Ecuador is a magical country. Once you depart the lovely but largely western influenced city of Quito, you are submerged in traditional Ecuadorian culture immediately – The local women still wear traditional dress, the towns are small and quaint, and there is a quiet harmony between country and city, nature and technology, and locals and tourists.
What inspired me the most about Ecuador was how far the country has come in terms of tourism, but without sacrificing any of its unique and traditional charm.
Exploring Ecuador By Train With “Tren Ecuador”
Meeting the Ice Man on the “Ice tour” is just one of the many amazing train journeys available to take the rolling landscape of Ecuador. Along with your lovely local tour guide to talk you through the journey, you end up in a new world entirely – whether that be up in the snow, at the devils nose, or in the thick of farm land.
And you might even meet the ice man himself!
The tours use the old Trans-Andean railroad that runs through the country, and each one is as equally interesting. The tour guides, all locals, are extremely good, and conduct their tour in both Spanish and English. Whats even better is that the tours give business to so many locals, meaning they can continue their trades and work with the increasing tourism in harmony.
My Favourite Train Excursions…
The Ice Train
You begin in Riobamba, a city which is overlooked by the five snow-capped peaks and Chimborazo – Ecuador’s highest peak. This train adventure takes you through the mountains and up to the volcano Carihuairazo.
At the highest train station in Ecuador, Urbina, at 3,600 meters, we met Balthazar AKA the ‘ice man’ who is the last ice merchant in the country. His family have created an inspiring business from his trade, and yet Balthazar is committed to one thing only – continuing his beloved trade.
Who Is The Ice Man?
The ‘Ice Man’ still treks up the dangerous snow covered mountains everyday to bring down blocks of ice for the local cafes and restaurants. This is an extremely difficult task, and yet he will continue to do so until he physically can’t do it anymore.
We know that ice is cheap and widely available now, and yet the Ice Man knows how pure and mineral-rich the ice he has been providing for years is. Despite the fact that the larger companies can now do his job without need for the physical labor and tough climb up the mountains he continues to do it.
Instead of abandoning his job, the ice man continues to fetch ice, and his family and local community have worked with him to make his job continue to be relevant. They make superb ice cream from the mountain-top ice, and in addition to that have created a museum and tour which shows so much more than just one mans struggle in a new changing world, but the whole heritage of Ecuador, its mountains, people, and their advances in tourism.
It was so inspiring to see how a family has grown together and continued living in a traditional way, and yet have welcomed tourism as though an additional member of their family. It was one of the most moving experiences I have had travelling, and that sense of family and respect is something which is to be treasured.
I thoroughly enjoyed our time in the mountains. It was extremely interesting, and so nice to see how the few other families that lived there had embraced the train tourism too, with one small shop selling high quality local crafts, alpacas to meet, and horse rides available.
Cost of the whole trip: $14
What was included:
the train journey plus guide (who was excellent), the visit to the museum and introduction to the ice man and his family, a snack and drink in the cafe, free time to wander around at your own pace and buy gifts.
I bought a wooly hat and scarf, plus we got to try the ice cream which is made by Balthazar’s brother, and was delicious!
The Devil’s Nose
When the trans-Andean railroad was constructed years ago, their biggest obstacle was the ‘Devil’s Nose’, a huge mountain which stood in their path. It meant that the road had to be zig-zagged around it, climbing 500metres in just 12 kilometres, which makes it a very extraordinary feat!
The dramatic landscape is striking when viewed from afar, but to experience it on the train journey was amazing, and it was interesting to learn the history and legend of the Devils’ Nose.
The train departs from Alausi, which was one of my favourite towns in Ecuador. It is extremely picturesque, and I recommend taking an extra day just to wander around and enjoy being submerged in the friendly local culture. You most likely won’t see another tourist in this town, and there is a lovely walk up to the park overlooking the town which is worth it for the view!
Cost of the whole trip: $30.
What was included:
Train journey and tour guide, visit to the Museum in Sibambe, which also has a lovely shop and locals offering horse rides and alpacas to meet. I bought some locally produced tea.
I was truly impressed by “Tren Ecuador” train Ecuador, and the immersive tours they offer. It is inspiring to see how they have embraced tourism by bringing it directly to those people who benefit from it the most, allowing them to continue their traditions and actually develop them in new ways with the help of tourism, rather than feeling the affects of western influences in a negative way.
What was so great about what they offer is that they embrace the history of the old train tracks and have restored it to use it in a new way rather than letting it perish. It enables tourists to visit secluded areas without the expansion of the villages and towns, which means Ecuador continues to march to the beat of its own drum whilst embracing travellers and the money they bring into the country.
You can read more about the tours that I did plus there other tours on their website, here.
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