The golden age of rail travel is long gone. But there are still some great long-distance train rides in Latin America that conjure up some of the excitement
The golden age of rail travel is long gone, unfortunately. Even the days of satisfactory-but-limited long-distance trains have pretty much disappeared from nearly all of the Americas. But there are still some great long-distance train rides in Latin America that conjure up some of the excitement, while serving up lots of natural beauty along the way. In this first roundup, I’ll highlight some of the options for scenic train travel in Mexico and Central America.
Trains in Mexico
In the 1990s, I took an overnight train from Puebla to Mexico City, complete with my own sleeping cabin and dinner in a dining car. Far from luxurious, to be sure, but it was still a wonderful way to travel around Mexico. That national rail service is now nothing but a memory, but there are a handful of options for touring Mexico by train.
Chihuahua to Los Mochis, Mexico
The Ferrocarril Chihuahua al Pacífico (Chihuahua-Pacific Railway) connects the Mexican city of Chihuahua with the city of Los Mochis, Sinaloa. Foreign travelers know the line best because of its route through the Copper Canyon, which offers spectacular views. You can choose either first class or economy on El Chepe. A company called Journey Mexico is among the tour companies that offer Mexico vacation package deals that include this train trip; the eight-day Copper Canyon Railroad Adventure includes visits to local villages and overnight accommodations at a variety of hotels (the train doesn’t have sleeping cabins).
Jose Cuervo Express
Guadalajara to Tequila, Mexico
Tequila has become increasingly appreciated around the world, and if you want to savor it in its birthplace — the town of Tequila, Mexico — taking a train is one of the memorable ways to get there. This is one of the shortest train rides in this listing (it’s a quick morning trip from the city of Guadalajara), but the ride is certainly fun. Choose from Express, Premium or Premium Plus classes of travel (the top class has a bar and tables for spreading out and relaxing). Included with all classes are a Mexican snack-style box lunch and a tour of Jose Cuervo’s La Rojeña distillery.
If you’re a fan of rail travel, you can also sample the urban mass transit systems in some of the largest cities in Mexico. In Mexico City, the extensive Metro system connects a large part of the city, offering a cheap way to avoid traffic congestion above ground. In addition, the modern Tren Ligero offers a light rail connection to Xochimilco, a neighborhood famous for its pre-Hispanic network of Canals. For multimodal inspiration, check out my report on 5 amazing ways to travel around Mexico City.
Trains in Central America
Panama Canal Railway
Panama City to Colón, Panama
Panama is such a thin country geographically, it’s no surprise that this is a rather short run as well. In just a little over an hour, you’ll travel from Panama City to the Caribbean port city of Colón. But the ride is beautiful — you’ll follow a historic railway line that was once a crucial part of the transportation network as Panama grew. Tracing the route of the Panama Canal, the railway is bordered by photo-worthy natural beauty. And once in Colón, you can visit historic sites in the countryside outside of the city, like the colonial town of Portobelo (check out my 5 ways to experience Portobelo and also my travel photos of Colon, glimpsing a glorious past).
In Costa Rica, the scenic train connections that used to serve tourists aren’t functioning, unfortunately, but there is the Tren Urbano, a commuter rail network spanning out from the capital city of San José to the suburbs and surrounding towns— so if you’re a diehard rail fan, you can always check that out too.
Latin Flyer |by Mark Chesnut