Our journey onboard the infamous “Death Train” Bolivia – OR NOT as the case may be!!
Updated: Jun 9
I would love to be starting this story explaining our experiences aboard the Death Train & whether or not we advise other travellers to take this route. But alas! I can’t. Disappointingly the Tren de la Muerte hasn’t been running for 2 years apparently, although the Lonely Planet updated it’s post in March 2022 with the latest schedule??
Having had the Tren de la Muerte on our bucket list for about 6 years now (since our last trip backpacking trip around South America was curtailed) we were extremely disappointed to find out that the train is no longer running. Either way, here is our experience travelling from Corumbá to Santa Cruz de la Sierra.
Table of Contents
Where to stay in Corumbá
After finishing our time in the Pantanal in Bonito we planned just one night in Corumbá simply because the bus from Bonito runs just once a day 12pm (ish, it’s South American time!) arriving at 6:10pm & the border closes at 6pm.
We found Pousada 4 Cantos on Booking.com for R$100 for 1 night in a private double with shared bathroom. It was the cheapest option in Corumbá. The accommodation was clean, although a little dated but the owners were extremely friendly & breakfast in the morning, included in the price, set us up perfectly for our journey ahead. It was also only 10 minutes’ walk from the bus station, perfect!
Where to eat in Corumbá
We ate in ‘It’s Restaurant’ about 3 minutes’ walk from the Pousada, friendly staff, vibrant atmosphere, reasonable prices & tasty food. What else do you need.
Our Journey from Corumbá to Santa Cruz
Before setting off
We had spent countless hours trawling different blogs reading about which days the trains left, trying to plan whether we arrived on a Thursday/Friday and whether that meant we would be taking the Expresso Oriental or Ferrobus. The page most blogs quoted was Tickets Bolivia as being the best/only website to arrange your tickets in advance for the Death Train. The warning signs started early that the Death Train was not currently running having tried, on a number of occasions, to check this website for availability came back fruitless. It did however show that there were 2 buses you could book online both at 90Bs/$13.14 (per person) leaving at 6pm or 9pm with plenty of room, so we decided to head to the border, get ourselves to the train station & try to book the Tren de la Muerte on the Bolivian side. Looking on Google Maps if we went to the train station & it wasn’t an option the bus station was 2 only blocks away.
In addition to the online searches looking unhopeful, our Pousada owner had asked a friend when we arrived about booking the train ticket to Santa Cruz for us & he simply said “no train, but he could book bus tickets for $15 each”. We thanked him, declined & hoped this meant that he could not book train tickets, not that the train wasn’t running. We would stick to the plan of crossing the border & heading to the train station as so many travellers before us had done.
Getting to the Border in Corumbá
We had checked the night before for the option of Uber – all good just short of R$20, so our plan was to order an Uber in the morning, after breakfast. Unfortunately, what appeared to be the one and only Uber driver in Corumbá was refusing to take our fare 😤. After around 20 minutes of trying, we asked the owner of the pousada if he could order us a taxi & how much it would be. He rang a friend who said R$30. As we had run down our Real we only had R$27.90 left & after a bit of back & forth he agreed to the fare.
5 minutes later a car turned up, we threw our rucksacks in the boot & set off. The driver insisting, I sat in the front. We’re pretty certain this wasn’t a licenced cab but either way he took us to where we needed to go. Step one of the journey, not too much of a hiccup!
Crossing the Border from Brazil to Bolivia
Having read a number of blogs saying this border could take some time & making sure to get our passports stamped the border crossing, it turned out a lot easier than expect. Both sides done in about 20 minutes. We had at first wondered where to go to leave Brazil as there was a sign on the wall indicating “Entrada Para O Brazil” but we could not see “Saida”. A helpful Brazilian women pointed us in the right direction after a few minutes of looking lost! On closer inspection there was another sign above the door we had discounted stating “Entrada E Saide”.
The queue on both sides of the border consisted of only a few people so took next to no time & at both sides the passport officials stamped without having to point it out. Non the less I would still advise to be diligent in checking they have done this as although we had no problems, it must be a common occurrence as it is even stated on the gov.uk website!
There are also no officials manning the border and it seemed, if you wanted, you could walk straight across without even entering the offices to present your passport.
