Ecuador by Rail
Explore the multifaceted country of Ecuador on this 10-day escorted tour. Visit regional markets, colonial-era cities, national parks and nature reserves, and enjoy nostalgic rail travel on a 4-day journey along the iron rails through the majestic Andes to the Pacific Coast aboard Tren Crucero.
Embark on a South American adventure as you explore the diverse country of Ecuador on this 10-day escorted tour. Learn about local folklore as travel along the shores of San Pablo Lake. Meet the locals and browse their handicrafts at regional markets. Visit Cuicocha Crater Lake and perhaps take a short boat cruise along its islands. Discover the colonial treasures in Quito’s historic district—one of the best preserved in South America. Delight in Tren Crucero, a nostalgic 4-day “cruise train” adventure from Quito and the majestic Andes to Guayaquil and the shores of the Pacific coast.
Highlights and Inclusions
- Hotel accommodations for 9 nights
- Tren Crucero 4-day “cruise train” adventure from Quito to Guayaquil
- Visit to the Otavalo Market
- Visit to Cuicocha Crater Lake
- Explore the Avenue of the Volcanoes and Cotopaxi National Park
- Quito's Historic District, UNESCO's first "World Heritage Site"
- Tour the Churute Nature Reserve
- 20 meals
- All transfers
- Services of a professions tour manager
Day 1 - Arrive Quito/Journey through the Andes
As your flight approaches Quito, you will have an amazing view of the Ecuadorian capital, weather permitting, as well as an imposing first glimpse of the northern Andes. Your bilingual guide, who will accompany you during the first part of your journey through this multifaceted country, will be there to welcome you at the new Mariscal Sucre International Airport.
The adventure starts as we head north towards the volcano that gives the province its name: Imbabura. We will journey to the shores of the San Pablo Lake where your guide will introduce you to the rich local folklore, followed by a delicious dinner at the historic Hacienda Cusín, where you will spend the night. (D)
Day 2 - Otavalo Indigenous Market/Cuicocha Crater Lake
After an early breakfast, we will visit the most famous handicraft market in South America: the Otavalo market. For centuries, regional markets have played an important role in the lives of indigenous people as they trade their handmade goods and stories with visitors from all over the world, the Otavaleños negotiate and haggle in a relaxed and charming atmosphere with locals and tourists alike in the Plaza de los Ponchos.
In the early afternoon, we will continue our journey to the Cuicocha Crater Lake, where you can take a short boat trip around the islands within the caldera. The high alkaline content of the water keeps it lifeless, though you will find a great diversity of flora and fauna in the surrounding countryside.
This evening we will dine and spend the night in Hacienda Chorlavi. (B, D)
Day 3 - “White City”/Afro-Ecuadorian Settlement/Quitsato Equatorial line
This morning, we will journey on to Ibarra, popularly known as the "White City" because of the luster of its restored colonial-era buildings. From here, we will board a panoramic train that will carry us past deep canyons and small villages, traveling through tunnels and over bridges to the town of Salinas in the Chota Valley; this settlement is known for its Afro-Ecuadorian culture, which you will be introduced to during a short visit to a local community project.
The trip will resume on an old country road along the Cayambe-Coca Ecological Reserve as a breathtaking natural backdrop. After lunch, we will make a stop at a largely unknown equatorial monument, Quitsato. Erected in the form of a sundial on the geographically accurate equatorial line of 0° 0' 00.", the monument honors the local indigenous cultures that had calculated astronomical significance of being on the equator.
We will return to Quito by late afternoon and stay at the quaint Vieja Cuba Hotel. (B, L)
Day 4 - Quito's Colonial District
Your guide will introduce you to the colonial treasures of the Ecuadorian capital. Quito's historic district is one of the best preserved in all of South America, which is why UNESCO declared it the world's first “World Heritage Site” in 1978. Magnificent baroque-style churches, monasteries and impressive squares still bear witness to Spain's colonial power in the region.
From Panecillo Hill, in the south of Old Town, you can get a sense of the vast size of the city, stretching in a valley across an expanse of 40 km (25 miles). Atop the hill is the 43-meter-high monument called Virgen de Quito ("Virgin of Quito" in English), which originally functioned as a protector and now unofficially divides the city into north and south. On a cloudless day, from this vantage point you can even enjoy the sight of the snow-capped Cayambe, Antisana and Cotopaxi volcanoes.
Upon our return, you will have the rest of the day to explore Quito on your own and will spend another night at the Vieja Cuba Hotel. (B)
Day 5 - Explore Cotopaxi
After a hearty breakfast, we will head to south Quito to the Chimbacalle train station, where we will begin a four-day journey along the iron rails through the majestic Andes to the Pacific coast. The first leg of this adventure will take you down the “Avenue of the Volcanoes” to the small town of El Boliche; located near one of the highest active volcanoes in the world: Cotopaxi. From there you will ride by bus to Cotopaxi National Park, an important sanctuary for the unique diversity of Andean wildlife, including highland wolves and spectacled bears, vultures, falcons and condors.
