vitoria at the Atlantic Coast. This train departs daily in both directions and takes about 13 hours to travel the 664 km (413 miles). The journey is very comfortable in the climatized carriages in Executive and Economic classes. The train also has a Bistro Car for drinks and light meals.
The other passenger train runs in northern Brazil from Sao Louis to Parauapebas over 664 km (413 Miles). This train runs on Saturdays from Sao Louis to Parauapebas and on Sundays from Parauapebas to Sao Luis. The train offers various travel classes, while the Executive Class provides a similar level of comfort to the Belo Horizonte Vitoria train.
Peru has three long-distance passenger trains, all of them pure tourist trains. The one that travels the longest distance is the Andean Explorer, which runs between Cusco, Lake Titicaca, and Arequipa. A second train runs on the same railroad but only from Puno to Cusco. The third train is the most adventurous because it travels from Lima to Huancayo, passing through the second highest railway station in the world.
The luxurious Andean Explorer train, operated by Belmond, travels from Cusco to Lake Titicaca and then on to Arequipa. The only luxury sleeper train in South America, the Andean Explorer runs once per week in either direction.
The Titicaca Train travels from Cusco to Puno three times per week in either direction. Perurail operates this train, which was the "old" Andean Explorer train. The train travels for 10 hours across 390km (242 Miles). The daylight journey on the Titicaca Train is among the most scenic train trips of the Peruvian Andes. Lunch is included in the ticket price.
The third Peruvian long-distance passenger train runs from Lima to Huancayo and calls at the second highest railway station in the world, 4812 m (15,681 ft) above sea level. The journey takes 12-14 hours. Because of the high altitude, the train has oxygen available and carries a nurse on board. "Clase Turistico" corresponds to first class and "Clase Clasico" to second class,” and the ticket price includes meals on the train. The train runs only sporadically, mostly during public holidays in Peru.