Train to the Clouds
Train to the Clouds
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A major Argentinean attraction, this railroad, reaching almost 14,000 feet above sea level, is one of the three highest in the world.
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PQOTD
Ireland38 contributions
I noticed in Salta it was very difficult to find information and book tickets to the Tren a las Nubes. I suspect, the reason is that there is only one official agent allowed to sell tickets. The rest of the travel agents try to convince you that it is not worth doing (and hence, book the bus tour with them instead). NOT TRUE.

It is totally worth doing, and way cooler than sitting in a poxy bus. There were beautiful sections of the journey, in between mountains, where there was no place for cars to drive. It was very remote and beautiful.

If you have the money, do it! It's a once in a lifetime experience.

You can book your tickets here online http://www.ecotren.com/ It is a decent enough website. They send you quite a vague confirmation letter, but just take the code along with you in the morning.

It's a long journey, leaving early in the morning and returning at midnight. We decided to get off and stay at San Antonio de Los Cobres, instead of taking the (same) long way back.
We didn't want to be so many hours on the train, especially since we wanted to see the nearby salt plains without having to travel the same way back the next day.

If you're short on time, I'd recommend it. You would have seen all the highlights on the train trip already, so not missing much on the return journey.

A few things to note though:
- San Antonio de los cobres is a dump. Very dusty, windy, hot in the day and cold at night.
- the altitude is high, so you feel a bit rubbish most of the time. But there is 24 hour free oxygen available in the clinic in town.
- there is no public transport between there and the salt plains or purmamarca. We hired a taxi (400 or 500 pesos for 4 of us to see the salt plains, and then afterwards take us to purmamarca).
- there are no nice hotels. We stayed at a very sweet old lady's hospedaje, it was clean but very very basic. (Her son was the taxi driver who took us to the salt plains. Nice guy, has no english, so don't expect a big tour.) I can't imagine they have a website, so the name is El Palenque [--].
- There are no taxis when you exit the train at san antonio, and they're dust roads.... to bear in mind if you have a wheelie-suitcase. Had to carry mine on my head.
- The food on the train is good. The food in San Antonio is not. Have a nice late lunch on the train instead, and only head out for a beer and a light snack later in town.

All in all, a very interesting little town, well off the beaten track. We were the only gringos about, and the honky tonk piano is guaranteed to stop when you walk into a bar.

The salt plains are about an hour's drive away. Very cool. Not much to do but to take some awesome photos and leave. Then from there, purmamarca is another 2.5 hours drive away. The most spectacular drive ever! We overnighted for 1 night which is long enough to see the small, cute town. It's quite touristy but cute.

From there we caught a taxi and stayed in tilcara for a few days. You can catch a bus too, but the taxi price was pretty cheap and we had lots of luggage.
In tilcara you can do mountain biking and llama trekking. I found a gem of a place to eat, some school of gastronomy, I will write a full review on this site. Best place in town, believe me, we tried them all.

Enjoy
Written November 16, 2009
This review is the subjective opinion of a Tripadvisor member and not of Tripadvisor LLC. Tripadvisor performs checks on reviews as part of our industry-leading trust & safety standards. Read our transparency report to learn more.

