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Published: December 10th 2014
There is one word to describe the Bolivian train network - bloody fantastic. Ok that's two words annnnnd that's based purely on our experience which was different judging by various reviews and blogs we read. We have traveled on both lines first from Uyuni to the Argentinian border in May 2014 and then in September 2014 we traveled from Santa Cruz to the Brazilian border. We'd read a number of notices and blogs describing the service as poor, delayed, unrealisable, prone to last minute cancellations and it has the rather unattractive name of The Death Train. We, however, had a very different experience on both lines and really couldn't recommend the services enough.
In this blog I will be writing about our trip on the train between Santa Cruz and Corumba, Brazil.
We were in Santa Cruz heading east to Brazil - the Pantanal to be exact - and were sick and tired of taking long distance buses. We had already travelled for hundreds of hours and covered tens of thousands of kilometres cramped on a bus, confined to one seat and we fancied a change. Eventhough we had read bad reviews we didn't let that put us off
and begun investigating The Death Train.
To buy tickets for this train, we had to visit the ticket office in the combined bus and train terminal 'Estacion Biomodal Terrestre y Ferroviaria' which is located east of Santa Cruz city centre. We choose to walk to the terminal which took us approx. 25mins (through some pretty ugly streets but we felt safe), but you can take bus or taxi. FYI, the ticket office is closed on Sundays and we found this out the hard way! We went back on the Monday morning and bought our tickets for the train departing that same day - despite reading online that you had a to purchase tickets a week in advance - this is probably true for holiday periods.
There are two types of train which run the route from Santa Cruz to the border and in reverse;
The first is called the Expreso Oriental which is the service we took. It travels from Santa Cruz to the border with Brazil on Monday, Wednesday and Fridays departing Santa Cruz at 2.50pm (14.50), costs B$70 per person and takes 15hrs. You get an assigned seat which reclines and that's it. This train
is made up of several carriages including a dining carriage where you can purchase food - which by the way turned out to be very tasty.
The second service is Ferrobus. This train runs from Santa Cruz on Tuesdays, Thursday and Saturdays eastwards to the border with Brazil. It departs at 6pm (18.00), costs B$235 per person and takes 10hrs. Unlike Expreso Oriental, this is a much smaller train, made up of just two carriages and doesn't stop as often which means you reach your destination faster. You have an assigned seat and waitress service - serving meals to your seat. The meals are included on this train, unlike the Expreso Oriental train.
While we were doing our research, we decided we wanted to take the Expreso Oriental train but would if that wasn't available we would take whatever we could. We preferred this service because it is considerably cheaper than the Ferrobus train and there's a dining carriage which means we could stretch our legs and sit in there instead of eating at our seats, which we'd done countless times on buses. Plus we were not in a hurry and so the train taking an extra 5 hours didn't matter to us.
The train left bang on time, in fact we almost missed it! The train company employees were polite and extremely professional during check in and took our heavy bags and put them in the secure luggage carriage. We found our carriage, which was half empty and took our seats. After just a few minutes we realised we were two of four tourists, the rest of the passengers were locals - we are the type of travellers who prefer to travel with locals and so this was perfect! The seat was comfortable and reclined to a level comfortable for sleeping. As we pulled out of Santa Cruz we were crawling along at a painfully slow pace but it meant we could get some good photos.
We picked up a bit of speed and before we knew it we were traveling through vast open spaces. The landscape was really beautiful. Not dry and dessert like but not was it jungle like yet. We saw isolated villages and houses with children playing and women carryin out their daily chores. There were thousands of hectares of farmland and we could see farmers stopping their work to watch the train go by - I wondered how many had traveled on this train before?
They played several current movies during the day and evening part of the journey. When the first film started Tomas found the conductor and asked whether English subtitles could be switched on and the conductor was more than happy to do this for us. Being able to watch movies really helped the time pass!
After the sun had set we made our way to the dining carriage and ordered two meals and a dessert (we had our own water) the total came to B$33. The two main courses were outstanding, considering we were on a train. The spag bowl was particularly delicious - make sure you try it! The dessert however was awful so don't waste your money. We decided to watch the next movie in the dining carriage and then returned to our seats for sleeping.
Even though the train stopped several times throughout the night, our carriage had very little movement and we had a fairly undisturbed sleep. Tomas even moved to the two seats behind our assigned seats, because nobody was sat there. Unlike the train service from Uyuni to the Argentinian border, we weren't given any pillows or blankets on this train. I always travel with an inflatable pillow whereas Tomas uses a jumper.
When I woke up the following morning the sun was just beginning rise over the Bolivian Pantanal jungle. It was so beautiful, green and lush. We hadn't been in the jungle since The Amazon and it was nice to be back. From the comfort of my seat I saw Toucans flying past the train and more sitting in trees (that's the first time I'd seen this beautiful bird in the wild) and I even saw a group of monkeys swinging in trees. We were going at a slow enough pace to see the animals but not slow enough to take a photo!
We pulled into Quijarro on time and our luggage was waiting for us at the platform. What fantastic service!
One more thing to add, the toilets! These were kept to an exceptionally clean standard throughout the entire journey. There were two separate cubicles for men and women and were periodically cleaned over the 15hrs. A vast improvement to grotty bus toilets!
Tip; Of course, always exercise caution. Keep all valuables in your hand luggage and always keep hand luggage with you at all times and by your feet while sleeping.
In a nutshell, don't be put off by bad reviews - if you are traveling out of the rainy seasons you shouldn't face any problems with the train services and I can not recommend them enough!!
Go to; www.fo.com.bo
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