Tren a las Nubes – Salta, Argentina

March 30, 2010

Every guide book I’d read said that if you go to North Argentina you can’t miss Salta, but they never really explained why in a way that I found satisfactory. Supposedly it was very European and the landscape was beautiful. Fine, but isn’t all of Argentina? Despite Lonely Planet’s vague descriptions of the greatness of Salta we headed our way their via yet another overnight bus. Gotta love those 1st class 20+ hour bus rides!

We were only allotting two days in Salta which seemed a bit ridiculous considering how long we drove to get there. But I really wanted to ride the Tren a las Nubes, or Train to the Clouds. Sounds magical, right? Maybe we’d see the Carebears up there!!

Our train adventure began at 6:30 AM in the morning and lasted until 11 PM at night. It was one seriously long excursion. But first, we took in the sites of Salta.

Salta truly is a lovely town, perhaps my favorite in all of Argentina. Like Goldie Locks would say, it’s “just right”. The buildings aren’t too tall, the town isn’t too small, the restaurants aren’t too ritzy or too provincial, the people are friendly, the museums excellent and the architecture is bits of lovely and bits of horrid – just as I’d come to expect of the best of South American cities. I imagine if Lucas and I were Argentineans and we’d tired of the Buenos Aires pace, Salta is where we’d move to.

One museum in particular, the High Andes museum or something like that, featured three astonishingly well preserved mummies from the Incan culture in the area. You could see the fingernails and eyelashes on these things. Amazing!  They were discovered in 1999 on a high altitude expedition, frozen in the ground, most likely as Incan sacrifices.

For anyone thinking of taking the Tren a las Nubes, make sure you get a Hostelling International Card. It’s worth 15% off – a savings of about $18 and the card only cost $16. Pretty easy math. Plus, we get a price break at future HI hostels for the next year. It would have also given us 10% off the NaviMag back in Chile… wish we’d known that then!

The train was pretty comfy. We sat back in our chairs and watched the sun light up the landscape as we sipped coffee and snacked on baked goods. The scenery was pretty awesome. I don’t think Lucas sat down for more than two minutes the entire trip. He kept bopping between one window and the next taking photo after photo.



We saw hundreds of the same Giant Cacti that we’d seen in the San Juan Provence. I just love the way the light is catching them in this photo.


Most of the terrain we traveled through was pretty stark. Very Eastern Washington-esque. The dry side of mountains look pretty much the same everywhere. It’s funny how the more you travel, the more similarities you find between different parts of the world and places from your own home turf.


As we got to higher altitudes, the staff passed out coca leaves and gave a demonstration on how to effectively use them to decrease the risk of altitude sickness. Yes, coca leaves are used to make cocaine. No, one leaf isn’t going to give you a buzz even remotely close to what cocaine would… you’d need a garbage sack full to do that, apparently. Lucas tried the coca, I wasn’t a firm believer and skipped it. No need to feel like a cow chewing its cud if you don’t need to. For all those interested, you fold the leaf into a small straw shape chew it a bit so it becomes flat and then stick it between your teeth and gums. Kind of like a baseball player uses chew. Yuck.


Here is a photo of one of the small town we passed. I think it had a population of like, two.


Part of the way we traveled parallel to a road. Those who don’t want to spring the big bucks for the train squash themselves into minivans and drive up the mountain range taking photos of the train. Doesn’t sound likely nearly as much fun to me!


Before we’d even left on our “round the world” adventures, Lucas found a photo on flickr or somewhere that he liked of a guy sticking his head out of a train. The guy had long hair like Lucas and it was billowing all around. We’d really wanted to take a similar photo and thought the Tren a las Nubes might provide just the opportunity. Unfortunately, it moves at about 15 miles per hour. Not exactly fast enough to get any sort of billowing hair going on. Oh well.


Here I am at the mountain range looking happy. And below you can see all of the other tourists milling about checking out handicrafts that were for sale. This point marks an elevation of 4,200 meters or 13,750 feet.


At first Lucas and I were milling about with everyone else. We bought a hand woven shall and then started to walk up to the viewpoint. Then very rapidly I felt completely exhausted and my vision pinholed to the smallest prick of light. Essentially, my world went black. I knew I was prone to altitude sickness so I’d taken some diamox earlier, but apparently it wasn’t an adequate prevention. Lucas had to help me hobble down to the medic train car. Embarrassing! Our friend wasn’t quite as fortunate, she didn’t have a Lucas looking out for her and she fainted! Good thing they had fresh oxygen on board. Yum!

IMG_0503 IMG_0509 

After we’d gone back down a few hundred meters I started to feel better, though I didn’t venture off the train again. Lucas got off at the next sight seeing stop and snapped a few shots of the locals. 


He thought these girls were just so adorable. These sticks that they were selling were supposedly like viagra. Kind of a strange image when you know that about their wares.



The llama caught this woman by surprise when he decided to sample her snack. She smiled and then turned and gave him some of her biscuits.


Lucas says there is no particular story about this little guy. He was just “wearing a hat and looking cute”. From here on out it was all down hill, ha ha. It took us several hours to get back to Salta. And while the scenery was just as lovely on the way back as it was on the way out, we spent most of our time socializing with our neighbors.

Now, on to Uruguay!

2 Responses to “Tren a las Nubes – Salta, Argentina”

  1. John Ahern said

    Ola Gringos! Just found your address in my L Planet as I was writing up my account of last year’s trip. Are you still in Argentina?
    I have some photos from Camiguin if you’re interested -send me your email.
    CatchYaLater, John – South Australia

  2. Where are the pictures of “the architecture…bits of lovely and bits of horrid”?

    Any Carebear sightings??? =D

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