besyta
Buenos Aires, Argentina85 contributions
Nov 2013 • Friends
We are experienced traveller and we do almost everything by ourselves, but, quite honestly I could not find much about the two days schedule on the "Tren a las Nubes" website, impression later confirmed by the staff.
So I think you may like to get the details of what you book, and pay for...
We picked the option "two days, one night in Purmamarca, way up by train and return by bus",
Day 1: train departs from Salta at about 7 AM, seats are arranged in configuration of four, leg room is OK, not so bad as some says. There is plenty of space for your small or large luggage.
The train does not make stops on the way up to the viaduct (the highest point at about 4200m), with the exception of minor and purely technical stops. Shortly after the departure the staff serve the breakfast, nothing unforgettable, but ok considering that you may have skip your breakfast to get to the station early enough.
The view is spectacular, and it does not really matter if you sit on the left or the right side.
After zig-zag, bridges, etc you get over 3000 m and the view is stunning. Photographers are advised that the windows open to offer full view.
At lunch time the staff give you something to eat, again is not spectacular but it keeps you going.
At about 2 PM the train reaches San Antonio de los Cobres, then goes on the viaduct where it stops for about 30 mins, you get off, enjoy the view, the local crafts and the lack of oxygen, then the train returns to San Antonio de los Cobres where some join the train , other leave and other stay on board.
We got off and continued on a bus to the Salinas, it is about 2 to 2,5 solid hours on a dusty-sandy strip on a flat top at about 2500 m , the Puna. You got offered a great sandwitch on the bus.
The salina grande is the stop for about 30 mins, it was worth going back by bus. then you continue on the bus to Purmamarca via a pass at 4170 m. The view depends on the season and the light, the descent to Purmamarca is astonishing, a drop of 2000 m in few km.
You get into Purmamarca at about 9 PM, and stay there overnight, I understood that there are rooms available, we pre booked the Killari Hotel, very nice and competitive.
Day2: departure from Purmamarca after 9 AM, you have the time to visit the village and take pictures of the famous hill of the seven colours, great!
Then the bus goes to Tilcara, with a stop at the ruins, and continues to Humahuaca across the stunning Quebrada, the stop in Humahuaca is for lunch in a tourist place, I suggest to give a miss and walk around the beautiful city, you may find easily where to pick snacks.,"El Fortin" rotiseria is great, all locals for take away with a few seats, the food was spectacular.
Then, after guided tour the bus departs to return to Salta, with one of more stops for photos, the arrival is at about 7 PM.
Long days, but all worth it.
Written November 29, 2013
This review is the subjective opinion of a Tripadvisor member and not of Tripadvisor LLC. Tripadvisor performs checks on reviews as part of our industry-leading trust & safety standards. Read our transparency report to learn more.

MADPhilOxon
Reading, UK91 contributions
Apr 2019 • Couples
The Tren a las Nubes (the romantically entitled Train to the Clouds) used to run to the amazing Polvorilla viaduct from Salta itself over a relatively short stretch of the line from Salta to the port of Antofagasta in Chile. For a railway line, it is of relatively recent construction, being inaugurated in 1948. It was used mainly for the transportation of ores and freight rather than passengers. However, after it was no longer required for these purposes, it was turned into a tourist attraction. Latterly, the excursion was shortened so as to start from the town of San Antonio de los Cobres, rather than Salta. Nowadays, the majority of visitors take coach excursions from Salta to San Antonio de los Cobres, then take the train at noon from San Antonio de los Cobres to the viaduct and back, then return to Salta (slowly) by coach. I believe that coaches start picking up from Salta hotels at about 06:00 and return by about 21:00 making multiple stops for meals and for the purchase of souvenirs, etc. Having taken long coach trips in Denali National Park in Alaska and more recently crossed the Andes from San Pedro de Atacama in Chile to Purmamarca in Argentina, we thought that we would rather be cast into hell fire than take another coach trip.

Fortunately, we had rented a 4X4 vehicle for our stay in north western Argentina and drove to San Antonio de los Cobres, a drive of about 100 miles. We had pre-arranged train-only tickets with our travel agent at a cost of 2650 Argentinian pesos per person. We left Salta at 07:20 and arrived at San Antonio de los Cobres by 10:00, well before anyone else. Apart from a little early morning mist, the weather was fine and clear. The locals were already setting up their stalls to trap the tourists. San Antonio de los Cobres did not strike us as being a particularly attractive town. It was rather a dusty, border mining town with little apparent to recommend it, so we stayed in the vicinity of the station. The drive from Salta at about 3700 feet to San Antonio de los Cobres at about 12400 feet had been fun. The road (the RN51) was paved for the most part with only a few sections of dirt road with a few crossing of minor streams. Once on the altiplano, the road was fast and straight. The road and the disused railway line from Salta to San Antonio de los Cobres essentially followed the same route and there were views of some of the other viaducts (less impressive than Polvorilla) en route.

