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Don’t Miss a Ride on Ecuador’s Trains

Article Summary:

The Ecuadorean government is investing $250 million to restore the country’s long-neglected train system, which will include relaunching train routes geared to tourists with new stations, renovated railcars, and guided narrations onboard.

Photo Credit: Go Ecuador

Original Article Text From Travel Weekly:

With rail tours, Ecuador seeking to expand tourism message

The Ecuadorean government is investing $250 million to restore the country’s long-neglected train system.

The project includes relaunching train routes geared to tourists with new stations, renovated railcars and guided narration onboard.

In January 2012, the government opened a restored train station in the northern mountain city of Ibarra, bringing back a long-abandoned route to Salinas, a town whose population includes descendants of Jamaican railway workers.

Also restored is the Devil’s Nose, Ecuador’s most famous rail line, a 19th century engineering marvel high in the Andes.

Finally, the largest rail project opened this June, a 277-mile rail line between the country’s capital, Quito, and Duran, a town near the coastal city of Guayaquil.

Katherine Plua, a spokeswoman for Ecuador’s Ministry of Tourism, said that the government’s aim is to improve local economies along the train routes.

“The main objective of this investment is to generate new income sources in the local communities related to tourism activities,” she said. “Another goal is to rehabilitate this cultural heritage for the Ecuadorean people and also to convert the trains into the most important tourist trains in Latin America.”

Plua also said the hope is that the trains expand tourism in Ecuador’s interior; the country struggles to entice travelers beyond the Galapagos.

“The trains offer a unique opportunity to get to know Ecuador in a different way. It takes you on a trip though the history and culture and lets you see unique landscapes that can be appreciated only from the railway, taste the delicious cuisine and meet with the local indigenous communities.”

TrenEcuador, the agency that operates the country’s rail system, has created tours ranging from one to four nights, including an itinerary along the Avenue of the Volcanoes. The trips use historical hotels for accommodations and make the three restored train routes their centerpieces.

In addition, a tour operator, Tropic Journeys in Nature, last week announced three-night rail programs featuring the newly opened line from Quito to Guayaquil. Rates are $1,270 per person, including lodging, excursions and guides.

The Ibarra-Salinas and the Devil’s Nose rail excursions were highlights of my recent press trip to Ecuador. Both routes start and end at historical stations, now restored and offering European-style cafes and shops. Along the routes, guides provide narration in Spanish and English.

The train trips are sold as packages that include excursions, meals, performances and guides.

The train track from Ibarra runs through a variety of landscapes, from mountains to lush subtropics with fields of sugarcane. The 90-minute trip aboard restored antique railcars ends in Salinas, where Afro-Ecuadorean dancers, the railway workers’ descendants, perform at the station.

The Devil’s Nose route became famous among legions of backpackers who sat on railcar roofs for a breathtaking experience.

That experience is less daring today, the cars replaced with luxurious, modern railcars and indoor-only seating.

But the route follows the same track, laid between 1872 and 1876 on a harrowing river gorge, running from the mountain town of Alausi through a series of switchbacks around hilly farms operated by indigenous people and a wall of rock known as the Devil’s Nose.

The train station at Sibambe at the bottom of the river gorge has a panoramic restaurant and small museum where guides give short talks about the route’s remarkable history. Locals in elaborate, colorful costumes serve lunch, sell souvenirs and entertain with music and dance.

The roundtrip excursion from Alausi lasts about three hours, including a one-hour stop at Sibambe.

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From Travel Weekly

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