Ecuador // The northern sierra //

Autoferra de Ibarra

Once extending to San Lorenzo down on the coast, Ibarra’s railway now runs from the train station only as far as Primer Paso, a 45-kilometre journey serviced, actually, by an autoferro, a converted bus on rails but it’s best to pitch up about 30min before departure to buy your ticket t06/2950390, wferrocarrilesdelecuador.gob.ec). The train only departs if there are at least twelve passengers or $60 worth of ticket sales – though you can always pay the difference if there aren’t enough people. The ride itself is fun; you can sit on the roof while the train skirts vertiginous drops, clatters over the rickety 120-metre Ambi bridge and disappears into the gloom of at least a dozen tunnels, one with its own waterfall. At the end of the route in the Tulquizán sector, the train pulls in near the faded Hostería Tulquizán, across the river by cable swing, where you can get lunch, swim in the pool for a few dollars and sleep in rustic cabins, although most visitors just while away a few hours here rather than stay the night. You are at the hotel’s mercy once you cross because they seldom take people back over the river until the train is about to depart. The tracks cross the road a little before the final stop (ask the driver to be let off), from where you can take a bus back to Ibarra (30min) or to San Lorenzo on the coast (3hr).