Riding the Devil’s Nose train in Ecuador is consistently thrown around in conversation as one of the country’s top things to do. Locals and travelers alike have recommended it to us, and for that reason (also because I love trains), I knew we had to do it. Let’s conveniently ignore the logistics of what/how/where (as I did) for now— we’ll get into that later.
For such a small country, Ecuador has some of the most diverse landscapes in the world, from the coastal plains to the Andes highlands to the Amazonian jungles. Despite challenges due to such geographic diversity, a continental railway connecting Quito and Guayaquil was completed in 1908. The most difficult section in terms of engineering technicality was a segment in between two small towns, Alausi and Sibambe.
Today, that section is called Nariz del Diablo, or “Devil’s Nose”. It’s referencing a mountain that (putting on our imagination hat), looks like the profile of a someone’s face as they are lying down. It was here that railroad workers used dynamite to carve a zig-zag track that the train uses to climb or descend 500 meters in only 12 kilometers using switchbacks.
Tragically, many workers (mostly of Jamaican and Puerto Rican descent) were killed in these dynamite explosions, and overall approximately 2,000 workers died building just this one section. This is probably the reason why it’s now called “Devil’s Nose”, instead of something a bit more ambiguous.
Due to the more popular road system in Ecuador, the once-heralded Trans-Andean railway is now only used by tourists. It’s not even possible to ride from Quito to Guayaquil anymore, as some sections of the track are damaged or have been built over. Instead, you can purchase a day trip to ride a specific rail section, e.g. Otovalo – Salinas, Duran – Naranjito, or Alausi – Sibambe, with return trips to the departing station. Since the rail trips are actually rather short, the ride also includes stops for additional activities such as hiking, farm visits, or dance performances to beef up the itinerary.
Note that you can purchase a train ticket from Guayaquil – Quito, however where they don’t offer rail service, you are taken by bus, and in total, it costs an astounding $1,500+ per person (the luxury trip is broken up over 4 days).
The Devil’s Nose train is the most (in)famous of the eight rail sections, and we got the chance to ride it a few days ago. Our verdict? It’s a must-do activity if you’re able to combine this with seeing the Ingapirca ruins, or if you happen to be traveling in-between Cuenca and Quito. Unless you are someone who just loves trains, we don’t think it’s a necessary activity to travel all the way from Cuenca or Quito for due to transportation time and limited activities in Alausi.
In fact, if you are in Quito, my recommendation would be to ride the Tren de los Volcanes (Quito – El Boliche – Machachi – Quito). You still get to experience the Trans-Andean railway, enjoy the beautiful Ecuadorian countryside, and depart from a station within Quito proper.
That being said, the pictures speak for themselves. It’s an amazingly beautiful ride, and we’re glad to have seen a slice of life in little Alausi. If you do plan on going, here are our tips for a great experience.
General information about Devil’s Nose
- If you’re coming from Cuenca, we recommend combining the Devil’s Nose train trip with an excursion to Ingapirca Ruins. There’s not much to see in Alausi. So after the train ride, you’ll enjoy having something to look forward to on your long bus ride back to Cuenca.
- For peace of mind and comfort, book a combined tour that will take care of your transportation.
- Otherwise, read on if you’d like to take care of booking and transportation yourself (like we did).
- The train ride lasts 2.5 – 3 hours. You will ride south for about 45 minutes, and the train will stop slightly past the Sibambe station for 10 minutes in order to take pictures of the Devil’s Nose mountain. Then the train will to Sibambe station and stop for an hour. For the hour you can shop, watch dance performances (note the dancers did not ask us for money), take a picture with a llama (for a fee of $1 USD), eat at the restaurant, or walk around. After an hour, everyone gets back on the train for the 45 min ride back.
- The train switches direction and moves cars at Sibambe, so our red train car became the caboose on the way back (which was perfect for photos!).
Purchasing tickets from Tren Crecero
- The train company is called Tren Crecero. Check out their website for a full listing of all of their current train trips.
- I recommend purchasing train tickets in advance for two reasons:
- It might sell out: I’ve read online that some people waited to buy tickets the day of, and it was sold out. Don’t let this happen to you!
- You want good seats: request seats that say “A” for “abyss”. This means you’ll sit on the right side of the train where you can see the stunning cliff drops.
- We bought our tickets in Quito at the El Quinde Visitors Center. It was fast, there were no additional fees, and we got a print-out at the end. The Visitors Center faces Plaza Grande in El Centro Historico, and is directly opposite the Palacio de Carondelet (President’s Palace). Click here for other ticket office locations, or to contact their call center in the United States.
- The Alausi train leaves at 8:00 am or 11:00 am. We chose the 8:00 am departure because we read online that we had a better chance of sunshine. We actually had a little bit of fog that cleared up as the day went on, so we don’t think the departure time matters that much.
How to get to Alausi:
- From Terminal Terrestre in Cuenca, we took the Express Sucre bus at 8 am (there are departures every 2 hours or so) and arrived in Alausi close to noon.
- Note that this bus line does not go into downtown Alausi. It makes two stops on Carrera Panamerica. Try to get off on the first stop as you’ll be closer to town. The second stop is in front of Asadero Don Fausto, and you’ll need to walk approximately 30 minutes (all downhill) to downtown. (Guess which stop we got off on.)
- Note, if you’re trying to take the 8am train ride and you’re departing from Cuenca, you will need to arrive in Alausi the night before as the bus takes about 4 hours. Or, you can arrange your own private transportation. If you are taking the 11am train, you should be able to take the bus that leaves at 5am and arrive with no issue.
Where to stay in Alausi:
- We highly recommend Community Hostel Alausi. It’s the newest hotel in town with large, clean rooms, great breakfasts and dinners, and just a block away from the train station.
What to do in Alausi:
- We were in Alausi for around 24 hours. We walked around downtown twice, walked up to the Mirador, and ate at a few different restaurants. There isn’t much in the way of shopping (other than the fun stalls at the train station) or entertainment. Your best bet is to enjoy the small town comforts and get a good night’s rest.
Where to eat in Alausi
- Community Hostel Alausi: If you’re staying here, just let them know if you’d like to join for breakfast or dinner. They serve breakfast at 7am, which is perfect if you’re looking to eat before an 8am train ride.
- El Mesón del Tren: A good restaurant basically catering to the tourist crowd with a location right along the train track, and a bit higher-than-average prices.
- Pizzería Paraiso: A wonderful place that’s a bit of a walk to the southeast. They sell medium pizzas for $8.00 that are surprisingly good.
- Wiksa Happy: We stopped by here because their interior looked so cute and I loved their sign (“Hoy vas a conquistar el cielo sin mirar lo alto que queda del suelo” or “Today you are going to conquer the sky without looking at the ground”). We ordered mote (corn) with chancho (“pork”) and fries. Great, cheap snack to tide us over until dinner.
How to leave Alausi:
- There are two bus companies in town: Cooperativa de Transportes “Patria” and Cooperativa de Transportes “Alausi”.
- We took the 8am train ride and caught the 11:30am Patria bus. The bus stop is right in front of their ticket office.
- Prices are $6.00 back to Cuenca. Note that your ticket will give you a seat, but your seat will likely be taken once you get on the bus, and unless the bus attendant intervenes, no one is going to give us their seat for you. Your best bet is to just sit down in an empty seat.
- As of April 22, 2018, here are the full bus schedules with prices.
- Here is a map of where the bus stops are. Note that they won’t show up on Google, so it’s handy to save this picture on your phone to help guide you.