ALL ABOARD THE CRUISE TRAIN
With the increasing popularity of the Galapagos Islands, a preor post- cruise sojourn in charming Ecuador is an ideal choice for visitors looking to extend their South American travel adventures. Embracing the all- inclusive concept of cruising, Ecuador Rail has channeled an appealing initiative into a 4- day rail itinerary with its Tren Crucero spinoff.
Led by an alternating medley of authentic steam engines and diesel locomotives, four luxury train carriages are ushered through remote villages of the Ecuadorian highlands, exposing breathtaking views of the Andes Mountain range. Although a rail journey is generally depicted as a sedentary voyage of relaxation, that perception is quickly dispelled as Tren Crucero expounds on the inherent thrill of timeless train travel.
Prior to boarding the train in Guayaquil, Ecuador, for the northbound itinerary, guests are welcomed in the revitalized Durán Station’s VIP lounge for coffee, pastries, and fresh fruit juices. The journey begins as the train carves its way through the coastal plain area, rich with the agricultural bounty of rice, sugar cane, and enormous banana and pineapple plantations. Slicing through the very center of colorful villages, the pace is slow and deliberate, much like rural Ecuadorian life itself. Children of all ages rush to greet the train with waves and gleeful grins, as it’s a highlight diversion from isolated daily routines.
Much like one of cruising’s most essential elements, each day’s rail travel is punctuated with complimentary excursions. The first of many is a visit to a cacao plantation for a demonstration of the bean harvest process capped off by a chocolate tasting. Lunch is served on the grounds of a working hacienda, and adding to the authenticity factor, guests can enjoy the opportunity of milking a very contented and patient cow. Day one concludes in the town of Bucay with dinner and overnight accommodations in a traditional hostería.
Following breakfast, guests are transferred back to the train for the skyward ascent from the coastal lowlands to the cloud- enshrouded forests of the Andes. The hairpin journey through mythical Devil’s Nose pass is accomplished through a series of cliff- hugging, daunting switchbacks sampling Ecuador’s dramatic Andean scenery. After lunch on board, the dedicated bus transfers passengers to the indigenous village of Calpi, noted for its breeding and raising of llamas and alpacas. A preview of tomorrow’s journey is presented as views of the majestic Chimborazo Volcano come into sight before a night in a local hacienda.
A morning departure from Riobamba Station introduces guests to the historic “Black Monster” locomotive as it weaves through the Avenue of the Volcanoes and an encounter with the Ice Man of Chimborazo, the last of the hieleros. Accompanied by his two burros, Baltazar Ushca has been trekking to the glacial ice mines of the extinct volcano for more than 50 years to harvest blocks of ice by hand for sale in the local markets. The remaining morning hours find the train traversing the countryside with the spectacle of no less than 12 volcanoes.
Arrival in Quito signals an all-too- soon end to three spectacular days of scenic splendor as guests are hosted at the Quito Swissotel, transitioning to re- entry into reality. A bus transfer to northern Ecuador joins up with an older colonial train on the final day’s leg for a visit to a traditional market, small villages, and sampling of Ecuadorian treats. Tren Crucero has integrated the components of multiple mini excursions, endemic culture, and regional cuisine along with overnight stays in the countryside, blending them all into a captivating dose of nostalgic rail travel. — S. L.