At the information center, you will get an introduction to the astounding diversity of plants and animals of the park. In addition, you will be able to trace the history of Cotopaxi eruptions. On the plateau, you will walk at an altitude of 3,800 meters (over two miles above sea level) around Limpiopungo Lake at the foot of the Rumiñahui Volcano. Here you can experience the crisp clean air and the open skies of the Andean highlands and the kindness of its inhabitants. If you are lucky, you might even spot a mighty condor, Ecuador's national symbol.
Lunch will be served at the historic Hacienda San Agustín de Callo, amid the thick stone walls that bear witness to the long history of this estate, which was built on ancient Inca ruins during the colonial period. After this interesting visit, you will continue your trip to the town of Lasso, where you can meet members of an indigenous community. Let yourself be carried away while dancing with these fun-loving people before ending the day at the famous Hacienda La Cienega. In fact, this is the place where the famed explorer Alexander von Humboldt stayed during his expedition to the center of the world. (B, L, D)
Day 6 - The “Icemen” of Chimborazo
In the morning, you will catch the bus to the train station in Latacunga for a ride that will take you through the stunning scenery of Tungurahua and Chimborazo provinces. On your way to the city of Ambato, you will stop at one of the region's many rose plantations. You will get a glimpse of the variety of roses produced here and come to understand why Ecuador is the fourth largest exporter of cut flowers worldwide; whether short or long-stemmed, red, yellow or blue, roses are grown in all shapes and colors here.
Lunch will be served at the Roka Plaza restaurant, a colonial-style city hotel. We will then continue the journey to Urbina, the highest railway station in Ecuador. At the municipally owned museum, you will get insight into the life and work of hieleros, or “icemen,” who climb up the Chimborazo Mountain daily to collect ice from the glaciers. Among other things, this ice is used for the production of delicious hand whisked ice cream known as Helado de Paila, a paila being a large solid copper or bronze pan. If weather conditions permit, you will have a phenomenal view of the majestic ice-covered summit of the highest mountain in Ecuador, whose peak is the furthest point from the center of the earth. Indeed, the image of Chimborazo on the nation's coat of arms symbolizes the beauty and richness of the Ecuadorian highlands.
Following this extraordinary excursion, you will spend the night in the city of San Pedro de Riobamba at Hacienda Abraspungo. (B, L, D)
Day 7 - Guamote Market/Train Along “Devil's Nose” Route
You will start the day by visiting the city of San Pedro de Riobamba (or "Riobamba" for short). After an earthquake destroyed the city in 1797, it was rebuilt some 14 kilometers from its original site, with Spanish influences still reflected in the new city's architecture. The history of the Cajabamba region (where Riobamba was founded in 1534) dates back to the indigenous Puruhá people.
The next train, drawn by a restored steam engine, will carry you to the small village of Colta, the site of the country's oldest Catholic church: The Church of Balbanera, built in 1534 by the Spaniards.
From here, you will head off to the farmer's market in the town of Guamote. Indigenous people come from the surrounding villages on market days to offer their goods. You will have the opportunity of not only perusing the items for sale at the market but also a host of different and intriguing local costumes.
An Ecuadorian cuisine lunch will be served on Ecuador's most famous train route, the Devil's Nose. Along a track structure regarded as a “masterpiece of construction,” you will descend in a zigzag pattern from the Alausí mountain station to the valley station of Sibambe. On this journey, you can view a ledge that supposedly resembles Satan's nose looming over the once-treacherous site. You will continue your journey to Guayas Province, where you will spend the night near the small town of Bucay, which symbolizes the transition from the Andes to the coast. (B, L, D)
Day 8 - Visit a Shuar Community/Steam Engine Train Ride/Guayaquil
Today we will visit a Shuar community whose members migrated from the Amazon basin to the coastal region and become familiar with this little-known culture that is characterized by its peculiar traditions. For lunch, we will take you to Hacienda San Rafael. On the final leg of your ride in a train powered by a refurbished steam locomotive, you will travel through endless banana trees, flooded rice paddies and sugar cane plantations. Once we arrive at the town of Duran, a bus will take us to the modern and sophisticated Hotel Palace in Guayaquil, to enjoy the evening and unwind. (B, L)
Day 9 - The Churute Ecological Reserve
Immediately after breakfast, you will set off on a day tour of the Churute Nature Reserve, a point of contact between two ecosystems: a mangrove forest and a tropical dry forest. This unique combination makes the sanctuary a must see for nature lovers. From the boat, you will certainly see many of the 250 bird species native to the mangrove forest and will most likely spot small groups of howler monkeys fanning out through the tropical dry forest. In this area, you will then visit a local community that will bring you closer to people's ways of life in these extraordinary ecosystems. In the late afternoon, we will make our way back to the big city comforts of our accommodations at Hotel Palace. (B, L)
Day 10 - Tour Conclusion
During a walk through the city (optional), you can explore Ecuador's largest city. Be sure to stop through Parque Seminario to see the land iguanas, which are everywhere - on the trails, in the green areas and in the trees. You can also pass by the Cathedral, built in the Gothic Revival style, and make your way to Malecón 2000, the famous and popular waterfront promenade.
Later, you will be driven to the international airport for your return trip to your home country, though now filled with many new impressions, memories and loaded with photos and souvenirs. (B)
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Tour price does not include international flights, beverages, city tour of Guayaquil, tips and gratuities. Travel insurance is recommended.