There’s no doubt that India offers some of the world’s great railway journeys and gives you the opportunity to travel in incredible luxury at the same time.
Whether you’re crossing the deserts of Rajasthan or travelling to great port cities such as Mumbai or Chennai, you’re rewarded with fantastic scenery and even more fantastic food when you travel on luxury trains!
But if you’d like to combine a luxurious train journey with some world-beating mountain scenery, you really need to look a little further afield and start thinking about South America…
From high altitude trains along the Andes, to trains through the verdant forests of Brazil’s Serra Verde, you’re sure to find one of South America’s classic railway journeys to your liking.
Across the Andes
One of the most iconic railway journeys in South America is undoubtedly the Andean Explorer, run by the Peruvian subsidiary of Orient Express, Peru Rail.
This fantastic eight-hour journey takes you from Puno, by the shores of Lake Titicaca (the highest navigable lake in the world, at 3,800m above sea level) right along the spine of the Andes to Cusco, the ancient Inca capital.
Along the way you’ll see the harsh but beautiful scenery of the arid altiplano, together with the snow-capped Andean peaks in the distance.
It’s a first-class only service, and not only are you served an at-seat three course meal of traditional Andean delicacies, but there is also a dedicated bar and dining car.
There is also a separate viewing carriage with wrap-around windows so that you can appreciate the glorious panorama of the Andes Mountains in their full glory.
It’s no surprise it was recently voted as South America’s Leading Luxury Train in the World Travel Awards 2013.
The Train to Machu Picchu
Peru Rail also operate another of South America’s most amazing railway journeys, from Cusco to the lost Inca city of Machu Picchu.
In contrast to the Andean Explorer, which only runs three times a week, several trains a day shuttle backwards and forwards between Cusco and Machu Picchu, and there are several different classes to choose from.
At the top of the heap is the luxury Hiram Bingham train, which was voted as the best train in the world by readers of Conde Nast Traveller in 2011.
The journey takes you right along the valley of the River Urubamba, which the Incas called the Sacred Valley, believing it to be an earthly reflection of the Milky Way.
As you pass the steep hills, crowded with agricultural terraces, and travel through Inca settlements such as Ollantaytambo and Pisac, you can really start to feel the sense of history.
And on the Hiram Bingham, this is all in real luxury, with beautifully furnished wagons, a dedicated dining car and separate bar and viewing carriages. It’s hands-down the most stylish way to travel to Machu Picchu by railway.
Down the Devil’s Nose…
Further north in Ecuador, the railway network gradually fell into disrepair in the second half of the twentieth century, but it has now been almost fully restored, including the infamous switchback called the Nariz del Diablo (Devil’s Nose).
full route runs from the capital Quito, high in the Andes, down to Ecuador’s largest city of Guayaquil, on the Pacific coast and it’s an absolutely fascinating journey with constant changes in scenery and climate.
Even better, much of the route is now operated with restored vintage steam locomotives, making railway journeys in Ecuador an absolute must for steam buffs.
The full journey takes four days, with 3 overnight stops along the way, but it’s also possible to just do sections of the route to see sights like the snow-capped volcano of Mount Cotopaxi, or to travel down the Devil’s Nose…
Other Luxury Railway Journeys in South America
Elsewhere in South America, you can catch the Train to the Clouds which climbs from the Argentine city of Salta up to the La Polvorilla viaduct at 4,220m above sea level, affording fantastic views of the area’s “Wild West” scenery, or head to Brazil and travel in luxury aboard the Great Brazil Express from the inland city of Curitiba down to Cascavel on the Atlantic coast.
In fact, almost every South American country now offers at least one signature railway journey to enjoy, so even if you don’t see yourself as a railway enthusiast, it’s worth taking advantage of the chance to see a bit more of South America in real comfort and style!
Care for more? You may also want to check out 10 best luxury trains in the world.