In the vicinity of the station, we passed the time by photographing the train and just looking around. Eventually, other cars began arriving and then the coaches appeared, much to the delight of the local traders (and ourselves since we were no longer pestered). We checked in at 11:30 and boarded the train. It departed right on time at 12:00. The seats were very comfortable and the train had (another) souvenir shop, a buffet selling empanadas and other snacks, and oxygen in every carriage. Each carriage had its own bilingual (Spanish and English) guide who mentioned specific aspects of the excursion. After leaving San Antonio de los Cobres, the train climbed steadily. It stopped briefly at the la Concordia mine (no longer active) in order for the locomotive to change ends and we were then pushed across the curved viaduct (height crossing above the RN40 dirt road - 210 feet, length – 710 feet) at a height of 13850 AMSL. The trip took 50-60 minutes. After crossing the viaduct, passengers swapped sides (so as to allow a different view) and the train headed back towards San Antonio de los Cobres. It then stopped at a viewpoint immediately after the viaduct where again local traders were displaying their wares. It stayed there for 20-30 minutes and then returned to San Antonio de los Cobres, arriving back at about 14:45. Several passengers (mainly children) had needed oxygen during the trip. There was not a large amount of wild life to see, just a few feral donkeys and the occasional vicuna, though we were rather intrigued by the fact that a number of birds had made their nests on the top of telegraph poles. On arriving back at San Antonio de los Cobres, the guide announced that the coach trippers would then be able to spend around 90 minutes in San Antonio de los Cobres. Lucky them!! We left San Antonio de los Cobres straight away at about 14:45, arriving back in Salta at about 17.45.

I really enjoyed the trip, but then I do rather like trains. The scenery was superb. However, the trip would have been much less enjoyable had we not had our own transport. I suppose that we could have driven to the viaduct to obtain a different view, but there really seemed little point and I am sure that may wife would have objected!
Written April 28, 2019
This review is the subjective opinion of a Tripadvisor member and not of Tripadvisor LLC. Tripadvisor performs checks on reviews as part of our industry-leading trust & safety standards. Read our transparency report to learn more.

David J
NYC97 contributions
Sep 2011 • Couples
You know something is crap when it's Wikitravel entry is locked! Located in Salta, the entry probably had riders bashing it and the train people rewriting it as great. Currently the entry is more informative with just a few complaints/warnings. And I doubly knew the train might suck when the hotel manager said, "Well, if you're in Salta, I guess you need to do it, but don't get hopes up too high." This think is crazy expensive, like $170/person, and it sells out way in advance, so we expected much more. Instead, it was a hell I prayed would soon end.

First, I am a tall guy, and the seats face each other so I'm literally intertwining knees with the girl across from me. This was the worst part because I had to keep my legs back and after 17 hours I was in physical pain. It was bad.

Second, the bridge at the end of the trip is beautiful, but the rest is nearly without anything to see. From the description, I imagined the train riding along the edge of mountains with beautiful views. Instead, most of the 17 hours involved traveling up ground that was rising as well. In other words, from a photo, you wouldn't know if you are 4000-meters up or at sea level. There was maybe only an hour maximum of views from up high. You get better views taking a bus from Mendoza to Santiago.

Third, the food situation. We brought snacks, but the ladies across from us went to the dinner car. Said they waited an hour for lukewarm spaghetti with runny sauce, and paid 100 pesos ($25 USD). A giant steak for two at the best places in Salta run about 70 pesos total. The train did provide crappy snacks, small snacks, so bring food. Likewise, at the very top, they stop twice, and there were people selling quesadillas. They were good.

Fourth, the last six hours or more is in the dark, so you are basically in a cramped seat and dying for this thing to end as they play loop after loops of those painful Just For Gags reels. They even had repeat. Brutal. Hours in an uncomfortable seat with nothing to do bored out of your mind.

Fifth, at the end, they make up these little certificates that "certify" that we've taken the train to 4200 meters and they call out your name one by one and ask you to walk up there in front of everyone and pick it up and say a few words. You don't have to say a few words, but most do, and my fave was the old man that joked how the train would be so much better if it was slower and took longer since 17 hours was too short.

Other notes - lady near us needed medical attention for altitude sickness, numerous attempts to sell us stuff a la Duty Free on a LAN flight, sheer boredom you can't imagine. Should give staff credit, though, because they were very friendly and helpful.

