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The 7 best train rides in Latin America

Compared to most continents, railways in Latin America are few and far between. Most have been left to fall into disrepair or abandoned completely. There is however a resurgence in train travel, particularly in Ecuador where old lines are being repaired and services resumed. Here’s a list of the best train trips you can take in Latin America.

Andean Explorer – Peru

Operated by Belmond (originally the Orient Express), the beautiful Andean Explorer runs between Cuzco and Puno (Lake Titicaca) in Peru three times a week – Mondays, Wednesdays and Saturdays. It is arguably the most luxurious train ride in South America – think three course meals and classic 1920s style Pullman carriages. The journey through spectacular scenery best seen from the picture windows in the viewing carriage, takes around ten hours.

Jose Cuevo Express – Mexico


One of the newest editions to the train travel in Latin America. Owned by the tequila giant Jose Cuevo, this short journey through the UNESCO World Heritage agave fields from Guadalajara to the Tequila Pueblo Magico in Mexico. Each carriage has a bar where you can taste a variety of premium tequilas. The train departs each Saturday throughout the year.

Old Patagonian Express – Argentina

Flickr: Jorge Gobbi

Flickr: Jorge Gobbi

Known as La Trochita in Spanish, this impressive journey through the rugged scenery of Patagonia is a must. Although this is now used just by tourists, the steam train which still have locomotives from the 1920s gives you an idea of what the longer journeys would have been like all those years ago. The train departs at ten and takes around three hours to complete the round trip from Esquel to Nahuel Pan.

Train Crucero – Ecuador

The Tren Crucero is a magnificent trip beginning in the capital Quito and passing through the Andean highlands to the coastal plains of Guayaquil. In 2013 it one a number of awards including being recognized as the best train trip in the world by Lonely Planet. The full trip takes four days including daily excursions to view Ecuador’s snow-capped mountains, villages and interesting sights such as the Devil’s Nose switchback through the Andes.

Copper Canyon Railway – Mexico

Flickr: Adam Singer

Flickr: Adam Singer

This 400 mile train trip from Chihuahua to Los Mochis runs daily and takes around fifteen hours. Pass through rugged scenery as well as 20 twenty canyons in the Mexican wild west. It is recommended that you split the journey with stops and meet the Tarahumara community that inhabit this northern region of Mexico.

Hiram Bingham – Peru

Perhaps the most famous of train journeys in Latin America, this luxury service runs from just outside Cuzco to Aguas Calientes, the town a few minutes away from the famous ruins of Machu Picchu. It runs every day other than Sundays and takes around three hours leaving you plenty of time in the afternoon to explore Machu Picchu. Named after the American explorer who supposedly discovered the ruins, this vintage style train feels like a mode of transport used from that era. Take some time to enjoy a pisco sour from the bar as you slowly pass the lush Andean scenery.

Panama Canal Railway – Panama

Flickr: Roger W

Flickr: Roger W

Take this historical route from Panama City to Colón, a journey which takes around an hour. Pass through the jungle and along the edge of the famous Panama Canal. The course was finished in 1855 and acquired by the French Panama Canala Company in 1880. In the early 20th century is was purchased along with the canal and continued operating until 1979. It wasn’t until 1998 when Panama privatized the railway that it opened as a tourist attraction in 2001.

To begin planning your train trip through Latin America get in touch today.

RELATED: The 7 best train rides in Latin America

Ecuador’s Liberty Train from Ibarra to Salinas


I recently rode on this fun train that winds through the Andes of northern Ecuador. The train starts right in the middle of the town of Ibarra, the streets stop and the people wave as you go along right through the bustling market. The bright red carriages are like something out of Thomas the Tank Engine, but sadly no longer steam driven.

Ecuador’s train network began in the late 19th century; however it wasn’t until 26 August 1957 that the route from Ibarra to San Lorenzo opened. This gave the indigenous communities an outlet to the Pacific which in turn brought them closer to the Panama Canal, one of the world’s commercial hubs. I first took this route in the mid-80s, but it was already falling into disrepair and I remember the ‘bus on rails’ that frequently came off the tracks and had to be levered back. Quicker roads and lack of Government support meant a slow decline.

RELATED: The 7 best train rides in Latin America

The last ten years have seen a resurgence in the Ecuadorian train network, partly due to the number of tourists rising and the fantastic routes on offer and the personal vision of the president. The Ibarra to Salinas route is now called the Tren de la Libertad (Liberty Train) is named after the struggle from independence from Spain two hundred years ago and the freedom of the slaves who ancestors still inhabit the region. This route was originally a commercial one, mainly used to carry goods such as wool, cotton and fabrics down to the ports for exportation to faraway lands.

Open again, it now takes tourists on a wonderful 30 kilometre journey from Ibarra to the town of Salinas and then back again. From Ibarra we passed rugged Andean countryside, along river valleys, crossed wooden bridges and through farms. The most exciting was through tunnels carved through the mountains; this must have been a particularly arduous job for the workmen who just had pick-axes and dynamite.

On arrival in Salinas we were welcomed by dancers from the local lively Afro-Ecuadorians community, descendants of the workers who were brought to the area to build the railway lines. There was time to visit the salt museum, a plaza with handicrafts and have a local lunch before returning back into the Andes. The journey takes around an hour and a half each way, with a stop for local coffee or ice-cream at Yachay. In Salinas I tried a local version of a piña colada using the local sugar-cane rum. It hit the spot.

If you would like to book the Ibarra to Salinas train journey or would like to incorporate it into your bespoke Ecuador holiday then do get in touch. The ideal of choice for accommodation would be the Hacienda Piman.