Discovering any country by rail – or luxury rail – is a joy. More comfortable than driving, more scenic than flying, and overall an intimate way to see the countryside, rural settlements and even archeological sites at a pace that suits the spirit of vacation. 

Without question, South America boasts some of the most scenic railway journeys in the world. This beguiling continent of towering mountains, glaciers, craggy valleys, wildlife-rich countryside and endless cultural intrigue is primed for exploration. For us at Atelier, an unforgettable train journey is the way to do it. 

In truth even local trips and stops will throw up something worth seeing, but what about those truly iconic railway routes? Here, we take a look at our top 6 most scenic rail journeys in South America to give you inspiration for your next Atelier tour.

The Belmond Andean Explorer – Cusco, Puno and Arequipa, Peru

The Hiram Bingham – Machu Picchu, Peru

The Train to the Clouds – Salta, Argentina 

Tren Crucero & The Devil’s Nose – Ecuador 

La Trochita. The Old Patagonia Express – Argentina 

The Serra Verde Express – Brasil 

 

1. The Belmond Andean Explorer

Where else to start, but the Belmond Andean Explorer? Touted as Peru’s first luxury sleeper train, this journey – connecting ancient Cusco near the Sacred Valley with Puno on the shores of Lake Titicaca – is simply spellbinding. 

The Belmond brand is well-known as one of the foremost luxury hotel, cruise and experience providers in the world, always culturally sensitive and always first-class, too. Their Andean Explorer train is no different. 

Inside, you can expect ornate brass and gilded fittings, royal boutique cabins, fine dining Peruvian cuisine and impeccable service throughout. There’s a lounge bar, restaurant, even an observation deck and spa for extra indulgence! Yet it’s what lies outside that makes the Belmond Andean Explorer just so special…

There are several options to choose from, each as stunning as the next though differing in length. And, as you roll through the foothills of the Andes you’ll pass rugged plains, lakes, remote archeological sites and of course, have that dramatic mountainscape as your backdrop all the while. With plenty of chance for stops and excursions along the way, the Andean Explorer Train is a true travel experience.

2.The Hiram Bingham Train to Machu Picchu

Staying in Peru, the Belmond Hiram Bingham Train links ancient Cusco with Ollantaytambo in the Sacred Valley, and Machu Picchu itself. Onboard you can expect the same high standards as the Andean Explorer. Think fine fabrics and ornate furnishings, and a traditional exterior that would not look out of place in Victorian England.

There’s more magic inside on this rail journey too. On top of welcome cocktails, gourmet cuisine and other creature comforts, you’ll be treated to cultural entertainment, live musical performances, and a bit of fun for all the family as you travel through the Sacred Valley. 

Then there’s the route. Peru’s Sacred Valley is home to some of the world’s greatest ruins and archeological sites, the center of the mighty Inca Empire. None more so than your final destination aboard the Belmond Hiram Bingham Train, Machu Picchu – the Lost City. In fact, the train is named after the explorer who rediscovered Machu Picchu in 1911.

To get there, you’ll rumble past pretty streams that become pounding rivers, lush forest, sharp hillsides and open plains. It all makes for a beautiful introduction to the Lost City once you arrive.  

3.The Train to the Clouds

Tren a las Nubes, the Train to the Clouds in Salta, Argentina, is a high-altitude (over 4,200m above sea level) journey on parts of a line that once connected Salta and San Antonio de los Cobres. This narrow-gauge ride through the remote north of Argentina makes for a fantastic day trip and on of the best ways to see the incredible surrounding rock formations this area is known for.

The Train to the Clouds is a real feat of engineering, too. Along the way you’ll wind along gorges and hillsides, passing over deep valleys on huge, towering bridges that can make you feel like you’re floating above the ground! The landscapes here are stark. It’s a place where arid plains roll into hazy hills, and red-hued mountains beyond. 

Not just for tourists, Tren a las Nubes is actually a working railway line in Argentina, so you’ll be sharing the experience with locals, too. So for anyone traveling to the north of the country, this exciting tour is a must when in Salta.

4. Tren Crucero & The Devil’s Nose

Ecuador’s Tren Crucero & The Devil’s Nose, connecting the capital Quito and Guayaquil on the southwest coast, is worth traveling to the country for alone. An incredible South America railway journey that is as culturally/historically significant as it is beautiful, interesting, relaxing and at times, thrilling. 

The full route typically takes 4 days, with plenty of scenic stops and planned excursions available along the way. You can extend your itinerary up to 12 days if looking to spend extra time at certain locations along the way. 

Starting with the train however, there are different cabin and coach styles to choose from – some more family-friendly, others ornate and luxurious, though service is always first-class no matter which you choose and snacks/drinks are always available. Overnight, you will stay in boutique hotels at each major stop, though it’s daily life onboard that really makes Tren Crucero & The Devil’s Nose so special. 

The route and line were constructed over 100 years ago, a fact which becomes more perplexing as you travel deeper into what seems an impenetrable landscape at times. Passing no less than 10 volcanoes, verdant hills and valleys, local settlements and farming communities, wild plains and so much more besides – Tren Crucero takes you through Ecuador in a way no journey by road ever could.

And then there’s the Devil’s Nose. Available as a tour in itself (between Alausi to Sibambe) if not looking to do the full 4 days, the Hair-raising Devil’s Nose is one of the great engineering masterpieces of the 20th Century. It’s also one of the most memorable train rides in South America, crisscrossing a narrow gorge near the Chanchán river and at times defying belief as you cling to sheer mountainsides and navigate steep drops. Sadly, many people died constructing this line back in 1872, an important point to acknowledge while absorbing what is an exceptional travel experience.

5. La Trochita. The Old Patagonia Express

Patagonia is an otherworldly place. Glacial lakes, beautiful forests, uninhabitable plains, icebergs, penguins, whales, and the southernmost city on Earth, Ushuaia. In truth there are countless train routes and journeys around Patagonia that are breathtaking, but the 5-day La Trochita tour stands out as one that’s both historic and intoxicating from start to finish.

Traveling aboard a 1922 steam train, the Old Patagonia Express takes you into bewildering scenery throughout, including the Nahuel Huapi National Park, Los Alerces National Park, past Bariloche and the Seven Lakes Route, to name just a few.

Staying in hotels along the way, your time onboard will be filled with wonder and awe as you traverse this captivating part of the world, one that looks different – though equally spectacular – in every season. Patagonia is a fairytale place, and La Trochita is the way to see it. 

6. The Serra Verde Express, Brazil

Brazil is a great destination for day trips by rail, with lots of short tours and handy lines able to whisk you around without the hassle of traffic or inevitable crowds on the streets. There are plenty to choose from, but one we particularly like is the Serra Verde Express, an especially pretty route through preserved Atlantic Forest from Curitiba to Moretes in the Parana State of southwestern Brazil.  

Built in the 1880s as a part of Brazil’s wider expansion on rail, the Serra Verde Express takes you through lush forest and into open countryside, along bridges and past the historic towns like Antonina, where you can stop for a tour. Life onboard is supremely comfortable too, particularly in the higher-grade coaches which are all leather armchairs, sofas and polished wood paneling. 

One of the many highlights on this scenic route is the cloud forests around Pico do Marumbi State Park, where no picture can truly capture the feeling of nature as you descend from there down to sea level. An essential day trip for anyone in southwest Brazil.

No matter where you choose to go or whatever your areas of interest, this is just a taste of some of the incredible travel experiences to be had across South America. 

Speak to an Atelier specialist today, and let them craft your dream tailormade tour at info@atelier.travel 

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