Ten Top Train Trips

In our travels, we’ve always tried to include train travel as a portion of the itinerary. It is a wonderful way to see the country and its people up close. Of all the train trips we’ve made on six different continents, there are ten train trips that stand out:

1. Blue Train. (SOUTH AFRICA. Johannesburg to Capetown) With its spacious staterooms and its five-star restaurant on wheels, there is no more luxurious train anywhere in the world. Its route takes travelers nine hundred miles across the width of South Africa with a stop along the way to visit the Kimberley diamond mines.

2. The Ghan. (AUSTRALIA. Sydney to Alice Springs) The two day trip from the coast to the heart of the outback impresses the rider with the vastness of the Australian interior. For miles on end, the track runs straight as an arrow without the slightest curve. We were greeted at daybreak by kangaroos leaping along side and ended the day at the piano bar in the club car singing "Waltzing Matilda" with our fellow passengers.

3. Chepe.  (MEXICO.  Los Mochis to Creel).  One hundred years in the construction, the Chihuahua to Pacific railroad is one of Mexico's great engineering feats passing through 86 tunnels and over 37 bridges in its 400 miles route through the high Sierra Madre mountains to the spectacular Copper Canyons of northern Mexico.  This "Train Ride to the Sky" is one of the Western Hemisphere's great scenic railroad journeys.

4. Bullet Train. (JAPAN. Tokyo to Kyoto). For speed and dependability, there are few trains in the world to compare to Japan’s famous "Shinkansen". Hitting speeds up to 200 mph, the silky smooth ride took us past Mt. Fuji and through the Japanese countryside.

5. IncaTrail Rail Trip. (PERU. Cusco to Machu Picchu). In Inca times, you would have had to travel on foot for more than a week on the Inca Trail to cover the 65 miles from Cusco to Machu Picchu. Today the Lost City of the Incas can be reached in less than four hours in a comfortable, vista-dome train car traveling up the Picchu Mountain and along the lush valleys of the Urubamba River with spectacular views of the snow-capped Andes at every turn.

6. Riding the Roof. (ECUADOR. Riobamba to Sibambe). Our narrow-gauge, open-air train car was filled with colorful Indian families along with all of their children and animals going to the Saturday morning market. Following the local custom, we climbed up on the roof of our car for much of the trip for spectacular, 360º views of the snow covered volcanoes and breathtaking Andean mountain passes. A derailment high in the mountains resulted in only a minor delay as the trainmen built a ramp of rocks under the wheels while the engineer inched the train ahead back onto the rails.

7. Chunnel Express. (EUROPE. Brussels to London.) Rushing silently through the French countryside on the crack Euro Star train at speeds up to 180 miles per hour and then down into the just opened railway tunnel under the English Channel, we covered the miles from Brussels to London in less than three hours, just time for a nice lunch in the club car.

8. Nile Traveler. (EGYPT. Aswan to Luxor). What the train lacked in comfort was compensated for by the sights we saw from the train as it passed through the primitive villages and countryside along the narrow strip of fertile lands which extend along the Nile River.

9. Morning Train to Rajasthan. (INDIA. Delhi to Kota). The railway system in India, one of the legacies of the British Raj, is the largest in the world with over ten million people using trains every day. It seemed like all ten million were there at the Delhi railroad station when we arrived to board our train to Kota where our turban-clad porters carried our bags balanced on their heads onto the train. The train cars were teaming with life as people slept, ate and chatted in close proximity. Outside the windows, we were introduced to the fascinating Indian countryside and the six hour train ride passed all too quickly.

10. Polar Bear Express. (CANADA. Winnipeg to Churchill). Since there are no roads into Churchill, our destination on Hudson Bay where we were going to witness the annual polar bear migration,  we took the overnight train, sharing it with local Inuit people traveling to their small, whistle-stop villages along the isolated track. We woke to see the sun rising over the desolate yet strangely beautiful landscape of the Arctic tundra from our train windows.

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 California Zephyr. (U.S.A. Chicago to San Francisco). Crossing America by train is a wonderful way to be reminded of the natural beauty of our great country as well as of the pleasures of train travel. The two-day trip took us across the great plains, over the Rocky Mountains, across the western deserts and finally over the Sierras to California. It was also a nostalgic reminder of the sixteen  cross-country train trips that I took in the 1950’s traveling to and from the University of Idaho.

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