If you want adventure and drama, this train tour is for you. When Owen & Eleanor Hardy, co-owners of The Society of International Railway Travelers, visited Ecuador the spring of 2017, they fell in love with the food, the people, the accommodations and the trains. The scenery — mountains, volcanoes, rain forests and coastal areas — is some of the most spectacular in the world.
This tour features some amazing new offerings in Ecuador: the Tren Crucero Gold, a 4-night adventure from the mountainous landscape of the Andes to the coastal plains, including a journey along the famed “Devil’s Nose.” It’s no wonder this new train program, with its upgraded offerings, has earned The Society of IRT’s prestigious World’s Top 25 Trains status, announced in June 2017.
Your tour begins in Quito, Ecuador’s colonial capital. You then travel to the Andes rain forest for a three-day stay at the fabulous Mashpi Lodge, a must-do for anyone who loves nature and the outdoors. Finally, watch the beautiful scenery unfold as you travel aboard the Tren Crucero to Guayaquil with overnights at the fabulous hotels that are part of the package. You will especially love the new Hotel del Parque, which blew us away!
Also, you can extend your journey with a Galapagos cruise–a perfect add-on. Plus we have shorter Galapagos journeys on offer, as well as a luxury “eco-lodge” on the islands.
Fabulous new video shared by Tren Crucero.
Please note: This trip can be done in reverse, beginning in Guayaquil and ending in Quito. Activities and accommodations are subject to availability.
Day 1 – Quito
Upon arrival at Quito Airport, you will be met and transferred to the Casa Gangontena Hotel. En route your driver will provide a short briefing about Quito and the country in general. Quito is colonial and artistic, with many museums, monasteries and churches with golden altars.
Overnight in a Luxury Room at Casa Gangotena Hotel (3 nights)
Day 2 – Quito (B/L)
This morning head out for a walking tour of the Old Town, the largest and best-restored historical center in the Americas. Meet your local guide, part of a grassroots NGO organization that has created a walking tour of its Quito neighborhood, called San Roque. The guide takes you through the nearby streets, stopping to meet artisans, shopkeepers, hat makers and sweet confectioners. Explore the San Francisco Market, one of the oldest in the capital. Learn about the fruit and vegetables produced in Ecuador as well as local herbal healers. Continue to the emblematic street of La Ronda, considered one of the flagship regeneration projects in the city. Visit the Manos en La Ronda project and meet artisans in the workshops; then visit the chocolatier on the ground floor, where you can enjoy a snack and discover some of the finest chocolate in the world.
From La Ronda, walk north through the Old Town to the Plaza Grande, the political heart of the city. Stroll to the Jesuit church of La Compañía with its stunning gold-leaf interior. Enjoy a lunch of Ecuadorian specialties prepared by the hotel’s talented chefs. In the afternoon, visit the excellent Casa del Alabado Archaeological Museum, with pieces dating back some 5,000 years, displayed beautifully within a restored 17th-century colonial mansion.
Day 3 – Quito / Otavalo / Quito (B/L)
Otavalo is currently considered one of the most important tour destinations in Ecuador, due to its ancestral cultural heritage, enriched by millenary traditions, myths, legends and customs together with Andean landscapes of outstanding beauty: mountains, lakes, waterfalls and rivers. Note: Early morning departure required.
This excursion goes north, to the land of the Otavalos and South America’s most famous Indian fair, along the Panamerican Highway through dramatic mountain scenery to the textile market of Otavalo, where stalls are filled with ponchos, scarves, blankets, wall hangings, woven belts (fajas), hats, handbags and much more. Then, proceed to Peguche, an Indian village very near Otavalo that is home to the artisans who do the weaving in their homes; learn about their culture and everyday life. Lunch is at one of the charming country inns or haciendas of the area.
Day 4 – Quito / Mashpi Lodge (B/L/D)
Set out today for Mashpi Lodge, located three hours by car from Quito in the evergreen wilds of the Andes’ western slope. En route, stop at the “Middle of the World” monument, Pululahua Crater and its lookout point, and the archaeological ruins at Tulipe, said to have belonged to the ancient Yumbo civilization of pre-Inca Quito, set in a magical forested location. Here, taste delicious Ecuadorian appetizers and fresh-brewed coffee prepared by members of the local community before the final one-hour descent into Mashpi Reserve, a nature sanctuary located in the spectacular Chocó, one of the most celebrated bioregions in the world.
