In 1899, after 25 years of frustrated plans and abortive attempts, work finally started on Ecuador’s first railway, which would link the coastal city of Guayaquil with the capital, Quito, in the highlands – a feat finally achieved in 1908. The greatest obstacle, which prompted the line to be dubbed “the most difficult railway in the world”, was met 130km east of Guayaquil at a near-vertical wall of rock, known as El Nariz del Diablo (The Devil’s Nose). The ingenious engineering solution was to carve a series of tight zigzags out of the rock, which allowed the train to climb 800m at a gradient of 1-in-18 by going forwards then backwards up the tracks.

Despite frequent delays and derailments, the service from Guayaquil to Riobamba and Quito ran, with interruptions, until 1997, when El Niño-related weather devastated the tracks. Currently, only the 12-km stretch from Alausí to Pistishi (usually advertised as Sibambe) at the end of the Devil’s Nose descent, is open. However, a controversial multi-million-dollar project to restore almost the entire original rail network is now underway, so it should soon be possible to start the trip in Riobamba again. Although the currently curtailed route, inflated price and abandonment of rooftop travel have undoubtedly diminished the appeal of the journey, it still offers stunning views of Chimborazo and Carihuairazo and a thrilling descent down the Devil’s Nose itself.

Taking the train

The train starts at Alausí (Tues–Sun & public holidays at 8am, 11am & 3pm), taking around two and a half hours for the return trip, including a brief spell in Pistishi, where you are treated to some traditional dancing and can pick up some light refreshment. Note that a cheaper autoferro (bus on wheels) runs the same route for a lot less (Wed, Fri & Sun – though the days sometimes change – and public holidays at 9am and noon; $6.50). However, the full Riobamba–Sibambe section will reopen soon; check Wtrenecuador.com for the latest information. Tickets cost $25 for the standard Alausí–Sibambe (Pistishi) route, and can be bought on the day at the train station. However, it’s better to make an advance purchase by phone (t1 800 873637) or at one of the train stations (Alausí station: Mon–Fri 8am–4.30pm & before departure), especially if you plan to travel at the weekend or during a holiday period. The carriages have recently been refurbished but following a fatality, it’s sadly no longer possible to ride on the roof of the train, which was one of the big draws. Since the service is subject to unpredictable changes, call the station office ahead for the latest news.

Book through Rough Guides’ trusted travel partners

Ecuador features

The latest articles, galleries, quizzes and videos.

Podcast: Galápagos – the human story

Podcast: Galápagos – the human story

Galápagos. What do you picture when you hear those four syllables? Chances are it’s wildlife, from giant tortoises and marine iguanas to blue-footed boobies.…

13 Aug 2018 • Rough Guides Editors volume_up Podcast
15 things everyone learns backpacking South America

15 things everyone learns backpacking South America

South America has become a favoured destination for the intrepid backpacker, and while it’s impressive in the astounding diversity of its nations, there are a…

02 Mar 2016 • Steph Dyson insert_drive_file Article
19 places for a digital detox

19 places for a digital detox

Find peace at Buddhist monastery, Nepal Trim out the religious and/or mystical connotations and Buddhism boils down to something quite simple – brain trai…

14 Nov 2014 • Neil McQuillian camera_alt Gallery
View more featureschevron_right

Privacy Preference Center

Necessary

Mandatory - can not be deselected. Necessary cookies help make a website usable by enabling basic functions like page navigation and access to secure areas of the website. The website cannot function properly without these cookies.

PHPSESSID,aelia_cs_selected_currency,cookie_notice_accepted,RS,bp-message,bp-message-type,id,UIDR,w3tc_logged_out,__cfduid
__cfduid

Statistics

Statistic cookies help website owners to understand how visitors interact with websites by collecting and reporting information anonymously.

__utma,__utmb,__utmc,__utmz,_ga,_gid,__atssc,__atuvc,__atuvs,di,dt,ssc,ssh,sshs,uid,uit,xt
__utma,__utmb,__utmc,__utmz,_ga,_gid
__atssc,__atuvc,__atuvs,di,dt,ssc,ssh,sshs,uid,uit,xtc

Marketing

Marketing cookies are used to track visitors across websites. The intention is to display ads that are relevant and engaging for the individual user and thereby more valuable for publishers and third party advertisers.

__gads,PISID, BEAT, CheckConnection TempCookie703, GALX, GAPS, GoogleAccountsLocale_session, HSID, LSID, LSOSID, NID, PREF, RMME, S, SAPISID, SID, SSID,__utmv, _twitter_sess, auth_token, auth_token_session, external_referer, guest_id, k, lang, original_referer, remember_checked, secure_session, twid, twll,c_user, datr, fr, highContrast, locale, lu, reg_ext_ref, reg_fb_gate, reg_fb_ref, s, wd, xs
__gads,PISID, BEAT, CheckConnection TempCookie703, GALX, GAPS, GoogleAccountsLocale_session, HSID, LSID, LSOSID, NID, PREF, RMME, S, SAPISID, SID, SSID
__utmv, _twitter_sess, auth_token, auth_token_session, external_referer, guest_id, k, lang, original_referer, remember_checked, secure_session, twid, twll
c_user, datr, fr, highContrast, locale, lu, reg_ext_ref, reg_fb_gate, reg_fb_ref, s, wd, xs