ALL ABOARD THE CRUISE TRAIN

Porthole Cruise Magazine - - Features -

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.

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