Sorry to disappoint you, but the train route between Santa Cruz and Puerto Quijarro, on the border with Brazil, is no more dangerous than any other train in Latin america. In fact, no one knows exactly why the “death train” was give its name, but there are plenty of theories: some say it is because of the many people who died from the poor working conditions while laying out the train tracks; others say the locals called it after a yellow-fever epidemic, when the very ill where transported by this train to quarantine; others have heard that when the train stops along the way you can be bitten to death by mosquitoes. Whatever the reason, the name “death train” seems to only be used by backpackers and bloggers who travel through Bolivia. Most Bolivians will give you a funny look if you brag about having survived the “death train”. And if you fear the mosquitoes, just wear long sleeves, right?
Be it because Santa Cruz is one of the most important cities in Bolivia, or because people love trains, or because it is one of the most comfortable and direct ways to travel from Bolivia to Brazil, the trips by train from Santa Cruz to Puerto Quijarro are very very popular. Another reason to make this trip by train is because you can stop over in San José de Chiquitos, a jewel of the Jesuit Missions, with lush landscapes and amazing churches made of wood. This town is the home of one of the most important Barroque Music Festivals in the world, and the sight of hundreds of children playing violins and singing barroque music is breathtaking. If you are interested in staying in Chiquitos, just visit www.ticketsbolivia.com/train-tickets/ferroviaria-oriental.php and by your train tickets in two different segments, first from Santa Cruz to San José and then fro San José to Puerto Quijarro.
Santa Cruz to Puerto Quijarro by train
Puerto Quijarro is a city with a population of 16,000 on the border with Brazil, and also an inland river port on the Tamengo Canal. It is Bolivia’s only waterway which leads to the ocean. It lies at 100 m above sea level and has a jungle vegetation, as it is nearby to the Pantanal region in Brazil. The city lies at 604 km from Santa Cruz. The length of the trip depends on the train you decide to take, as Expresso Oriental is a bit slower (and cheaper), while Ferrobus is a bit faster and more expensive.
The train Expreso Oriental travels from Santa Cruz to the border with Brazil on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays at 14.50, costs Bs 70 per person and takes 15hrs to arrive in Puerto Quijarro. You need to take the train from the Train Station, located on Montero Av., and they arrive at the train station located on Colón Av. From there, a cab trip to the border is 5 minutes and about as many Bolivianos. The train has services such as air conditioning, TV, toilets and a dinning carrige where you can have a meal (not included).
The other train service is Ferrobus, which is a much smaller train (only two carriges in total). This train runs from Santa Cruz on Tuesdays, Thursday and Saturdays at 18.00, costs Bs 235 per person and takes 10hrs. This train leaves rom and arrives at the same Train Stations. Ferrobus 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. It also has air conditioning, TV and toilets.
During high-season months between July and September and December through February, the demand for ticket is very high. If you want to plan ahead and ensure you get a seat on the train, you can book online through www.ticketsbolivia.com.
Again, from the bus terminal in Puerto Quijarro you can take a cab to the border, which opens at 7:30. Once you have cleared migration paperwork on both sides of the border, you can take another cab to Corumbá, which is 10 minutes away by car, to continue your trip in the lush amazon lowlands of Brazil.