The goal of the Trans-Andean railroad was to connect Quito to Guayaquil, however the big obstacle standing in the way was El Nariz del Diablo (the Devil’s Nose) which is a near-vertical wall of rock. The solution to navigating this wall was to carve a series of tight switchbacks out of the rock. This means the train travels down the mountain and accelerates past a junction, then reverses down the next, and the cycle continues.
This notorious segment of the track was built by more than 3,000 Jamaican and 1,000 Puerto Rican workers who were bought into complete the task. Sadly, due to the dangers of the landscape, illness and plagues, it is estimated that more than half of them died while building it. While riding the train, make sure you take a moment to appreciate the significance of the track and the many people who perished while building it.
Starting in the town of Alausi at an elevation of roughly 3,340 metres, this incredible feat of engineering allows the train to descend more than 500 metres in 12.5km of railway, until it reaches the town of Sibambe below.
The ride down takes roughly 45 minutes and provides you with some truly spectacular scenery along the way. There are waterfalls, streams, gorges, mountains and vertigo inducing drops. As you scale down the Nose, if you look down you can often see the next stretch of track well below you!
For all the photo enthusiasts, the good news is that all the windows open, making it easy to get the perfect shot with out having to worry about dirty smudges or discolouration from the window. There’s also plenty of time to get that iconic shot of the train coasting around a corner as you stick your camera out a window near the back of the train.
On arrival in Sibambe, you’re greeted by a group of traditionally dressed locals who’ll entertain you with some traditional dancing – and they might even pull you in for a spin or two. There’s also a small market and a museum on the construction of the railroad for any of the history buffs.
Photo Credit: All images by Emily Fraser