I've traveled for 2.5 years straight, and this was the worst excursion I ever did. However, it IS the main attraction for Salta, and the city spends a fortune advertising it. I bet half of the $170 went to those ads. They are very protective of this attraction, and I bet they even made up reviews on Trip Advisor to get people to go. That is why I am so adamant that you should avoid this. Not just expensive but uncomfortable and awful. Absolutely hated it.
Written October 8, 2011
This review is the subjective opinion of a Tripadvisor member and not of Tripadvisor LLC. Tripadvisor performs checks on reviews as part of our industry-leading trust & safety standards. Read our transparency report to learn more.

Ellen T
New York, NY178 contributions
El Tren a las Nubes. Well. What can you say about a 336 km round trip that took 19 hours? That was my experience on El Tren. The positives: GREAT staff. They did their best, and it was really very good. The trip was not. That said, you cannot drive to the viaduct that tis the endpoint of this trip. You simply cannot. So if you want to see it, a real train and bridge to nowhere, you'll have to take the trip. It wasn't just the breakdown, which was not completely unexpected, but still not their fault. The breakfast was all pastry, the snack was all pastry, the lunch (not included) was pretty good. The lack of oxygen was a bit trying, but they did offer both coca and coca tea to those who wanted it, and it is said to help. They had a medical car that was in heavy use. So here's the thing; you take all day to get to the viaduct, which is kind of a marvel, and at the end, what awaits is basically an Inca market at which you can buy a sweater and pet a llama. It made me sad and angry. We left at 7 AM and got back to Salta at 2 AM. There was no redeeming value to this trip. If you can see the Quebrada de Humahuaca and/or the Quebrada de Cafayate, there is no reason to suffer through this train trip because there is a lot of similarity in the landscape, which is truly magnificent, dramatic, unique and moving. Oh, by the way, they also wake you up to hear an abbreviated pena, which is basically a concert of Salta patriotic songs. The trip is expensive and NOT WORTH IT.
Written August 1, 2010
This review is the subjective opinion of a Tripadvisor member and not of Tripadvisor LLC. Tripadvisor performs checks on reviews as part of our industry-leading trust & safety standards. Read our transparency report to learn more.

MsEnergy
San Diego289 contributions
Nov 2014 • Solo
The train has not been operative for about 4 months, and it may be a lot longer before it is back in service. I would take a day trip by bus into the Quadraba because the sights are well worth it
Written December 26, 2014
This review is the subjective opinion of a Tripadvisor member and not of Tripadvisor LLC. Tripadvisor performs checks on reviews as part of our industry-leading trust & safety standards. Read our transparency report to learn more.

Elizabeth H
Jakarta, Indonesia4 contributions
Apr 2014 • Couples
We had heard so many good things about the train to the clouds so were quite excited at the start of the trip... But in all honesty, it met none of our expectations.

The views are beautiful, but offer nothing additional to what you would see if you hired a car and drove the same trip, and you would save yourself a significant amount of money.

Instead, you are stuck on the train for 14 hours straight, which is made particularly bad given we were allocated seats on the right hand side of the train, when the superior views were on the left hand side.

The two stops are only for 15-20 minutes, which is understandable, given they are pretty much in the middle of nowhere. Locals set up a craft market at each stop, where heaps of children try to sell you trinkets. As a tourist, nothing leaves a worse taste in my mouth than such obvious exploitation of indigenous culture and craft.

Our recommendation... Hire a car and drive. The road follows the train for 75% of the trip. You will save yourself time, a significant amount of money (the trip is thoroughly overpriced at over $100 USD per person), and you have the ability to stop when ever you choose, and explore more of the towns that you pass through.

If you do choose to do the tour... Bring a good book!
Written April 6, 2014
This review is the subjective opinion of a Tripadvisor member and not of Tripadvisor LLC. Tripadvisor performs checks on reviews as part of our industry-leading trust & safety standards. Read our transparency report to learn more.

Sarah B
New York City, New York6 contributions
Dec 2015
First of all, this is a must-do. It is an absolutely beautiful tour through the countryside of the Salta province.

However, I want to talk about how PROFESSIONAL the company is! I was so impressed! The day before my tour, I saw on the website that the train to the clouds was no longer running. A heavy rainfall that day had damaged one of the bridges and they had IMMEDIATELY updated the website stating that the train was not running and that future tours would be done via bus. In addition to the website update, I received an email in both Spanish and English informing me that the trip was to be done via bus - I could either cancel and receive a full refund or go on the tour via bus and receive a 50% refund. How wonderful - I really appreciate that they recognized that the trip was not originally by bus and they compensated/apologized for the change with a partial refund. I thought that was so professional.

