Touring Ecuador by Train

Linking the capital city of Quito to the key port of Guayaquil, the Southern Railway, was undoubtedly Ecuador’s most costly and time-consuming national enterprise.

Construction began in 1872, but major links were not completed until 1965.

After decades of toil and sacrifice, the railway survived in its full form for less than ten years—before succumbing to natural, political, and fiscal tumult.

Steep green valley in Ecuador, know as devils-Nose-Train-Route

Ecuador’s Southern Railway

Although the Southern Railway never achieved its economic promise, remaining sections have achieved cult status, appreciated for their scenic wonders, cultural texture, and engineering peculiarities.

The operating entity, Tren Ecuador, showcases numerous meticulously-restored historic stations and coaches.

Two services levels are now available on most routes:

  • Standard—colonial-style coaches and lateral seating
  • Excursion Premium / Plus—large windows, air conditioning, and face-to-face table seating

Of course, locals are still likely to ride nonchalantly on carriage roofs.


Popular railway routes include the following, with new routes scheduled to open in coming years:

Quito – Machachi

Departing from the Chimbacalle train station, day-trippers from Quito can visit the cool mountain valley of Machachi (10,134 FASL) for volcano hiking, horseback riding, and tours of rose plantations.

The 25-mile journey takes just under two hours.

The departure time is approximately 8:15AM and the service operates from Thursday to Sunday.

Overcast sunrise over town square in Quito Ecuador, flanked by long buildings with white columned arches and red roofs

Quito – Boliche

Continuing the journey 12 miles past Machachi, the track climbs to 11,637 FASL at Boliche, the northern gateway to the Avenue of the Volcanoes.

The Cotopaxi and Rumiñahui volcanoes dominate this region’s landscape. Hiking, horseback, and mountain bike tours can all be arranged on their slopes.

Hikers can also explore the paramo grasslands and high forests of the Pasochoa Reserve. Most of our clients who visit this area stay two or three nights in comfortable haciendas.

The journey from Quito to Boliche takes 2.5 hours on average. Departures are usually at 8:15AM and service operates from Thursday to Sunday.

A fence along the road to Cotopaxi stratavolcano in Ecuador

Quito – Latacunga

The plateau town of Latacunga, 61 miles south of Quito by rail, lies to the south of Cotopaxi, near the emerald-green Lake Quilotoa and the traditional markets of Pujili (Wednesdays and Sundays) and Saquisilí (Thursdays).

The journey from Quito takes approximately four hours. Departures are usually at 8:15AM, with service operating from Thursday to Sunday.

The Devil’s Nose

This preposterous 7.5-mile route from Alausí to Sibambe is perhaps the steepest, zig-zaggiest section of adhesion railway ever created.

Lake Quilotoa in Ecuador, backed by rocky brown mountain

Descending over 1,700 feet down the sheer face of a mountain known as El Nariz del Diablo, the track makes a switchback journey at an average gradient of 1 in 22—that is, one vertical foot for every 22 horizontal feet.

Travel time is approximately one hour, and views are exhilarating.

The service usually operates Tuesday to Sunday, with departures at 8:00AM, 11:00AM, and 3:00PM.

Giant volcano topping some green-yellow hills in the Avenue of Vocanoes, photographed on a hiking tour of Ecuador

LANDED arranges personalized travel in Ecuador and throughout South America. We organize luxury accommodation, private transportation, and tours with expert guides. Speak with a travel planner today at 801.582.2100. We’ll take care of the details.

“It is almost axiomatic that the worst trains take you through magical places.”

Paul Theroux


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