Train to the Clouds - Argentina
Updated: Mar 14
The "Tren a las Nubes" is one of the most famous train routes in South America and well worth the journey when traveling in north-western Argentina. The train travels a part of the "General Manuel Belgrano Railroad" that connected Salta with Antofagasta in Chile.
The "Train to the Clouds" is an Argentine tourist rail service between the city of Salta and the "Polvorilla Viaduct." The tourist train reaches an altitude of 4220 m (13,845 feet) a.s.l. at its highest point at the "Polvorilla Viaduct."
Richard Maury was the principal engineer of this railroad project connecting the Argentinean Pampas with the Pacific Port in Antofagasta. He discarded the commonly used rack system to gain hight but implemented numerous switchbacks and spirals to overcome the altitude difference.
Until 1981, a passenger train with sleeping and seating cars ran between Salta and Antofagasta once a week. Later until 1993, state-owned Ferrocarriles Argentinos run a weekly freight train with passenger transport between Salta and Socompa at the Chilean border. Today a sporadical fright train runs from Argentina to Chile.
The nickname "Tren a las Nubes," in English "Train to the Clouds," is due to a film made by two students of the National University of Tucumán during the 1960s. The students traveled the Salta-Socompa section aboard a regular passenger train, which at that time was driven by steam engines. The cameramen asked the locomotive-driver to make a lateral discharge of stream when the train reaches the "Polvorilla Viaduct" so that they could film it from the windows of the wagons. Due to low temperatures at high altitudes that day, the steam released from the locomotive did not dissipate quickly and created the illusion in the film that the train is driving over the clouds.
The first tourist train from Salta to the "Polvorilla Viaduct" ran on July 16, 1972. The tourists' services went on until 1990 when the Argentinean government sold the railroad to a private company. Various private companies continued to run the tourist train during the winter months in South America from March to December.
It was in 2014 when 400 Passengers of the "Tren a las Nubes" had to be evacuated at 4000 m a.s.l. This incident was the reason to re-nationalize the railroad, and the Province of Salta took over the operation of the tourist train. Since then, the "Tren a las Nubes" travels only the last 21 km (13 Miles) from San Antonio de Los Cobres to the "Polvorilla Viaduct."
The "Tren a las Nubes" tour program includes the journey from Salta to San Antonio de Los Cobres in Motor Coaches. The passengers board the train at the railway station in San Antonio de Los Cobres and travel to the "Polvorilla Viaduct." The train travels the 21 km distance to the viaduct in about one hour. The train crosses in slow motion the bridge and waits on one end, where locals organize the souvenir market for the train passengers. Near the market is a viewpoint from where the travelers have great views over the viaduct and the train. After 30 minutes, the train returns to San Antonio de Los Cobres.
The train has a small dining car, doctor's office, and bilingual tour guides. Oxygene is available onboard the train.
Time Table Tren a las Nubes
Dep - San Antonio d.l.Cobres: 12:00
Arr - Polvorilla Viaduct: 13:00
Dep - Polvorilla Viaduct: 13:30
Arr- San Antonio d.l.Cobres: 14:00
Check departure days at the website of the Tren a las Nubes
Want to experience a ride on the Tren a las Nubes by yourself? We got you covered. Check our 21-day tour "Journey from Buenos Aires to Lima! "