This afternoon, arrive at the Hummingbird Station. Observe hummingbirds of all kinds (Mashpi boasts 32 species identified to date), as well as toucans, tanagers, squirrels and more. The site is located at a natural viewpoint, which, on clear days, provides breathtaking views of the reserve’s forested hills. This is a veritable photographer’s paradise, regardless of your level of expertise. Later, enjoy a trail walk. The trail is named after the Cucharillo Tree (Magnolia dixonii), which in Spanish means ‘little spoon’. At the of the trail find a large waterfall and rocky riverbed with beautiful ponds and smaller waterfalls.
The forest transforms by sunset: the sounds and smells intensify and other senses are awakened. Discover the evening croaking of nocturnal frogs and incessant buzz of insects. Turn off your flashlights and observe sparkling fireflies and feel bats zipping by. And on the ground, discover the faint glow of bioluminescent fungi all around. As you continue exploring, owls and other nocturnal birds may call into the night, while the rustling of branches above may mean that we’re in the presence of kinkajous (Potos flavus), an arboreal mammal relative to the raccoon, making their way through the trees in search of ripe fruit. Return to the lodge to enjoy a delicious dinner.
Overnight at Mashpi Lodge (3 nights)
Day 5 – Mashpi Lodge (B/L/D)
The forest always rewards the “early birds,” as the dawn light lures a variety of fascinating species in their search for food. A good place to find birds is right at the hotel’s terrace, with a cup of fresh coffee, tea or hot chocolate in hand – enjoy not only the beauty of the forest but also the many species that come to feed on insects and fruits at nearby trees.
Head out to the Sky Bike and Observation Tower. Looming above the treetops, Mashpi’s observation tower allows guests to enjoy the protected forest in all its glory. At 30 meters (100 feet) above the ground, this is an ideal site for nature lovers, allowing you not only allows to appreciate the forest’s complex structure, but also the incredible species richness that thrives throughout the canopy (70% of the forest’s biodiversity is found here). The aerial bicycle makes for an original and exciting way to explore the canopy up close.
Walk back to the lodge along one of the many trails with waterfalls to explore and enjoy lunch. This afternoon, head to Life Centre along the “Howler Monkey’s trail.” Mashpi guides are keen on noticing every sound that comes from the forest deep, hoping to reveal colorful birds or elusive howler monkeys, while the naturalist explains the habitat’s ecology; both share their extensive knowledge on forest plants and their medicinal uses. Once at the Life Centre, enjoy a great view of the forest from the comfort of an expansive wooden deck, where wildlife abounds. Guides will identify the different birds and mammals that visit the fruit feeders. Explore the life of butterflies; discover various species of host plants that butterflies use to lay their eggs on; and visit the “tropical orchard” where many varieties of fruit trees, including banana, manioc, cacao, hot chili pepper, coffee and wild raspberries are grown. For those interested in learning more about the Ecuadorian cloud forest, there is a lecture that sums up the different scientific research projects that take place at Mashpi. Dinner at Mashpi.
Day 6 – Mashpi Lodge / Quito (B/L/-)
Bird lovers can head out for an early morning activity – a walk down the road seeking out mixed-species feeding flocks: these usually feature different insectivorous bird species that move together while foraging. In a single flock, we may see over 20 different species, making these more-or-less common encounters an undeniable treat for bird aficionados.
After breakfast at the lodge, head to Copal Waterfall. This beautiful two-hour-long hike features a landscape of moss-covered trees, bromelias and orchids at every corner. The trail ends at a spectacular waterfall over 50 m high. Return to the hotel by noon for check out and lunch before heading back to Quito. Overnight in a Luxury Room at Casa Gangotena Hotel.
Day 7 – Quito / Tren Crucero (B/L/D)
Transfer to the historic Chimbacalle train station in Quito and board the Tren Crucero. The train departs at 8 AM and heads toward El Boliche Recreational Area, where you’ll disembark to board transport to the wilds of Cotopaxi National Park. Take a short hike amid the rolling slopes of the volcano to enjoy its landscapes, flora and fauna.
