On a Budget in Ecuador: A Train Ride for the Ages

by  Elissa Garay | Jul 3, 2013
Alausí, Ecuador
Alausí, Ecuador / Tiago_Fernandez/iStock

In the Ecuadorean Andes, you'll find take-your-breath-away landscapes (quite literally sometimes, considering the high altitude of the region) in the "Avenue of the Volcanoes." Think soaring peaks, volcanic craters, and verdant valleys. One particularly scenic slice of this mountain paradise can be viewed by descending down to the colorful little mountain town of Alausí, where a more than century-old train ride – dubbed the Nariz del Diablo (or, The Devil’s Nose) – whisks passengers along.

The train borrows its name from the nose-shaped mountain that it descends, and runs along what's considered to be the Western world’s steepest stretch of railway. Finished in the early 20th century, the route follows a series of switchbacks on a zigzag stretch down sheer rock wall, while a bilingual guide offers tidbits of rail-related information. Guests disembark for a spell in Sibambe, an old train station, where they're greeted with traditional dancers, some refreshments, and passes to a museum that highlights the history of the railway.

John Garay

Apart from the Andean scenery, the real allure of the Devil’s Nose lies in its history. Construction along this near-vertical rock face began in 1899 as part of Ecuador’s first railway system, which linked the capital of Quito, in the Andean highlands, to the coastal capital of Guayaquil. This bold engineering feat was not without peril, and was dubbed “the most difficult railway in the world” for good reason. More than half of the 5,000 laborers who worked on it reportedly lost their lives due to harsh working conditions before it was finally completed in 1908.

The larger, historic Quito-to-Guayquil line, meanwhile, was destroyed when El Niño flooding took out large sections of track in the late ‘90s, but has since been restored in a quarter-billion-dollar renovation project. It just launched renewed operations, offering luxury classic train journeys lasting up to three nights, this June.

The Devil’s Nose train departs three times per day from Tuesday through Sunday; round-trip rides last about 2.5 hours; standard rates are $25, including a snack. Advance reservations are recommended; TrenEcuador.com.

Incurable travel addict, longtime travel scribe, and mindful money-saver Elissa Richard is currently indulging her insatiable wanderlust on an epic 14-month journey around the globe – intent on making it every step of the way without busting her modest budget. Follow her along the way as she reports back with budget-savvy travel tips from the mountains of Transylvania to the wilds of Tasmania, and from the little-trodden temples of Burma to the bustling bars and clubs of Buenos Aires. A vagabond in search of value, just for ShermansTravel!

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