Two people exploring the world, seeking adventure & unique experiences.
What is it?
La Nariz del Diablo (The Devil’s Nose) is a train trip that includes a significant engineering feat as it goes through a 600m (2000ft) altitude change over 10km (6mi) of distance between two stations via two switchbacks (a zig zag railroad). This was once a very important link in getting trains from the south of Ecuador up to the North through the Andes. It gets its name from all the people that died trying to construct the railway line on the side of the mountain.
Ecuador’s trains were all but non-existent by the end of the 20th Century. This is a similar situation to many countries around the world where roads and cars had taken prime place in transport. Ecuador in the past 5 or so years has come to learn that tourists will pay huge sums of money for travelling on a train through beautiful scenery and has begun an expensive and comprehensive restoration of train routes.
As recently as around 2010 you could ride on the roof of the train. This has since been permanently banned due to a couple of deaths that occurred.
Be warned, this really is a tourist only experience, with people jumping around and pushing you out of the way to get photos and a better view, or simply being ignorant of getting in the way of your photos.
How/where to buy tickets
Check out the Tren Ecuador website for further information. As at June 2014, the train only runs a return trip from Alausi to Sibambe three times a day 8am, 11am and 3pm costing $25pp including a drink and snack at the Sibambe train station. The number of trains running seems to change daily based on demand. There was only one the day before our trip and only two running on our day when originally it was three. Only two of the four carriages were filled for our train, so we suspect there was not enough demand. We booked our tickets from the Riobamba train station and when we tried to book our train at 1pm the day before departure, the 11am train was full. We’d checked the day before this at 3.30pm there were 68 seats available for that 11am train. Confused with what was happening, we booked the 8am train. Tickets can also be bought in Quito and Alausi.
We’d already paid for our night in Riobamba, so we got on an early morning bus at 4.45am to Alausi (2 hours / $1.90pp). We used Transporte Alausi which also has a 5am departure. The next bus is at 6.15am and you would certainly not get on the 8am departing train.
We’d arrived early and the town was fairly quiet so we headed straight to the train station. We were so early that the train station wasn’t even open yet (opens at 7am). Luckily there were some tables and chairs to sit on and relax.
The town itself is quite colourful and looks like a decent place to spend a night if you wanted to.
The train has a diesel locomotive, 4 carriages and a cargo carriage. Seating is arranged face to face with one side having a 4 seat combination and the other side 2 seats. We think that the 2 seat combo side had the better views as this is on the right hand side facing forward on the way down.
We didn’t actually sit on this side, but as the train starts moving, most people stand up to start taking photos. The top half of the window slides open so you can get photos without window glare. There’s so much space that you can stick your arms and even your whole head outside.
The ride down has a person giving commentary in Spanish and English, though it was hard to hear and understand at times with the noise of the train.
The switchbacks are what most people are interested in, but they happen fairly quickly. Essentially the first one is the train driving into a dead end and stopping for the switchman at the back to change the tracks. The train then drives in reverse for a section of track into another dead end. The train then continues going forward towards the final station. It’s all fairly ingenious and quite a quick process. The whole trip down takes about 40 minutes.
At the bottom the train goes past the station by a few hundred metres to a holding area where everyone gets off for 10 minutes to take photos of Devils Nose and with the train.
We then get back on the train and continue back to the station to exit for a 1 hour stop. This is where you use your voucher (included in ticket price) to get a sandwich and drink, or buy something more if you want.
At the station there are a variety of touristy things to do such as:
1) Watch the local indigenous dancers perform for you.
2) Go to the museum a 2 minute walk up some stairs (included in ticket price)
3) Take a ride on a horse of Llama.
An hour is plenty of time to see everything before getting back on and returning to Alausi. This will give you a chance to get some photos if you missed anything on the way down.
On our return trip we were followed by a helicopter and camera crew. Apparently it was for a German documentary about unique trains in the world. Most of the passengers were more interested in waving for the cameras or taking photos of the helicopter.
In summary the trip is nice and scenic but you’d probably want to like trains a lot like Toby to properly enjoy it. For $25pp it’s not a cheap 2.5hr trip but it is fairly unique. It also helps if you do it on your way to your next destination so you’re not wasting a whole day of travel doing it.
The whole tourist factor that sits around it can be a little irritating as can be the other tourists.
Alausi to Cuenca
After leaving the train it was time for our next destination of Cuenca. The buses depart from the top of the hill about a 10 minute walk from the train station. There’s no formal bus station, it’s just a roadside stop. We got on an 11.30am Patria bus ($5ea) that took about 4 hours to get to Cuenca. Luckily we’d stopped for a take away snack of Papas y Pollo (Hot chips and Chicken) for $1.50 to get us through to Cuenca.
Plenty more to explore. Keep following the blog and our Flickr account for updates.http://www.flickr.com/photos/toraadventure/