Published on : Thursday, July 9, 2015
Ecuador’s recently refurbished Tren Crucero from the volcano-flecked Andes to the country’s tropical coast is emerging as one of the world’s most thrilling rail journeys and now adventure-seeking Australians can experience the spectacular journey themselves.
While for Australians, Ecuador is perhaps best known for the Galápagos Islands, made famous by Charles Darwin, Ecuador also offers a number of other unique holiday experiences, including 50 surf beaches, a breathtaking avenue of active volcanoes, ancient Inca ruins, largely untouched traditional indigenous villages, the Amazon jungle and Tren Crucero – one of the world’s great rail trips. Lonely Planet has billed the Tren Crucero as one of the world’s five ‘unmissable rail journeys’.
The rail passage from Ecuador’s capital, Quito, in the Andes, to Guayaquil on the sunny, Pacific coast was originally created over a century ago in order to unite the country. The most difficult stretch to build was a section of track which weaves its way up and down a steep mountain called The Devil’s Nose because of the many deaths among the workers that occurred there and the nose-like shape of the jagged cliff face.
In the 1990s most of the rail network fell into disuse but since 2008 US$280 million has been invested in refurbishing the Tren Crucero route. It reopened in 2013 and now regularly takes travellers along a 448km route, allowing them to experience the diversity of the Ecuadorian landscape – including rainforests, mountains, volcanoes and the coast. The dramatic Devil’s Nose, with its steep zig-zagging sections, remains the most exhilarating section of the route and is regarded as the most difficult piece of railway in the world. A series of switchbacks enable the train to rise 2945m in just 56km.
The four-day/three-night rail journey between Quito and Guayaquil can be taken in either direction year-round and forms an ideal pre or post cruise in the Galapagos Islands. Along the journey, travellers will visit indigenous communities and historic churches and travel past the world’s tallest volcanoes, with several sections hauled by steam locomotives. The train passes close to Mt Chimborazo (6268m) – the closest point on Earth to the sun due to Ecuador’s position on the equator. Local villagers also sell hand-knitted llama garments to passengers along the route.