South America’s luxury train experiences rank among the world’s best, making them an essential addition to your vacation itinerary. Navigating mountain plains, deserts, and rainforests, South America’s luxury train lines have broken the boundaries of railway engineering to take you on epic adventures across the continent. From an impossibly steep 450-meter mountain descent along the ‘Devil’s Nose’, to a daring canyon ridge track, and even a viaduct in the clouds, there’s never a dull moment. And that’s just regarding the views.
As well as being immersed in some of South America’s most memorable landscapes, the train journeys immerse you in local culture in equal measure. Try Morretes’ traditional dishes in southeastern Brazil. Haggle for crafts at one of the few remaining indigenous markets in Ecuador. And even discover the Lost City of the Incas (aka Machu Picchu) in Peru. Read on to find out more about the incredible experiences you can have on our choice of top five luxury trains in South America.
Hiram Bingham train to Machu Picchu, Peru
Make your trip to the New Wonder of the World Machu Picchu a trip of a lifetime on the classiest of South America’s luxury trains, the Hiram Bingham by Belmond. Its Pullman-style carriages hark back to the traditional opulence of 1910s passenger cars, in keeping with the era of Machu Picchu’s discovery. The high-gloss mahogany wall panels and soft gold furnishings of the dining, bar, and observation cars welcome guests on board along with its white-gloved staff. A return day trip from Cusco might cost a pretty penny but a destination as extraordinary as Machu Picchu deserves to be matched with an extraordinary journey.
Venturing through the Sacred Valley toward the ancient Inca Citadel, you’ll toast the journey with a welcome cocktail from the onboard mixologist before being indulged in a long brunch showcasing traditional Peruvian flavors. The luxury treatment continues throughout your day with a guided tour of Machu Picchu followed by afternoon tea at Belmond’s Sanctuary Lodge, the only hotel with the privilege of being positioned beside the citadel. On the return to Cusco, the Hiram Bingham will put on a festive feast with a four-course dinner featuring confit duck, caviar, and free-flowing drinks. Before the train terminates, you may even find yourself dancing to live Peruvian music.
Andean Explorer, Peru
Ride across the Andean plains from Cusco to Arequipa via Lake Titicaca on the world’s highest railway, the Andean Explorer. From the Belmond group, this South America luxury train offers a sense of exclusivity that few other trains can match. From the suites and spa to the lounges and bars, its white mahogany panel walls, plush timeless furnishings, and rich Peruvian art envelope you in splendor as the train whisks you to Peru’s most ravishing sights. All the while, white-gloved staff will ensure your tipple is topped up, your belly is full of artistic Andean cuisine, and your excursions are perfectly executed.
Opt for the two-night itinerary starting from Arequipa, Peru’s prettiest colonial city crowned by the magnificent Basilica Catedral de Arequipa in the Plaza de Armas. Its most ravishing feature, however, is the perfectly preserved Santa Catalina Monastery, a distinctly orange-washed complex renowned for its masterful colonial art and architecture. From here, the Andean Explorer whisks you to Puno, the city of Lake Titicaca, the world’s highest navigable lake. After a restful night’s sleep on board, your Andean Explorer guides will introduce you to Peru’s oldest indigenous group, the Uros people. Named after the lake’s Uros Islands which they made from reeds and adobe, the Uros people have made a living from Lake Titicaca’s small bounties for thousands of years. Finally, the train passes through the plains to Cusco, the ancient Inca capital, where you can embark on an onward journey to Machu Picchu.
Serra Verde Express, Brazil
Known for its brave engineering and exceptional scenery, the Serra Verde Express which connects Curitiba and Morretes in Southeastern Brazil is by far the most memorable train ride in the country. On board, the lounge-style carriages exude a timeless tradition thanks to their teal wood-paneled walls, studded leather armchairs, and elegant gold sconces. Once you are comfortably seated, your host will serve you a champagne breakfast to enjoy alongside the train’s champagne views.
From tropical Curitiba, the train boldly ascends through the Atlantic Forest, the planet’s largest rainforest after the Amazon, to the colonial culinary town of Morretes near the coast. Along the way, the train rushes through dense foliage, glides across towering bridges, and teeters along canyon ridges of Serro do Mar. The 3.5-hour journey is tremendously scenic, richly cultural, and exhilarating.
Although the Serra Verde Express journey is short, it’s richly packed with Brazilian variety. The calm, modern, and spacious city of Curitiba provides a fresh perspective on an otherwise fervorous Brazil. Meanwhile, the Atlantic Forest represents the lush green jungle landscapes that are synonymous with this vast tropical country. And Morretes will introduce you to the best flavors of Brazil with local dishes like borreado, a fragrant herby beef stew that’s cooked in a clay pot for 12 hours.
Tren a las Nubes, Argentina
Translating to ‘Train to the Clouds’, Tren a las Nubes does not make any false promises. The 15-hour round trip, departing from the far northwestern city of Salta, passes through the rugged Lerma Valley and climbs the Mars-like mountains of Quebrada del Toro to reach the La Polvorilla viaduct in La Puna desert. At a staggering 4,200 meters above sea level, La Polvorilla viaduct which crosses a deep and wide desert canyon often sits above the clouds leading passengers to wonder if the train is flying.
The train itself is not as lavish as the other South American luxury trains mentioned, but its standards remain above par. Expect business-class-style seating with extra legroom as well as a refined dining car and bar car. The real luxury of Tren a las Nubes lies in the peek it provides into this little-explored yet truly adventurous corner of Argentina. As the train climbs 3000 meters from Salta to the viaduct, you’ll watch as the mountainous landscape becomes arider yet more enchanting and otherworldly with each mile that passes. Stopping in local villages and markets along the way, you’ll also have the privilege of meeting Argentina’s few-remaining indigenous communities which welcome you with local crafts, food, and open arms.
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Include a South American luxury train ride in your vacation
What’s a better way to see South America’s breathtaking landscapes than from the comfort of a lavish carriage with caviar in one hand and champagne in the other? Make your journey to Peru, Ecuador, Argentina, or Brazil even more memorable by adding one of these top five South American luxury trains to your vacation itinerary. Remember, our South America travel experts are on hand to give you further information about each one and help you decide which route you want to take. Contact us in writing here, or call toll-free on +1 855 217 9045 (US/Canada) or direct in Peru on +51 84 656 421.