It is considered one of the world’s most dangerous train rides. The section of Ecuador’s railway aptly titled ‘the Devil’s Nose’, was responsible for some 2000 deaths during construction and even a few gringos after that. It was a remarkable feat for a developing country to build a train system over a century ago that crossed the Andes linking Quito to Guayaquil.
The Devil’s Nose traverses the rocky slopes of the Andes and drops 500 meters over a course of 12km via a switch back system. The switch-back track involves the train moving past a junction, stopping and then heading back down the section to the next junction and moving forward again continuing down the mountain. The mountain side, called ‘the Condors Aerie’ in the town of Alausi, was last section of rail needed to connect the Quito and Guayaquil lines.
In 1901, this became known as the ‘Devil’s Nose’ because of the deaths of many workers that occurred there due to the difficulty of construction. To construct the devil’s nose track, 3 000 Jamaicans and 1 000 Puerto Ricans were brought in. Unfortunately so many died during construction, only about 300 stayed in Ecuador.
Even though much of the rail system has deteriorated, the section of the ‘Devil’s Nose’ has remained well kept because it has been such an attraction for tourists. Tourists flock from all over South America to take their journey down the Devil’s Nose. Visitors used to be able to take their seats on the top of the train over-looking the valley which claimed so many lives and make their journey from the top to the bottom and back up again. However, due to the deaths of a couple of tourists and a few broken bones of others, they have terminated this ticket and now limit riders to the interior of the train only.
The ride itself is fabulous, leaving 3 times a day at 8:00am, 11:00am, and 3:00pm and is of the best $30.00 I spent in Ecuador. After boarding the train, you are given an informational tour about the history of the Ecuadorian rail and Devil’s Nose section in both English and Spanish as you traverse the historical switch back track.
At the bottom of the valley, tourists have the opportunity to leave the train to take photographs, watch some traditional dancers, visit the museum and buy handicrafts. We spent our train break drinking coffee from the café up a few flights of exterior stairs located beside the museum. From the outdoor café we enjoyed a beautiful view of the Andes partly because of the beautiful weather we were lucky enough to have. The tour also includes a boxed lunch (sandwiches) that you can pick up on your way back to the train. The train then departs and heads back through the switch-back track, but this time up to the top of the valley. A total tour duration of 2 hours, still this was probably one of the best ‘bang for your buck’ moments I had in Ecuador.
The town of Alausi also has some of the best restaurants I sampled in Ecuador. Small “hole-in-the-wall” restaurants served delicious homemade local fare for a super reasonable price. To get to this small town you will have to take a bus to Riobamba, or towards Guayaquil and ask the bus driver to drop you off at Alausi. Yes you will be dropped off on the highway BUT it is only a short 4 block walk to the main street in town.