Spectacular Tren a las Nubes, Argentina’s far Northwest

June, 2011

Whilst in Argentina’s beautiful Salta, you must indulge in the spectacular day trip on the Tren a las Nubes (Train to the Clouds), which is nothing short of stunning!

Salta starting point

This train journey will leave you breathless at the ever-changing dramatic vistas unfolding throughout the day – a memory you will not forget in a hurry. Salta, Argentina, South AmericaIn Argentina’s far north, Salta is the starting point for this amazing day trip.

During a stay of 14 days in Salta whilst waiting for a bus to the Atacama Desert in Chile and hearing so much about this train trip, decided to splash out…

A couple of companies in Salta sell tickets, although it is best to go direct to the Tren a las Nubes website for prices and schedules.

A little on the railway’s background

Construction of the train line commenced in 1921 and opened in 1931.

Prior to this time, everything was transported from the mines by donkey. And until tourism, the line was used by only cargo trains to transport minerals and Saltpeter (fertiliser) from mines in the highlands.

Designed by American engineer Richard Maury, the line which travels through 21 tunnels, over 13 viaducts, crossing 20 bridges, going around 2 zigzags and 2 spirals, has been hailed as an architectural masterpiece and a feat of engineering.

Tren a las Nubes, Salta, Argentina, South America
Quick stop

Let me take you on the amazing train journey…

Around 6 am in the early hours of the morning, Salta’s train station is serenely quiet.

Trickles of excited passengers start appearing, until the station gradually becomes crowded and buzzing, as we wait in anticipation.

Window seats are a premium, although there isn’t any pushing in as seat numbers are allocated on the ticket’s purchase, otherwise, it would be a free-for-all.

Finally, tickets are checked, we board, and sink comfortably into our seats, whilst the train slowly pulls away from the station.

The adventure begins with a slight incline and 500 eager passengers on board…

The landscape gently unfolds to a remoteness of Argentine craggy mountains and arid nature, defined by cacti forests. Slowly, we cross several salt desserts before increasing in altitude.

Tren a las Nubes, Salta, Argentina, South America
Striking views

Breathtaking but eerie, it feels as if we are travelling through a last frontier. Nothingness surrounds us as we travel further into mountains…

Tren a las Nubes, Salta, Argentina, South America
Clouds whisk and curl around hills

The seclusion ensures that the land has remained unspoilt.

Tren a las Nubes, Salta, Argentina, South America
Parched lands

The continual sound of the train tracks and the train’s slow speed gently rocks you into a meditative state, whilst looking out to the horizon and an expansive Argentinian landscape.

Tren a las Nubes, Salta, Argentina, South America
Rugged terrains

Enjoy the vistas as we climb higher into the clouds, at a speed of only 35 kilometres per hour.

Tren a las Nubes, Salta, Argentina, South America
Waiting in the middle of nowhere…

A road travels parallel along the train line where possible, from which you can take better photos of the actual line. Although I don’t think that the experience would be as magical as being on the train – maybe do both whilst in Salta?

Tren a las Nubes, Salta, Argentina, South America
Track vs. road

As the train climbs even higher, the road starts to fall away and is masked by peaks, whilst the train snakes its way around the mountainous terrain.

The forever-changing panorama resembling a moonscape continues, as we climb even higher.

Tren a las Nubes, Salta, Argentina, South America
Another dramatic panorama

A splattering of small settlements and abandoned mines glimpse pass during the hours, until reaching San Antonio de los Cobres at around 3,700 metres. Cargo trains still use this line from the Chilean side.

Tren a las Nubes, Salta, Argentina, South America
Inquisitive locals

More abandoned mines and once settlements are passed – industrial relics of the past and testament to a more prosperous life.

Tren a las Nubes, Salta, Argentina, South America
All roads lead to San Antonio de los Cobres

The incredibly natural beauty on this adventure is stunning.

Tren a las Nubes, Salta, Argentina, South America
Ever-changing vistas

We stop at a cross-section in the middle of what seems like nowhere, which is where the train’s engine is replaced. Because of the steep incline and height to come, the last part of the journey requires the pushing of carriages, and no longer the pulling.

Tren a las Nubes, Salta, Argentina, South America
Local helper

The train hugs the mountain so close that you can reach out and touch the rocky outcrop.

On we continue to the final section of this dramatic journey – the famous curved 224-metre-long La Polvorilla Viaduct.

Tren a las Nubes, Salta, Argentina, South America
La Polvorilla Viaduct

At a height of 4,200 metres, this part of the track is claimed to be engineering genius – look down if you’re not scared of heights.

Tren a las Nubes, Salta, Argentina, South America
Sixty-three metres down

The snow begins to fall and wind whips any exposed faces. At this height, the relentless cold continues.

Tren a las Nubes, Salta, Argentina, South America
Making a living

As the train stops, local faces followed by Llamas come up to passengers. Locals offer their handmade goods and souvenirs through windows.

Tren a las Nubes, Salta, Argentina, South America
Earning a Peso

This is one of the only ways in which locals make money – faces are gorgeous.

Tren a las Nubes, Salta, Argentina, South America
In all weathers

Sadly, after only around 30-minutes at the viaduct, passengers are scurried on to the train once more, for the return journey down the mountain.

