The Train Cemetery of Uyuni

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Desolate, dusty Uyuni in the sparsely populated southwest of Bolivia feels like a town abandoned to the march of history. Founded in 1889, it was once a bustling railway hub connecting Bolivia’s mines with the world beyond the Pacific. But the mines eventually dried up, and the trains stopped running. Rather than decommissioning and selling them as scrap, depressed Uyuni left the useless locomotives to rot in a fascinating “train cemetery” just a few kilometers outside the city.

On our three-day tour of the Salar de Uyuni and Boliva’s arid southwest corner, our first stop was the Train Cemetery, where we were allowed to clamber onto and into the old railway cars. It made me feel like one of the Boxcar Children. Or, like a dirty bum.

These were the first locomotives of Bolivia, and wandering around their rusty carcasses left a strong impression. Most other countries would have removed the old trains, cordoned them off, or perhaps made a museum out of them. The fact that they’ve been abandoned here to be stripped by locals and climbed upon by monkey-like foreigners might not be the most constructive or safest idea, but it’s pretty awesome.

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This Post Has 8 Comments

  1. Diane

    it is pretty awesome. marfa has nothing on this and nobody is even crowing about this as art, but it is the most wonderful sculpture. i am loving bolivia, and you are showing me things i would never see otherwise. thank you. you rock. 🙂
    ps–they passed gay marriage in new york state!!!!
    so it’s a good day!!!!

    1. Juergen

      Yeah, we thought too they were like art sculptures! Those trains just look amazing against that landscape. Too bad we didn’t have more time to explore the train cemetery … it’s huge and we only got to see a small part of it.

      Next time I would plan in an other half day and bike out there myself to really explore it.

  2. Globetrottergirls

    I am dying to go to the train cemetery, and your pictures are the best I’ve seen of it so far.

    1. Juergen

      Loved the train cemetery!!! We got so lucky with our operator and the other people on our tour. They were all awesome! When you go take time to pick a good company – this will make the whole difference! We heard so many horror salt flat horror stories!!!!

  3. Sara

    Nice blog. Are there still railway lines as well, or have they been taken apart? In your one photo, it kind of looks like there’s a line there, but does it actually lead anywhere?

    1. Mike Powell

      The lines have all been dismantled. The line was originally built by the British, to help move minerals to the Pacific Ocean… the trains stopped in the 1940s, though.

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