Traveling in Ecuador by train is an engaging experience-one that traverses routes that have been used for centuries. In the early days of the republic, over the terms of two conflicted presidents, the country developed train lines that connected Quito to Guayaquil. This feat required ascending and descending a riveting set of switchbacks, the Devil’s Nose, to connect the coast to the mountains.
Over the last decade, Ecuador’s train system has been revitalized into a network of trips that take you around the country in style, making the journeys just as exciting as the destinations. Keep reading for four train trips in Ecuador that whisk you away to a time where train travel was all the rage.
The Tren Crucero route was completed in the same era that saw the completion of the Panama Canal. It connects the capital to the coastal city of Guayaquil-traveling through landscapes that ignite the imagination, across territory where the Inca battled and the Spanish conquered.
Lonely Planet called the journey one of the “Top 5 Unmissable Journeys by Rail”, and international travel sites and publications include it prominently when mentioning Ecuador.
The reason for this is multi-faceted. The journey takes you high into the Andes where the sweeping landscapes include awe-inspiring volcanoes, riveting peaks, and terraced hillsides.
Another surprising aspect of this trip is the stops along the way. During different legs of the journey, a steam locomotive delivers you to small towns in the Andes where traditional markets, towering peaks, and indigenous people are gateways into the traditional ways of life in Ecuador.
The standards of service reflect the elegance and luxury of the bygone eras of travel. First class food, appointments, and guides match the surroundings-and overnight stays at historic haciendas put the excursion at the top of slow travel enthusiasts lists from near and far.
Towards the end of the four-day ride, there is a stop at another historic hacienda near the coast. Passengers explore the art of chocolate making from the bean to the bar. Tastings and lunch offer an over-the-top immersion into one of the countries gourmet exports. The Nacional cacao bean is exported to some of the world’s leading chocolate makers and has fostered a resurgence in national brands that produce mouth-watering dark chocolate.
The Devil’s Nose trip is a marvel of engineering-it is the fulcrum for connecting Quito to the coast and a feat that became recognized worldwide when completed. The journey takes you through a series of switchbacks that cover just under 1500 vertical feet over seven and a half miles.
The scenery is stunning-landscapes fill with fields of color, patch-worked hills, and sweeping views that extend to the upcoming horizon.
The Devil’s Nose is an adventure awaiting those looking for a fun 2-day trip from Quito between the other legs of their time in Ecuador. The itinerary has stops at Cotopaxi National Park, where exploring the tundra around the behemoth volcano finds you at high vistas overlooking the other peaks of the Avenue of the Volcanoes.
The route turns around in Sibambe, a small town where native people perform traditional dances and a small market offers crafts and keepsakes. After lunch, the train heads back to Alausi. The entire ride takes under three hours.
The Train of Liberty spans the northern highlands between Ibarra and the inland town of Salinas-not to be confused with the beach city in the south of Ecuador.
It’s a short but relaxing trip that takes in the sights of rural Ecuador-while motorcycle escorts ride ahead and block traffic for the train. Salinas is one of the places that Afro-Ecuadorians settled after immigrating from the coast. The small, charming town is dotted with murals, historic plazas, and a growing museum that documents the journey of the town’s residents. There is a small restaurant at the train station and a café-style eatery across from the museum where set lunches are served.
The Avenue of the Volcanoes is south of Quito, where Cotopaxi, Chimborazo, Antisana, and El Altar are a fraction of the peaks that watch over the lands below.
The Train of the Volcanoes runs from Quito through the towering giants, stopping in Machachi and El Boliche, at the base of Cotopaxi volcano. The natural vibrancy of the land comes to life on this trip, and exploring the wildlands of El Boliche is a great break from the hustle and bustle of the city. Machachi is the trek’s stop for lunch before heading back to Quito.
Traveling in Ecuador by train moves at a relaxing pace, one where the scenery turns conversations to adventure and the great train rides around the world. For more information about taking a tour by train, and custom-made trips that combine the best destinations of Ecuador, contact a member of our team.