Tren a las Nubes, Salta, Argentina, South America
Ready for tourists

As you descend once more into a barren and desolate nature, reminisce that this vast area was inhabited by nomads in pre-Columbian times.

Tren a las Nubes, Salta, Argentina, South America
Bygone relics

The weather begins to close in with the promise of black ominous clouds developing.

Tren a las Nubes, Salta, Argentina, South America
Homeward change

The Train to the Clouds, slowly pulls back into its Salta resting place for the evening. Tired but exhilarated passengers are offloaded, with an incredible day firmly inscribed in our minds.

Some train details

The city of Salta is at around 1,187 metres above sea level and during the 434-kilometre return journey on the Trens a Las Nubes, you increase in altitude to 4,200 metres.

Don’t be too concerned about any altitude-related illness. The train does have a First Aid area with a doctor and nurse on hand.

A full bar and restaurant service also awaits but this is expensive, so buy some food in Salta before boarding (although not really permitted). A basic breakfast and afternoon snack is included in your ticket.

Tren a las Nubes, Salta, Argentina, South America
The 2011 route, passing through these stops (Map credit: Tren a las Nubes)

Expect this unique train journey to last around 16 hours.

2018 Update

Lucky enough to have experienced the complete journey on the train for the whole day back in 2011, departing from Salta train station and returning to this station, this has now changed.

Due to a derailment in 2013, then repairing the train line, and with its re-opening in 2015, the day is now very different. You have two options to get to La Polvorilla Viaduct, which is the highlight of the train line at 4,200 metres.

Found this official Tren a las Nubes video, which gives you a quick taste of only a small portion of the trip. It also looks as if the train had an upgrade and repainted since 2011.

A bus now leaves from Salta and takes you to the towns of Campo Quijano, Gobernador Solá El Alfarcito, Santa Rosa de Tastil, a couple of other tiny villages, before reaching San Antonio de los Cobres for the Tren a las Nubes. The train trip is an hour long to La Polvorilla Viaduct. You spend half an hour at the viaduct before returning to San Antonio de los Cobres on the same train, then by bus back to Salta.

The other option is to make your own way to San Antonio de los Cobres to pick up the Tren a las Nubes for the onward journey to the viaductbefore returning on the same train.

Tren a las nubes, Salta, Argentina, South America
Updated blue bus line vs. original train route (Map credit: Tren a las Nubes)

Want more?

If you have loads of time and heading into Chile from Salta, then the Salta–Antofagasta railway (“Huaytiquina”) from start to finish runs for 941 kilometres, starting in Argentina and extending to the Chilean Pacific coast.

I’m not sure of prices, details, or whether you can hitch a ride on one of the cargo trains, but this also sounds like another exciting and dramatic train ride. Crossing the Andes then descending in to the Puna de Atacama and Atacama Desert, would be a fantastic sight.

Salta–Antofagasta railway, Argentina, Chile, South America
Map credit: Wikimedia – Argentina maps

Back in Salta

Tired and hungry, but with heads full of incredible images from today’s experience, we walk back to the hostel in the centre of Salta.

Visit Nilla’s Photography for more images. More posts on Argentina at Image Earth Travel.

Tren a las Nubes, Salta, Argentina, South America
Everything is for sale, even this pet

52 thoughts on “Spectacular Tren a las Nubes, Argentina’s far Northwest

Add yours

  1. Wow Nilla! I always start my comment with wow! it’s because it just is.. this train journey is amazing, the scenery, the people everything. The video shows just how high the viaduct is!! EEKK!!! Fascinating country! 🙂 xx

    Liked by 2 people

    1. That’s because there are so many ‘wow’ experiences out there and I still haven’t seen a fraction!

      It took me ages searching for this short video and also one that is official, as there are many private videos that are 20 and 40+ minutes, which is too long for my post.

      Thank you for your feedback Gill as always, I have a Bolivia post coming out this week with many faces I think you’ll like. Have a great weekend. 🙂 x

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Beautiful 💕💗 I am Argentine (living in Buenos Aires Province)…. I have never been to Salta. But people call it ‘Salta, la linda’ (the pretty)… El Tren de las Nubes ☁️ is definitely a sublime experience…. thanks so much for sharing 😀

    Liked by 2 people

  3. Wow, what a fantastic day you had. Lucky you did it when it was still a full day trip. After doing a couple of short train trips in Canada, we’re inspired to do more lengthy ones. It’s such a relaxing way to travel. Going at 35 km an hour would allow you to get some great photos and views too.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. It was just such an amazing day and I know now we were so lucky to have done it when we did.

      I love travelling by train but depending on the country, it’s not always possible, as you know. Hope you get to do more train trips soon. 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  4. What a wonderful post! And breathtaking photos, but I’m sure you get that all the time. I so admire your apparent ability to travel AND write compelling pieces about the experience. Thank you.

    Liked by 2 people

  5. Omg, this is breathtakingly beautiful! What an adventure!! I’ll earmark “Tren a las Nube”.
    The closest I have been to this is the Titicacasee, pure magic. Thank you for sharing! x

    Liked by 2 people

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