From Santa Cruz to Puerto Quijarro on the Death Train’: don’t let fear stop you

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?

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Church in San José de Chiquitos, between Santa Cruz and Puerto Quijarro

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.

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Santa Cruz de la Sierra, thriving industrial city

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).

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Train Station, Puerto Quijarro

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.

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Welcome to Puerto Quijarro

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.

 

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Lake Titicaca: wet your feet in the sacred lake of the Incas

Lake Titicaca is the largest, deepest, highest navigable lake in the world, with a surface elevation of 3,812 meters (12,507 ft), a surface of 3,200 square miles and up to 1,000 feet in depthThe lake lies on the border between Bolivia and Peru and is the ancient birthplace of the Inca culture. Several of it´s 41 islands are sacred, and tourists can visit them from either Puno, in Peru, or from Copacabana, in Bolivia.

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view of the Andes mountain range and Lake Titicaca

Due to its location right on the border between Peru and Bolivia, Lake Titicaca is a crossing point for many tourists who travel between Cuzco and Uyuni, be it through Puno or through Copacabana. Tourists traveling between Peru and Bolivia often just pass by or spend just a few hours on the shores of the lake. We think this amazing body of water merits you staying just a little longer in order to take in all the cultural, natural and historical attractions it has to offer.

The legend

The Incan sun God, Viracocha, rose up from the centre of the world, Lake Titicaca, and from there He created the moon and the stars. Then he went to Tiwanaku to create the first human beings, Mallku Kapac and Mama Ocllo, who populated the world. Lake Titicaca is, then, the cradle of the Incan empire. The spot in which Viracocha was born is Isla del Sol, or Islad of the Sun, the largest island on the lake and a place of unkanny energy and beauty.

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Puerta del Sol, Tiwanaku

Tiwanaku

Tiwanaku is a ruined ancient city near Lake Titicaca in western Bolivia, just two hours away from Copacabana by bus. Dominating the ruins, once the seat of the pre-Columbian Tiwanaku culture, are the Akapana pyramid, the place of worship of the “world of above”, and a semi-subterranean temple with carved images of human heads, the place of worship of the “nether world”. Nearby Kalasasaya is an open temple with stone monoliths and the huge Puerta del Sol, or Gate of the Sun. On the 21st of June, the celebration of the Aymara new year brings hundreds of people to watch the sun raise in the arch after the longest night of the year. The Museo del Sitio de Tiwanaku displays artifacts excavated from the site. The Tiwanaku culture pre-dates the Inca empire, and it was filled with scientists and astronomers. It is said that the Tiwanaku empire spread all the way to the pacific ocean.

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A view from the Island of the Sun

The Island of the sun

A one-hour boat ride from Copacabana, Isla del Sol has ruins of ancient temples, coupled with breathtaking sights of the Andes and the crisp blue waters of the sacred lake. The largest of all the lake islands (but still only 5.5 by 3.75 miles in size), Isla del Sol was considered the home of the supreme Inca god Inti.

There are many attractions on the island. On the north end, is the town of Challapampa, home to the fascinating Chinkana (labyrinth). A huge stone complex full of mazes, it is thought be a training center for Inca priests. About 270 feet from Chinaka on the path back to the town of Challapampa is a sacred rock carved in the shape of a puma. Further along the path toward Challapampa are two very large footprints. These are said to have been created when the sun dropped down to earth to give birth to Manco Capac and Mama Ocllo, the “Adam and Eve” of the Incas. The island has a few hotels, some of them ecologic, which allow you to stay on the island as long as you want. 

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The floating islands of the Urus

The Urus floating Islands

If you visit the lake from the Peruvian side, in Puno, you can go to the Islas flotantes de los Urus, man-made islands of a species of reeds called Totora. They are home to the descendents of the ancient Urus culture, which lived during the time of the Incas, and still live a simple, traditional life. Their religion is a mixture of traditional Indian, distinct from the more mainstream Quechua and Aymara cultures, and Catholic, and they bury their dead on the mainland.

From Copacabana to Cuzco

If you are traveling to Cuzco from Bolivia, you can choose to pass through Copacabana and spend a few days exploring the Lake and all its wonders. Buses leave from La Paz to Copacabana at 8:00 and 13:30 from the Bus Terminal located on Uruguay Av., on the corner with Peru Av. The bus trip takes around 4 hours and you will cross the Tiquina Straight by boat. The cost of the ferry is less than a dollar and is not included in the cost of the bus.

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Copacabana bay on the shore of Lake Titicaca

From Copacabana and after you have explored the lake and its surroundings to your heart´s content, you can either take a direct bus to Cuzco or travel to Puno first. Buses leave from Copacabana to Cuzco at 9:00, 13:30 and 18:00. The trip takes 9 hours and the buses cross the border at Colchane.

If you want to go to Puno first, the buses leave at 9:00, 13:30 and 18:00, and the trip takes three hours. You can also stay in Puno a few days to explore the floating islands of the Urus, and then go on to Cuzco. The bus trip from Puno to Cuzco takes around 7 hours and the buses leave at 9:00, 21:00 and 22:00.  You can visit www.ticketsbolivia.com to plan your trip and book your tickets to and from Puno and Copacabana online.

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Lake Titicaca seen from the Peruvian side, in Puno

From Cuzco to Copacabana and Uyuni

If you are traveling from Cuzco to Lake Titicaca and/or the Uyuni Salt Flats, we got you covered. You can take a bus from Cuzco to Puno or Copacabana, from Copacabana a bus to La Paz and from there another bus to Uyuni.

Buses leave from Cuzco to Copacabana every day at 22:30 and arrive around 11 hours later, at 9:00 am. The buses depart from the bus terminal in Cuzco, located on Avenida de Evitamiento. In Copacabana you can take a few days to enjoy the town, eat the best fresh-water trout on earth, and make a day trip to Isla del Sol. If you want to continue your trip to La Paz and Uyuni, take a bus to La Paz (they leave at 13:30 and 18:30). Again, you will be crossing the Tiquina Straight by ferry, the cost of which is very low and not included in the price of the bus. Once you arrive in La Paz, you can plan to visit the city or take a bus to Uyuni. The bus from La Paz to Uyuni leaves from that same bus terminal every day at 20:00. Visit www.ticketsbolivia.com to book your tickets, or contact us by email if you need further info. Have a good trip!