I went on the tour still via bus and it was fantastic. It still included breakfast, snacks, cocoa leaves for the altitude, and lunch. The guide was knowledgeable and humorous. My bus driver did not speak English and they offered to move me to a different bus - but I chose to stay because I liked my bus driver and the people. So, instead, at each break the English-speaking guide would find me and give me an explanation. What service!

This was a fantastic experience - beautiful trip, a professional company. A must do!

Sarah
Written January 6, 2016
This review is the subjective opinion of a Tripadvisor member and not of Tripadvisor LLC. Tripadvisor performs checks on reviews as part of our industry-leading trust & safety standards. Read our transparency report to learn more.

Riccardo_Iname
San Andres and Providencia Department, Colombia59 contributions
Oct 2012 • Couples
Take camera with lots of space for lots of pictures. Drink water. Sit on the left side of the wagon. Pick front row seats 55 and 56, which have the most leg room. Drink more water. Eat light. Dress in layers. Drink more water. Move slowly at higher altitudes. More water. Friendly people in the wagons. Avoid the restaurant wagon. Drink water. Take snacks.
Written October 22, 2012
This review is the subjective opinion of a Tripadvisor member and not of Tripadvisor LLC. Tripadvisor performs checks on reviews as part of our industry-leading trust & safety standards. Read our transparency report to learn more.

paniaa2017
5 contributions
Jul 2017 • Family
I'm not one for review websites. Everthing is subjective and relying on them means living your travel via other peoples views. Nevertheless I'm pleased, after being persuaded by my other half to read the reviews, that I did not heed the opinions of the recent views shared by others. Don't get me wrong, many of the facts are true. It is a long day, the original train journey has reduced hugely for a number of years now so it is a bus-train-bus experience and yes the commentary by the guide on each of the buses is in Spanish. However I found introducing myself to the guide (my 6 year old and I were the only English speaking people on the bus, a couple of people knew some English), being pleasant to the other passengers and putting myself out to ask questions meant everyone bending over backwards to accommodate. As a proud Maori Kiwi I discovered our values reflect much of the Argentinians on the tour - hospitable, friendly and overwhelmingly inclusive.

What I discovered on this trip:
What an amazing culture of people that live in these high altitude places. Their lives are rich with tradition and culture that is making an insurgence in these parts and more Argentines are seeking to discover the broad diversity their country has to offer.
How incredibly talented the Inca descendants are in crafts, self sufficiency and adaptation to the harsh conditions these places consist of.
The knowledge of the guides (we had Martinique who in all fairness had amazing English, passion for the region and he seemed the lead of all the guides), not just of the history and people but also the geology that made up the varying terrain as we ascended, the impacts of what modern society has done to the area in both good and bad as well as information on other inhabitants (namely animals) in the area.

For me the trip didn't seem the length it actually was, we fortunately had people adopt us on this trip offering me coca leaves to alleviate the sickness at altitude as well as assist in getting our lunch in San Antonio de los Cobres but I certainly understand how it could be an arduous trip. Accomplishing the altitude for me was as much as an experience as the train journey but the pinnacle was certainly the great engineering work of the last point the train arrived at before returning.

I agree with another review that knowing about the train to the clouds is difficult not to want to do when in Salta and in my opinion (and yes it is only my opinion) it should be done. But I suggest in putting yourself out there, let the guides and others get to know who you are and what you'd like - it may make this more the experience you are after.

** There are private car tours available as well as smaller group tours or if you are game, drive to San Antonio de los Cobres and stay for a night on the day of the train trip before heading on the rest of your journey **

I am just another traveller experiencing North Argentina for the very first time - my hubby thought people would think I work for the company if I didn't mention this!
Written July 10, 2017
This review is the subjective opinion of a Tripadvisor member and not of Tripadvisor LLC. Tripadvisor performs checks on reviews as part of our industry-leading trust & safety standards. Read our transparency report to learn more.

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Train to the Clouds (Salta) - All You Need to Know BEFORE You Go

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