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As a European, I'm used to being able to take trains just about everywhere. I'm finding that that is not so common in South America, however.

If I was taking a trip through South America and wanted to travel internationally via train where possible, would that possibility even exist? Do any South American countries have international train routes? Or how about just long-haul (sleeper) domestic routes?

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2 Answers 2

up vote 8 down vote accepted

Basically, no. As my Colombian flatmate in London put it, every time a revolution occurs, the first thing that gets hit is the infrastructure, and down goes the rail. Not sure how accurate that is in all countries, but it's certainly the case in Argentina, Chile, Bolivia, Peru, Ecuador, and Colombia.

There are some limited train options in Argentina - from Buenos Aires to nearby cities (like Rosario). However the buses are cheaper, and faster, and it's not far, so why you'd take the train I'm not sure.

There's also a train from Ollantaytambo to Aguas Calientes in Peru for Machu Picchu tourists, but that's a few hours. Worth it though if you aren't hiking, as the views are spectacular!

There's also a train to the clouds tourist train from Salta, Argentina, but it's a one-day thing and comes back to Salta at night.

However, not to worry! The buses, especially in Argentina and Chile, are absolutely fantastic! For example, a trip from Santiago to Iquique. They inevitably have movies, great seats that for a few extra euros you can convert to seats that become beds (known as full-cama), and can get food options from crackers up to roasts!

Bolivia and Peru weren't quite as luxurious, in fact I found the buses in Bolivia painful (but they were cheap), although near Lima in Peru you could find the full range of luxury if you so wanted.

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I found the buses in Peru (Cruz del Sur, Movil Tours) more comfortable than in Chile (TurBus) and patagonian Argentina (caretera 40). Also, top bus companies are more strict about bagages security (using tickets for registration) in Peru than elsewhere, but that's also probably because there is more risk of theft there than elsewhere. –  dolmen Dec 21 '11 at 11:25
    
Cruz Del Sur was pretty good, and Exclusiva was amazing (personal tvs!). I guess it comes down to which company - El Rapido in Argentina was fairly average, while Omnilineas and others were better. Yes, security in Ecuador was also notorious on the buses, bags on your lap at all times! –  Mark Mayo Dec 21 '11 at 11:31

As Mark said, no international trains, not many train services at all. Only Brazil and Argentina have some longer distance trains in addition to suburban trains around the bigger cities. Chile has suburban trains out of Santiago that may be helpful.

In addition to the tourist trains Mark already mentioned, there is also at least one in Ecuador and Brazil (both through great scenery), as usually your first stop for train related questions should be the man in seat 61 web site. which is pretty accurate.

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