The Death Train Bolivia: A good mode of transport or not?
April 14, 2017
The Death Train Bolivia
Our time in Brazil had come to an end and after two months we were looking forward to a change (and a much cheaper country to travel.) Brazil is a massive country and in order to get to Bolivia, we were looking at over 20 hours of buses. Then, once crossing the border, we had the 16-hour journey on The Death Train in Bolivia to survive.
What is The Death Train exactly?
The Death Train is a train that operates regularly in Bolivia between Puerto Quijarro and the city of Santa Cruz. Because Puerto Quijarro sits right on the border with Brazil, it is a common route for people traveling from the economic hub in Bolivia of Santa Cruz to and from Brazil.
How long does it take?
From Puerto Quijarro to Santa Cruz the cheapest train takes 16 hours.
How much does it cost?
One of the trains costs about $10 USD and the other costs about $35 USD. I know what you’re thinking, “wait, there are two types of Death Trains?!” Yes, one is nicer than the other and more comfortable. They each have their own schedules, keep reading for The Death Train schedules.
So…why is it called The Death Train?
Despite the popular rumors, The Death Train isn’t called “The Death Train” because it is dangerous.
The Death Train in Bolivia is essentially a train in which was once used to transport sick people. People with the mosquito-borne Yellow Fever virus were all transported together back in the day. It was also used to transport dead victims of Yellow Fever.
However, there is another tale which states that The Death Train got its name from the many people who died while building the tracks.
Is The Death Train dangerous?
I want to say no, but I think that it could be potentially. Like any sort of transport in South America, there are risks involved.
When we started off the journey on The Death Train we saw a train on a nearby train completely derailed and on its side. We didn’t know if this train had passengers on it or not at the time of the accident, but it looked identical to the train we were on.
Besides that, the train does rock from side to side viciously making me think that the chance of derailing is possible.
That all being said, the alternative option from Puerto Quijjaro to Santa Cruz is a bus, and bus drivers in Bolivia work endless hours without a break, many seem under the influence, and the roads are less than suitable for winding up through the mountains on cliff edges. One of the reasons we chose The Death Train was that it was the safer option of the two.
Most people would ask “why don’t you fly”, well the buses and trains were $200 cheaper, and although it was 40 hours longer it was a new and exciting experience many backpackers don’t get to have.
Overall, I would say the biggest safety concern on The Death Train is theft. It is a common mode of transport for poorer locals, so I wouldn’t leave your carry-on bags unattended ever and make sure you have no valuables in your checked bags. Also, consider tipping the gentleman who takes care of the checked bags if you want your bags to make it to your stop.
The Experience- what The Death Train is really like
Based on the name alone we were concerned about what we were in for by taking The Death Train. We thought it would be dirty, dingy, smelly, for the mere price of $10 we thought the train was going to be downright awful
But boy were we wrong.
The journey started off great as we hanged out in the restaurant carriage and even got some beers at a short stop. There is one carriage on the train which is a restaurant. When we were there nobody else ever was, I think that most of the locals pack food with them. The food was decent and decently priced at 20 bolivianos for a full meal.
Besides eating, the restaurant was a good place to hang out at as there were tables and it was more spacious than the seats.
The restaurant doesn’t serve alcohol, but as I said before, we managed to bring a couple beers on board with us when the train stopped to pick up more passengers. The train does stop occasionally but not for long and it isn’t encouraged to get off as it WILL leave without you and without notice. I risked it anyways at one stop and jumped off to buy a couple of beers. At this stop in particular, there were many locals waiting for the train to arrive to sell their goods.
The sleeping part was a challenge though. The whole time we were awake we were shocked at the amount the train bounced around. It was like sleeping on a cheap rusty roller coaster that had an accident rate of a Chinese construction site.
My sleep was made up of short naps with waking up to the feeling of butterflies in my stomach from the violent movements of the train.
If you get motion sickness, do not take The Death Train!
Besides the rocking, the facilities weren’t too bad. There were a few bathrooms that stayed fairly clean and the seats were the same as standard seats on buses. The seats reclined a bit but not fully which is what is advertised on the more expensive train.
Booking The Death Train
So, if you have decided that you are ready for the adventure which is The Death Train, the next step is to get tickets.
There is a website online in which you can buy tickets, but I was unsure whether to book it this way simply because we did not know how long crossing the border from Brazil would take that morning. I didn’t want to miss the train and have to buy tickets again as the train only leaves at very select times.
Locals in Corumba (the town on the border in Brazil in which we spent one night before catching the death train) kept trying to sell us The Death Train tickets. People at the bus station as well as workers at the hostel and a taxi driver! This is because they make a commission and therefore overcharge you for the thicket. These people all told us the train always sells out and we MUST buy tickets in advance. Luckily we resisted the urge to buy tickets in advance as there is also no way to verify if the tickets are real or not before leaving the country for good.
We ended up just buying tickets at the train station, it was simple, easy, and the train wasn’t anywhere close to selling out. The train station is called Luis Salazar de la Vega Avenue and it is only a two-minute taxi ride from the border.
Catching The Death Train
One of the most difficult things about taking The Death Train is actually timing your arrival/departure correctly with the select times The Death Train actually leaves. We were coming from Brazil so we had a border crossing to consider as well which made catching the train at the right time even more challenging.
The Death Train leaves Tuesdays, Thursdays, and Sundays at 1pm, and then on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays at 6 pm. The 6pm bus is the more expensive $35 one and the 1pm bus is the one we took for $10 USD.
To ensure these times haven’t changed, please check the website here.
Staying overnight in Corumba or Puerto Quijarro
You may have to spend a night before or after taking The Death Train in one of the two border towns. Puerto Quijarro is the town on the Bolivia side in which The Death Train starts/finished. Corumba is the town on the Brazilian side.
If you get the chance to choose where to stay I’d recommend Corumba as it is safer and in a famous region of Brazil called the Patanel. From Corumba there are some cool tours to do at the right times of the year.
I hope this post has answered some of your questions about The Death Train and has given you the information needed to decide whether it is a good mod of transportation for you or not. If you have any other questions I would love to respond to them in the comments.