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Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Ecuador by train!

I don't generally post press releases. But I had to share this one. I love the idea of traveling by train. Would you take a journey like this? 

Since 1994, Tropic Journeys in Nature has led tours through the country’s most engaging landscapes. Now it is hosting four-day/three-night journeys on Ecuador’s Tren Crucero (cruise train) that launched in early summer 2013.

Already Tren Crucero is being singled out to join a pantheon of the world’s top train journeys. Guests experience Ecuador’s stunning landscape using vintage transportation, enroute enjoying accommodations at hand-selected haciendas and colonial lodgings that immerse them in regional cultures glimpsed from train windows.

The per person rate is $1,270 inclusive of a bilingual naturalist guide, daily train and bus excursions, three nights lodging and all meals. While on the train guests can enjoy drinks and tapas while seated comfortably or reviewing the landscape from an open-air car. An on-train safe is available for storing valuables. Departures are from June through early September and from December through February.

The luxury journey begins in Quito, a UNESCO World Heritage Site in the Andes crowned by majestic Cotopaxi Volcano, and ends in Guayaquil on the Pacific. Traversing 450 kilometers along the Avenue of Volcanoes, an early 20th century steam-engine locomotive pulls passengers to heights of 3,600 meters and down to sea level.

Tren Crucero rolls out of Quito’s Chimbacalle station at 8 a.m. on a Tuesday, stopping at El Boliche where a modern coach ferries guests to a hike near Limpiopungo, a glacial lake in Cotopaxi National Park that shelters a variety of Andean wildlife: Andean gulls, Andean dear, wolves, the unique bear of South America, and the magnificent Andean Condor. Overall rising 6,000 meters above sea level is Cotopaxi volcano. After an hacienda lunch, guests view a dance festival at Lasso train station and overnight with dinner at La Cienega Hacienda once lodged Simon Bolivar who led four countries to independence from Spain.

On Wednesday from Latacunga train station guests travel southward to explore a rose plantation and learn the history of Ecuadorian roses, a major contributor to the country’s gross domestic product. Lunch follows later at Roka Plaza hotel, an ancient colonial house, in Ambato. Conditions permitting, there will be views from a safe distance of the very active Ttungurahua volcano that is currently spewing ash and gas daily. The afternoon presents Urbina at 11,840 feet above sea level, the highest train station in the country. Here an ice trader will explain his daily craft of digging ice from a glacier on the Chimborazo volcano. Overnight and dinner are at Abraspungo Inn.

Riobamba was once Ecuador´s capital. Thursday’s departure from here is via an impressive restored steam locomotive pulling guests across fascinating Andean landscapes to the Colta community. There’s a short stop at Balbanera church, the first Christian landmark made here some 500 years ago. The destination is Guamote’s indigenous market, one of the last authentic markets in the Andes, with traders exchanging products as they did 4,000 years ago. Impressive geological formations begin in Alausi as the train zigzags 535 meters in altitude over 12 kilometers down Devil’s Nose, the track itself an engineering feat hailed as the most difficult in the world. The overnight in Huigra. a small village between the Andes and the coast is at Eterna Primavera lodge.

Friday transitions from the Andes to the coast along the Chanchan riverbed, stopping in Bucay to visit the Shuar community that migrated many years ago from the Amazon basin. The journey continues to DurĂ¡n, passing through banana, sugar and rice plantations. The final destination is Guayaquil near the coast.

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