The Tren Crucero & Devil’s Nose Train
It’s back! 2013 saw the restoration work completed and one of the world’s most exciting railway journeys back on the Adventure Travel menu!
The 4-day journey by train from Quito, high in the Andes, via Riobamba and Bucay to Guayaquil, Ecuador’s second city down on the Pacific coast (And v.v.) has been reintroduced. The train climbs up and down mountainsides where several of the hairpin-bends are so tight that it has to shunt around them. The sheer scale of the mountains, many higher than 6,000m and permanently snow-capped, is spectacular. In fact, Chimborazo (6,268m) in not only Ecuador’s highest peak, its summit is the point on Earth that is closest to the Sun – due to an elliptical bulge in the Earth’s surface.
This is not just a Point A to Point B trip: you stop along the way to explore and overnight is some really impressive haciendas (traditional farmhouse, newly renovated to a high spec’).
Itinerary – can be done in either direction.
Day 1. Quito to Lasso
08:00 hrs board the Tren Crucero at Chimbacalle, Quito central station, and set off for El Boliche where you disembark for a visit to Cotopaxi National Park. A bus will run you in to the park itself so that you can hike to the volcano’s lower slopes where you see the solidified larva floes and unusual plants that colonise them. There are about 40 pairs of Condors resident on this dormant volcanoand you will have ample time to walk to Limpiopungo glacial lake. Cotopaxi (5,897 m) is an important reserve for a variety of Andean animals including the caracaras, Andean gulls, Andean deer, wolves and the unique spectacle bear of South America (this is one of the last places to see them).
The journey continues to San Agustin del Callo which is a traditional hacienda (farmstead) where a traditional lunch will be waiting for you. The hacienda is built on Inca ruins and the Inca walls are visible in the foundations. A traditional folk dance and farewell at Lasso train station will see the train off.
Overnight and dinner at La Cienega hacienda. This hacienda once lodged scientist Alexander Von Humboldt (as in “The Humboldt Current”) and the members of the French Geodesic Mission while they attempted to measure the exact circumference of Earth for the first time. It also lodged South America’s favourite son, the liberator Simon Bolivar, who led four countries to independence from Spain.
Day 2. Lasso to Riobamba
After breakfast, depart by bus to Latacunga train station and rejoin the train to continue the journey south. Pause along the way to explore a rose plantation and learn about Fair Trade Ecuadorian roses and how they are cultivated. Continue to Ambato and bask in the town’s warm climate. Lunch will be served at Roka Plaza hotel, a traditional colonial house. If weather permits, there will be – from a safe distance – an impressive view of Tungurahua volcano, which is still active and occasionally offers nature’s most impressive performance, an eruption.
After lunch continue on board the train to Urbina station (11,840’; 3,609 m) making it the highest train station in the country. Meet the last ice-trader who will explain how he visits the slopes of Chimborazo Volcano every day to dig ice from the glacier. There’s a great view of Chimborazo volcano from this point.
A bus will take you to the Abraspungo Inn for dinner and overnight. (B / L / D)
Day 3. Riobamba to Bucay.
Set off for Riobamba train station straight after breakfast and board the newly restored steam train that continues across Andean mountain-scapes to Colta. Short stop at Balbanera church en route where Christianity first arrived in Ecuador, nearly 500 years ago. Back on the train, depart to Guamote which has an lively local market which is well worth exploring. This market is one of the last in the Andes where traders barter and exchange products as they have done for at least four-thousand years. Lunch will be served at the train station.
In the afternoon depart by train to Alausi where the descent to the emblematic Devil´s Nose begins. The train performs a series of zigzag manoeuvre to descent 535 meters while traveling just 12 Km. A short stop will be taken at a viewpoint to appreciate this major engineering achievement that earned this line the sobriquet “the most difficult railway ever built”. And so to Huigra, a small village between the Andes and the Ocean where we dine and overnight in Eterna Primavera Lodge.
Day 4. Bucay to Duran.
Return to the station by bus and follow the Chanchan River to Bucay. Once in Bucay visit the Shuar community, who migrated many years ago from the Amazon basin to the coast. The community will share some of their ancestral customs and traditions. Continue by bus to ranch San Rafael for lunch.
In the afternoon board the train to continue to Durán train station. The restored steam locomotive passes through typical coastal plantations of bananas, sugarcane and rice to reach Duran. Transfer by bus to Mansion del Rio boutique hotel, Guayaquil.
Day 5. Journey ends after breakfast.
Elevation Map (click on map to enlarge)