After hiking the Ecuadorian Inca Trail, I got the guides to drop me off in Alausí on the way back to Riobamba so I could take the most famous train in Ecuador – La Nariz del Diablo or “Devil’s Nose”. When they were constructing the railway from Quito (capital city) to Guayaquil (most important city) over a century ago, it was easy to do on the highland plateau and easy to do on the coastal plain, but how to connect the two?
In the end they decided to tackle what was known to locals as “the Condor’s Aerie” between Alausí and Sibambe – later renamed “The Devil’s Nose” due to the sheer difficulty of the task and the number of deaths that occurred in its construction. Here, the train drops 500m in only 12km, enabled by a series of switchbacks that go down the mountain.
The carriages of the train are really nice and quaint and each car has its own guide who explains the history of this section of railway and what you can see out the windows on the journey down the mountain to Sibambe.
There are actually only 3 switchbacks on this journey of 30 minutes, so I was surprised about the hype around this trip. My vague memories of catching the local train out of Cusco 15 years ago is that we were switchbacking forever climbing the mountain out of the city…
But anyway, once at the bottom, you stop for 10 minutes (more like 20 minutes) at a triangular junction for the best view of the Devil’s Nose that you’ve just descended, including the switchbacks.
There is a man with a pony here (which most of the locals seem to want to get on to get a photo), the train attendants sit picturesquely in front of the train for photos, and there were a few supermodel shoots happening with the train as a backdrop as well. Then it was onto Sibambe station where we stopped for another hour to visit the museum (tour in Spanish) and watch local dancing.
We ended up at Sibambe station for about 1.5 hours because there was something wrong with the engine, but once that was fixed it was a much faster (20 minutes) ride back up to Alausí station along the same route.
Recommendation: To be honest, I’m not convinced it is worth the cost to do it, but perhaps that’s because I’ve done the aforementioned switchbacks out of Cusco… If you do decide to do it, make sure you get a window seat on the right hand side of the train as it leaves Alausí. I’d probably also take the 11am train rather than the 8am train for photography purposes, though there is the danger that clouds will roll in and obscure the views…
Time: 2 hours