Previously we had done lots of research on how to get from Brazil to Bolivia and came to the conclusion that other than flying – which was very expensive and involved long layover times – there was no easy way to get to our next destination. To bus the whole way would take days. We considered choosing some towns in between to stop at but nothing popped out at us. We checked for flights daily and one day caught a sale from Rio de Janeiro to Campo Grande which is just over half way to the Brazilian/Bolivian border (it seems like only domestic flights are cheap in South America).
LEG 1: FLY
Rio de Janeiro to Campo Grande via Sao Paulo.
LEG 2: OVERNIGHT BUS
From the airport we taxied to the bus station where we had a four hour wait before our overnight bus. The bus trip took six hours and needless to say we didn’t get much sleep. The bus was air-conditioned (we paid extra for this) and relatively comfortable.
LEG 3: BORDER CROSSING
We arrived in Corumba, Brazil early in the morning – it was still pitch black and nothing was open. We managed to find out where the local bus stop was and caught a city bus which transferred us to another city bus and dropped us off at the Brazilian border around 6 AM… The border opened at 8 AM. Luckily this meant we were the first in line which was a blessing as there were about 50 people lined up by the time the doors opened. From there we walked across a mini bridge to the Bolivian border, lined up again and got our entry stamp. We then caught a cab into Quijarro town to a hotel we had read was decent and near the train station. Reading online that the train left early the next morning we booked a room at the hotel and took a much needed shower.
LEG 4: THE DEATH TRAIN
The “Death Train”, which got its nick-name due to transporting Yellow Fever victims in the past, runs from Quijarro to Santa Cruz. We went to the train station to pre-buy our tickets for the next day only to find out the train didn’t leave in the morning, it departs in the evening (none of the schedules online or even the one in front of the train station were correct!). There was a cheaper local train (1/4 the price of the ‘tourist train’) at the station getting ready to depart that afternoon, so we decided to buy tickets for it instead, this in itself was a bit of a mission, but we managed (we had no Bolivianos, only USD). We then had to run back to our hotel to try and cancel our room and grab our bags. We got away with paying half price for the room and the shower was probably worth it.
The train was very slow and bumpy, it maxed out at about 30km/hr and stopped constantly at shanty towns along the way. The views were nothing spectacular, we saw lots of pigs, cows and chickens wandering about the countryside. On the train there was a “restaurant” that served one meal and had limited water and soda (it ran out of water before evening). We managed to buy food and water at some of the stops where locals would jump on the train trying to sell their goods (the most popular item being large bags of small lemons which everyone seemed to buy and we have no idea what they did with them). The train had ‘entertainment’ which first consisted of obnoxious music accompanied by hilarious music videos. After a couple hours this switched to movies which were played ridiculously loud. So much so that by 10:00PM we had had enough and broke into the A/V panel outside the rail car and turned the volume completely off closing the panel behind us with a coin. Luckily no one seemed to mind and the volume stayed off for the remainder of the night. Since the train only cost us 15$ each we couldn’t really complain…
Extremely under-slept we arrived in Santa Cruz at 5:30AM and walked to our hostel where they informed us we couldn’t check-in until 2:00PM. Too tired and worn out to do anything we lazed around the reception area on the couches all morning.
Overall, the entire journey from Rio de Janeiro to Santa Cruz took us 42 hours.