Visas on arrival in Bolivia
British nationals receive up to 90 days free on arrival so obtaining a visa beforehand is not something you need to worry about. If you are planning on staying for more than 30 days though, make sure you tell them this at the border as they may just stamp your passport with the 30 day stamp. It is always a good idea to check the current situation on the UK government website
It is also currently mandatory to register the addresses you are staying at on Bolivia. You can register and log them as you go here. Therefore, I’d recommend you book your first night’s accommodation before you arrive. No-one at the border asked us about this but whether they can see it electronically linked to your passport I’m not sure – either way it is best to follow the rules.
Getting to the Train Station (or not!!)
Having crossed the border into Puerto Quijarro in such a short time our spirits were high as to how easy it was. However, here’s where our dream of catching the “Death Train” completely crashed & burned! We asked the first taxi driver we came across how much it would be to the train station as to catch the train to Santa Cruz, his response was simple yet brutal …
“You don’t want to go to the train station, the train hasn’t run for 2 years but I can take you to the bus station”.
Plan B – The bus from Puerto Quijarro to Santa Cruz de la Sierra
Having stepped to one side to discuss in private what to do we concluded that there was no benefit for the driver to lie to us so bus was our only option, he was simply confirming what Tickets Bolivia had said & what the hostel owners friend had said. Bit slow catching on aren’t we?!
He said at this point that the bus left at 11am (28 minutes from now), we agreed to a fare of 40Bs (no bartering on our part which was a bit silly, I’m sure you could get this cheaper!). The journey to the bus station was fine, the driver friendly all be it the state of his car was a little alarming; it seemed to have been stripped to a shell with no dash board at all, no glove box, holes where the stereo & aircon had once been & in the footwells & no seatbelts! Either way he got us there alive!
Booking our bus
Walking into the bus station we were hit with about 20 people shouting at us that they could offer the best deal to Santa Cruz & they had the best bus. We’ve been to Bolivia before, but it was still a little overwhelming! The locals, who we found out experience the same thing when they enter, were giving us smiles of encouragement and one Brazilian tourist even came over to offer help and translation! Don’t be put off, this is just how they operate. Take your time and make the right decision for you, don’t feel pressured into anything.
We spoke to 2 companies (we went to the ones which looked the friendliest – no other research than this) & one was offering 60Bs in leito seats (see South American bus classes explained for more details), then the next was 50Bs. From there I asked to see the bus of the 50Bs one to make sure it looked comfortable for our 8 hours 30 minutes journey. All looked extremely comfortable, they ever offered us the front seats so no one else could roll their seats back on us & as an added bonus there was a “Free WIFI” sign on the side of the bus, bonus!!
What is the bus like from Puerto Quijarro to Santa Cruz
We boarded the bus just before 11am & waited, then waited a little longer. We ended up setting off at 11:40am, I suppose not to bad for South America time! Our excitement about free WIFI was short lived, we soon found out after trying to log on & speak to the driver that the WIFI was broken 🙄!
After setting off we pulled over when exiting the car park & were asked to pay a 2Bs fee per person tax for using the terminal. Seemed a little odd but the locals on the bus were asked to pay it too so we guessed it was normal.
Travelling more around Bolivia after this it seemed pretty standard, normally you pay it in the bus station.
The journey was comfortable, the main thing to point out was there was no meal stop apart from early on in the journey some locals came aboard selling food. If you get chance, it may be a good idea to buy some food before boarding just in case.
The lady who sold us the tickets did state we would get in at 7:30pm, although we didn’t actually get in until 9:30pm so take the journey time the sales people tell you with a pinch of salt. A 10 hour journey collaborates with the time taken stated online, so 11am-9pm is probably a more realistic expectation if you set off on time.
Sadly the “Death Train” does not seem to be running any more or at least not currently. If you do this journey in the future & finds it is running again, please let us know. One so we can take this article down & not mislead anyone else, but also as we would love to complete this great journey at some point!
Advise to other travellers, absolutely check Tickets Bolivia to see if the train is running before you set off. If like for us, it isn’t running don’t buy your tickets online as it looks to be about half the price at the ticket station & our bus was only ¼ full!
And lastly, set off a little earlier than we did. A bit of dumb luck got us to the bus station early enough to get the bus. We had planned not to set off too early as the train wasn’t scheduled to leave until 6pm & the bus alternatives were showing online as leaving at 6pm arriving at 3:30am & leaving at 9pm arriving at 7am. However, all of the bus companies seemed to have a bus leaving at 10:30/11am (ish ours didn’t actually leave until 11:40am).
The bus is very comfortable & cheap way to travel from Brazil to Santa Cruz, so absolutely go this route!