Classic train trips
Hand the porter your luggage, climb aboard and relive the golden days of railroading on these spectacular journeys.
The saga that is the Ghan started in 1877 when the original railway line from Adelaide via Alice Springs to Darwin was laid – in the wrong place. This initial century-old stretch of line ran straight through a flood plain, resulting in frequent outback strandings after rain. In 1980 a new service on a different line made the run – replacing the old Ghan, which made its last journey in ’82. The great Ghan cuts through Australia’s remote Red Centre, its tropical north and gentle south.
It runs twice weekly from Adelaide to Alice Springs to Darwin; the trip takes two nights in either direction. To book visitwww.gsr.com.au.
Old Patagonia Express, Argentina
It averages 35km/hr, so calling it ‘Express’ is something of a misnomer. Better known as La Trochita, this historic rattler steams its way 402km from Esquel to Ingeniero Jacobacci, with half a dozen stations and another nine apeaderos (whistle-stops). From the little windows in your wooden cabin (c 1920), you can see the Chilean Andes, which parallel the southern leg of the journey, alleviating great expanses of nothingness. The narrow-gauge section of the track is 1m wide and dates from 1922.
The frequency of departures varies from month to month; departure time is usually 10am; cost is AR$50 (full adult fare).
Rocky Mountaineer, Canada
This two-day tour through the magnificent Canadian Rockies is done in daylight, so you can see every dazzling canyon, each inspiring river, and all its verdant valleys and glittering glacial lakes. As you depart from coastal Vancouver, press your face up to the glass to view the spectacular mountains of British Columbia. Then the essence of the Rockies takes shape out the window as you pass Jasper or Banff and Calgary before pulling in to Alberta.
Choose from three routes: Kicking Horse, Yellowhead and the Fraser Discovery route. Get the train departure schedule and more at www.rockymountaineer.com.
El Nariz del Diablo, Ecuador
Heading south from Riobamba, the death-defying section of track known as El Nariz del Diablo (Devil’s Nose) runs from Alausí to Sibambe. Construction began in 1908; at Sibambe a series of switchbacks were carved into the steep Andean rock to allow the train to ascend nearly 1000m to Alausí, which sits at 2607m. Some daredevils descend the ‘Devil’s Nose’ standing on the train’s flat roof, with nary a gap between their sombreros and the top of the tunnel.
Locals recommend buying tickets the night before to avoid long queues during the day; the ride lasts four to five hours; dress in layers as the weather is unpredictable.
Venice Simplon-Orient Express,
Glamour pusses, this train trip is guaranteed to keep you purring all the way from Venice through to London. Luxury abounds, from the sumptuously fitted dining car (with French silverware, linen-dressed tables and crystal glassware) to the piano-bar car – you’ll need to pack your gowns and tuxedos. Ladies, Manolo Blahnik heels are perfect for teetering around Europe’s most romantic cities: Vienna, Paris, Prague and Istanbul – all of which the Orient graces with its presence.
Your fare includes table d’hôte meals; divine morsels from the à la carte menu and 24-hour compartment service are extra; salivate at www.orient-express.com.
Copper Canyon Railway, Mexico
The Ferrocarril Chihuahua al Pacifico (Copper Canyon Railway) features 36 bridges and 87 tunnels along its 655km length. Connecting the mountainous arid interior of northern Mexico with the Pacific coast, the railway line passes through landscapes that include sheer canyon walls, waterfalls and high desert plains. Two trains operate on this route between Los Mochis and Chihuahua: the primera express (first class) has a restaurant, bar and reclining seats and makes fewer stops than the clase economica (economy class).
Canyon Travel operates a private rail car with an open deck area ‘to absorb the canyon’s outdoor atmosphere’. Get inspired at www.canyontravel.com.
Cuzco to Puno, Peru
Billed as a bit of a bone shaker, this 10-hour ride travels between the capital Cuzco and Puno on the banks of Lake Titicaca. The high altitude around Lake Titicaca makes for exceptionally clear air, and the luminescent quality of the sunlight suffuses the highland Altiplano and sparkles on the deep waters of the lake. At the other end of the journey, Cuzco is a unique combination of colonial and religious splendour built on the hefty stone foundations of the Incas.
Your train ticket includes lunch and afternoon tea and costs around US$220 one way. For information visit www.perurail.com.
Trans-Siberian, Russia to China
The classic Trans-Siberian service runs from Moscow’s Yaroslavl Station across a third of the globe to the crumbling charm of Vladivostock. It memorably skirts Lake Baikal, which appears seemingly out of nowhere in the middle of the Siberian taiga. Veering off the main line, the Trans-Mongolian continues past Russian gingerbread houses and stands of forest before giving way to the endless steppe and sky of Mongolia. The train trundles ever onward to Beijing, passing the spectacular Great Wall. Whether you take one week or 10, this is an epic trip.
The Trans-Mongolian departs Moscow every Tuesday; fares start at around US$650 for a second class berth, one-way; the journey takes six days.
Outeniqua Choo-Tjoe, South Africa
In operation since 1928, this quaintly named steam train chugs at a leisurely pace. From Knysna it huffs along the Indian Ocean coast, past the town of Wilderness, with its vast sweeping beaches, crosses Kaimans Bridge and then choofs up the steep gorge to George. The return trip takes about 7½ hours, with stunning scenery that makes a cliché out of that old saying about enjoying the journey.
During prolonged dry spells diesel locomotives may be used due to avoid risk of starting bush fires; book at least 24 hours in advance.
Coast Starlight, USA
Traversing America’s west coast, the Starlight pulls in to some of the States’ great cities: Seattle, Portland and Los Angeles. The trip takes a mere 35 hours to negotiate three states: Washington, Oregon and California. Modern conveniences make the hours pass even more quickly, including various comfort levels of accommodation, a dining car and lounge with on-board entertainment. But the window will likely provide the most exhilarating entertainment – the train passes humbling mountains and vast oceanscapes.
The trip lasts around 35 hours; various accommodation options are available. Check www.amtrak.com for details.