Continue to Hacienda San Agustín del Callo, located nearby, for a delicious lunch. In the afternoon, we travel to the train station in Lasso to take part in a traditional fiesta. Today’s accommodation and dinner is at La Ciénega, a colonial hacienda full of history and charm.
Day 8 – Tren Crucero (B/L/D)
After breakfast, travel by bus to Latacunga train station to board the train and continue the journey south. En route, stop to visit a rose plantation (a highlight of our trip) and learn about the growing, harvesting and post-harvest processes of the roses.We enjoyed a lovely lunch at the rose plantation, and a tour led by one of the owners.
After lunch, continue on board the train to the Urbina station; located 11,840 feet above sea level, it is the highest train station in the country. Here visit the Interpretation Centre about the “Men of Ice” and enjoy the beauty of the landscape east of the slopes of Chimborazo, the highest volcano in Ecuador. We loved meeting the “Last Ice Merchant” and his daughter. After this visit, travel by bus to the beautiful Hostería Abraspungo for dinner and overnight.
Day 9 – Tren Crucero (B/L/D)
Early morning departure from the hotel to travel to the Riobamba train station, where the train’s carriages are pulled by a wonderful steam locomotive. Continue to Colta to visit the Balbanera church, known as the first church built in Ecuador. The train then proceeds to Guamote, for a visit of the city’s attractions and indigenous market, one of the largest and most important in the country. (The train group will likely be the only tourists.) Lunch will be at the train station.
In the afternoon board the train again at Alausí and after a short stop, continue down the famous Devil’s Nose section of track. Stop for a few minutes at the viewpoint to appreciate this important engineering work and to appreciate why the route is known as “the most difficult railway in the world.” Then continue by train to Bucay, appreciating the change in climate between the Sierra (highlands) and the Coast. Accommodation and dinner at a beautiful hacienda.
Day 10 – Tren Crucero / Guayaquil (B/L)
After breakfast, take a short walk in the forest near to the hotel to appreciate some of the typical flora and fauna of the Coast. Take in some of the plantations of the coastal region. Then visit a Shuar Indian community which, despite their migration many years ago from the Amazon to the Coast, keep their customs and traditions. After these visits, travel to Ranch San Rafael for lunch. In the afternoon, the train is once again pulled by a marvelous steam locomotive to Durán station. On the way, pass through typical coastal plantations of bananas, sugarcane and rice. On arrival in Guayaquil, transfer to the Hotel Del Parque, situated in a beautiful park, which offers a gorgeous setting and fabulous dining.
Day 11 – Guayaquil
Private transfer from hotel to Guayaquil airport for departure flight.
Or opt to add on a Galapagos cruise. Plus we have shorter Galapagos journeys on offer, as well as a luxury “eco-lodge” on the islands.
This itinerary is planned with great care, although, for operational reasons, it may be necessary to change the sequence of activities in the itinerary or the specified route, and though such cases are exceptional, in general the itinerary should be treated only as a basic guideline.
2017 Dates:Southbound trip (Quito-Guayaquil) departs most Tuesdays, April through December.
Northbound trip (Guayaquil-Quito) departs Saturdays and Sundays, April through December.
2018 Dates:Southbound trip (Quito-Guayaquil) departs most Tuesdays, April through December.
Northbound trip (Guayaquil-Quito) departs Saturdays and Sundays, April through December.
Specific dates to be advised. If you are interested, call us now for this great program. April
*Pricing is estimated and fluctuates based on season. Pricing is also based on standard rooms/hotels and not the new upgraded service, Tren Crucero Gold.
This journey climbs to high altitude: Urbina Station is the highest station in Ecuador and one of the highest in the world. Before taking this trip, please advise your doctor that it will take you 11,840 feet above sea level. Also please note that there are many early mornings on this program. The reason is a good one: the views from the train to the volcanoes and the rain forests and stupendous in the early morning. It can cloud over in the late afternoon. The staff on this train — from the engineers to the guides and waiters– is spectacular: friendly, professional, so knowledgeable – and seem excited to welcome all aboard. Further, people all along the route wave excitedly to see the train roll by.