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Who among us doesn’t hear the call of the conductor and instantly feel the anticipatory shiver of a rail journey? Although less celebrated in the United States than in other parts of the world, most travelers are nevertheless enthralled by the so-called “romance of the rails” and while hundreds of rail lines are currently zig-zagging the planet, here are five classic train rides to take right now:
The Devil’s Nose: Alausi, Ecuador
It used to be you’d have to slather on the SPF 50 for this train ride like no other in which passengers would ride on the roof of rail cars as the train snaked its way through the Andes. That thrill of a lifetime has since been abandoned (due to a fatality), however if you grab a seat on the right hand side of the train you’ll still be in for a real stomach churner as the two-hour journey does the impossible by winding its way through a near vertical wall of rock (aka The Devil’s Nose) offering sweeping views of Chimborazo and Carihuairazo and a gut-wrenching descent along the way.
Ecuador
Darjeeling Himalayan Railway: New Jalpaiguri, India
The Darjeeling Himalayan Railway, as popularized in the Wes Anderson film The Darjeeling Unlimited, is celebrated and revered for its cute-as-a-button toy train appearance and has the distinction of being a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Located in the Himalayan foothills of West Bengal, this celebrated rail journey whisks riders 48 miles and across 13 different stations that along the way takes in multiple loops and Z-reverses as a means for navigating the steepness of the climb. Definitely a darling among rail enthusiasts.
Darjeeling
Sierra Madre Express: Nogales, Mexico
The destination is Copper Canyon, a fabled collection of six canyons in southwest Chihuahua which, when considered together, are larger and deeper in parts than the Grand Canyon in Arizona. Until railway service arrived in the early ’60s, the area was largely unknown to most of the world, but now riders can board the Sierra Madre Express for an epic luxury run beginning in Tucson and spending two full days, winding, twisting and meandering its way through native villages and vast desert expanse with sightseeing done via upscale dining, sleeping and observation cars.
End of the World Train: Ushuaia, Argentina
End of the world indeed. The resort town of Ushuaia in the archipelago of Tierra del Fuego is considered the southernmost city in the world and a deepwater port to Antarctica. The Southern Fuegian Railway, akathe Train to the End of the World was originally a vessel utilized as a convict train but since 1994 has been repurposed as a luxury rail service linking visitors to Ushuaia with Tierra del Fuego National Park. The leisurely one-hour ride takes in mountains, waterfalls, the River Pipo, reconstructed Indian campsites and former prison sites before arriving at the park.
Argentina
Rocky Mountaineer: Vancouver, Canada
Imagine all the thrills of a California Highway 1 road adventure including daring hairpin turns, gargantuan waves smackingagainst rocky shorelines and breathtaking vistas around every corner only via train and about 1,000 miles up the road. While the U.S. needs to do a better job embracing the romance of the rail, Canada is doing it just right with this West Coast adventure that winds its way at a snail’s pace from Vancouver to the ski town of Whistler and catches in its cross hairs along the way waterfalls, mountains and steep climbs. A better day trip we can’t imagine.
Whistler
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Tagged: Destinations, Mexico

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Jason Heidemann

Jason Heidemann

Jason is an associate editor at Orbitz, a social media marketing consultant and a freelance cultural reporter for numerous publications. His works has been featured in the Huffington Post, Time Out, Passport, the Chicago Tribune, Chicago Magazine and many others.

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