Trains! I’ve already expressed my love for their intrinsically romantic nature in this post, and had the luck to experience some fantastically scenic journeys in my life so far. Suffice to say, I’m a fan of the train as a means of getting from A to B, even if the activity upon arriving at B is to remount the train and return to A.
There is a saying that the journey is more important than the destination. In the case of the Devil’s Nose Train (known locally as the Nariz del Diablo) in Ecuador, this is definitely the case, because the destination is ultimately the starting point. So if spending nearly three hours travelling to your starting point isn’t your thing, maybe you can skip this one.
If on the other hand, spending three hours learning about one of the greatest rail engineering feats in the world whilst marvelling at spectacular Andean scenery is your thing, you should probably give this train ride a go.
A quick summary of what it is then, before we go on. The Devil’s Nose train ride takes you from the town of Alausi on a forty five minute ride down to Silambe – a journey through gorgeous mountain scenery in which time the train descends nearly a vertical kilometre in height. Not bad given it was built at the turn of the 20th century.
Back in the day, when health and safety was something other countries did, the Devil’s Nose train ride was a steam powered affair where the passengers were allowed to sit on the roof of the train’s carriages. This was, I am told, tremendous fun. It was also somewhat dangerous, what with those huge cliffs on the side of the track. Inevitably, a number of fatalities resulted, and today’s journey is confined to the interior of the train.
It’s not all bad news though. The carriages are brand new and very comfortable. And the windows, thankfully, can be opened, meaning that if you’re taking photos you don’t need to deal with nasty reflections. Plus you can get those lovely views of the train curving ahead and behind you.
So, what did we think of our experience?
We took the 8am train, as this part of the world tends to start off sunny and then cloud over as the day progresses. We were rewarded for this decision by spectacular weather, which made for a stunning ride.
As I mentioned before, we’ve been lucky enough to experience some quite gorgeous train rides, with our trip on the Flam railway down to the fjords of Norway being a real highlight.
This was easily as spectacular as that ride.
The train spends 45 minutes winding down the hillside from Alausi, and you can often see the tracks below you where you’ll be riding soon. There are waterfalls and rivers and gorges, and vertigo inducing drops. The actual descent of the Devil’s Nose is incredible, as the train has to switchback on itself twice in order to get down the, once thought impassable, hillside.
The views are incredible, and as per usual, I’ll leave it to the photos to do the talking.
At the bottom, you are greeted by a group of traditionally dressed locals who entertain you with some dancing, before being shown around the museum, which has all the information you might want on the construction of the rail line. The price also includes a light snack and a drink.
There’s lots of time to take photographs of the train, the train line and the beautifully dressed locals, before you clamber back on board for the ascent, which takes half an hour. Presumably the driver puts his foot down to get up the hill.
Overall, at $25, this is a relatively pricey experience, especially as of the 2.5 hours that the trip takes, only an hour and fifteen minutes are spent on the train itself, covering 12km in each direction. Still, the views and experience are very much worth it, and so we would firmly recommend this to anyone who likes to experience spectacular scenery, or has any kind of interest in trains.
Where to ride the Devil’s Nose Train?
At the time of writing it was only possible to ride the Devil’s Nose Train from Alausi, a small town around 2 hours bus ride from Riobamba. Tickets can be purchased at the train station in Alausi, which when we were there was open all day. Seats are reserved, and you’ll want to ask to sit on the right hand side for the best views when buying your ticket.
There is a also a train running between Quito and Guayaquil that takes in the Devil’s Nose, but it’s a specific tourist train rather than a scheduled service. It may be that a scheduled service between other destinations and the Devil’s Nose will open up in the future, so the best option is to ask at a Tren Ecuador office when in country, or check out the Ecuador by Train website for the latest information.
Is there anything else to do in Alausi?
Alausi isn’t that big, but if you’re planning on catching the early morning train as we did, you’ll probably want to arrive here the day before. If you do, there are a couple of things worth doing to occupy your time.
One, check out El Puente Negro. It’s a short walk (about half a kilometre) from the train station in the direction that goes slightly uphill. Follow the tracks, and you’ll find this fantastic old bridge, which spans 103 metres, and is 19 metres high.
If you’re feeling brave, you can also walk across the bridge. This requires a fairly steady foot and strong nerve, because there are no railings, and it’s just rails and wooden sleepers with large gaps between them.
Note: there are signs warning that walking across the bridge isn’t allowed, and clearly if the train service ever becomes regular in this area, it would be a dangerous thing to do as there is no way of stepping to the side to avoid the train.
Two, visit the statue of St. Peter. Standing on a hill near the town centre, this huge statue is hard to miss. He’s both photogenic, and offers a great view of the town and surrounding valley without too much effort required.
Getting to and from Alausi, and where to stay
Alausi is quite easy to get to, being as it is on the Trans Americas Highway. You can either get a bus directly to the town from Riobamba or Cuenca (2 hours and 5 hours respectively), or you can take any bus that travels between Riobamba and Cuenca and ask to be let off on the highway. This latter option does require you to walk down into town from the highway though, roughly 1.5km in distance.
We stayed at the Hotel Europa in Alausi. This was both reasonably priced and very central. Plus, the bus stopped right outside, which made it easier. There’s not a great deal of choice in town, but there are a few options, and it won’t take you long to find them all if you’re of a mind to wander around and check them out.