El Tren a Las Nubes and Estancia El Bordo de Las Lanzas – Salta, Argentina

A Breathtaking Train, a Relaxing Respite

Salta’s stunning countryside is dotted with pre-Columbian ruins, artisan villages, and deep, mineral-streaked, polychrome quebradas (ravines) carved by rivers running down the snow-draped Andes. Through this eerily eroded area by the Argentina-Chile border, the seasonal El Tren a las Nubes (Train to the Clouds) makes an unforgettable high-altitude, high-adrenaline trip that is on the must-do list of all train buffs. The fifteen-hour trip – not for the faint of heart – leaves from Salta, one of the best-preserved colonial cities in Argentina.

A magnificent engineering achievement, the track was finished only in 1948; it includes a harrowing series of switch-backs and tunnels, and crosses dozens of iron bridges and viaducts. The highlight is the 200-foot-high viaduct that crosses the La Polvorilla desert canyon before the train’s turnaround point in San Antonio de los Cobres, an old Indian mining town 13,000 feet above sea level. The return trip may induce a case of scenery overload – a good time for a siesta.

Recharge any frayed nerves at the area’s premier estancia, El Bordo de las Lanzas. After the revered General Martín Miguel de Gúemes led local gauchos in several success­ful battles against the Spanish royalists in the early 1800s, he would rest up at this estancia – even then a nurturing hideaway. Bordered by Chile and Bolivia and framed by the foothills of the Andes, the northwestern Salta Province is a center for farming and live­stock, and the estancia’s 11,000 acres are dedicated to sugarcane, tobacco, sunflowers, and raising zebu cattle and the famous paso peruano horses that are available for guests’ use. Big, traditional meals based on regional specialties, using beef and ingredients from the estate, are proudly hosted by the gregari­ous Arias family of twelve, who make sure that their elegant 18th-century landmark estate provides the finest estancia experience in the region.

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