Alausí &
the Nariz del Diablo
Coloured houses along the railway line in Alausi, Ecuador
Railway history: The old Nariz del Diablo train carriages in the town of Alausi, start point for one of the great train journeys
Huge statue of St. Peter looking over the mountain town of AlausiRhinoceros beetle, a brown beetle around 2-3 inches long with two 'horns'
Steep-sided mountain valley with river and train track running through it, scene of one of the world's great train journeys
Ecuador train travel: The autoferro, a bus running on railway tracks, with tourists sitting on top

Alausi, the railway station at
the top of the Nariz del Diablo, is an attractive town in its own right and the start of one of the world's great train journeys.

Alausí & the Devil's Nose Train Ride -  Ecuador Destinations

Alausí is the railway town at the top of the famous Nariz del Diablo, or Devil's Nose, section of Ecuador's train line.  It's also a pretty little town in its own right, watched over by a large statue of St. Peter.  Attractive old houses, some of the original adobe construction, line the steep streets.  Alausi is best visited during the dryer months of the year, i.e. June to December.  During the rainy season it can be shrouded in clouds which obscure the otherwise magnificent views. 
Up Alausí's steep hill you'll find St. Peter's statue, great views, a city map and lots of huge but harmless rhinoceros beetles.  The railway station houses stalls selling handicrafts and railway souvenirs - a warm hat could be a good investment before the train-ride.  For some reason there are also a wide range of hand-knitted finger puppets, ideal gifts for children.  The stationers' shop up the hill beside the railway track (shown in the top photo) sells old-fashioned, home-made icecreams - try the tangy taxo fruit flavour.  
Devil's Nose train income and jobs remain in Quito or Riobamba, according to the people of Alausí, leaving them feeling exploited by the famous railway despite it being a high point of many Ecuador tours.  You can help by spending time and money in their town during your Ecuador train trip.  There are various places to eat and sleep in Alausi.  One day and one night is probably sufficient time here, but it is a pleasant place to relax and wander, provided that the weather is dry.  Bring warm clothes for the train ride and at night - Alausi is at an altitude of over 2340 metres. 
Railway history: Ecuador's railway line was was slow to develop - not surprisingly, since at the time it was renowned as the most difficult railway construction in the world due to the sheer rock wall known as the Nariz del Diablo, below Alausi.  Plans were started in 1874, but work only began in 1899 on the coast in Guayaquil and the train track zigzagged up to Alausi in 1902.  The Devil's Nose is so steep that the train has to reverse up alternate bits of track up the zigzag in order to climb around 800 metres up to Alausi at a gradient of 1 in 18 - then considered almost impossible in railway engineering.  This makes it one of the world's great train journeys for fans of railway history.  The railway line continued through Riobamba and reached Quito in 1908, over a century ago.
Ecuador's rail link between the capital and the coast ran for around 90 years.  Ecuador train travel often suffered from delays, financial problems, the odd derailment and less than excellent administration, but was a key part of the country's infrastructure.  This ended when the El Niño of 1997 smashed large parts of the railway line and at first only the stretch from Riobamba to Sibambe, at the bottom of the Devil's Nose, was restored.  This 100km section was run as a tourist trip by the State via the Empresa Nacional de Ferrcarriles del Estado at prices which prohibit most Ecuadorians from using the train.  
President Rafael Correa has said that he would like to see much more of Ecuador's railway network restored and used, so it may yet return to some of its former glory.  The government has invested heavily in the railway since 2008 and train travel in Ecuador is improving, offering tourists a delightful way of traveling in Ecuador.  The country is not yet famous for railway holidays, but there is certainly potential here. 
The Nariz del Diablo stretch of rail track offers spectacular views and rail excursions here are a popular part of an Ecuador trip.  Many tourists travel on the roof of the train, which is chilly and totally unnecessary, but if you decide to do this then wear lots of layers of clothes and take something soft to sit on.  Better still, sit inside and appreciate one of the world's great train journeys in comfort.  Especially on the way back up the Nariz del Diablo, the train or autoferro is working really hard and giving off a lot of fumes.  Be prepared for delays, especially on the Nariz del Diablo section, when the driver and the guard often have to get out and shift rocks off the railway line.
The Nariz del Diablo train uses a relatively modern engine to pull the beautiful old railway carriages.  These days, the train is often replaced by one of two 'autoferros', which are basically a bus body mounted on train wheels.  You still see the same views, but the vehicles are less atmospheric than the train and have fewer seats.  If it matters to you, check when you buy your train tickets whether you will be on the train or the autoferro.  Note that the train track is frequently damaged by falling rocks or by the earth washing out from under it so there may be days when the train cannot run until the railway line is repaired.  Sometimes the autoferros, which are lighter, can still travel when the track cannot support the heavier train. 
The Devil's Nose train or autoferro leaves Alausí every Wednesday, Friday and Sunday at around 11a.m to go down the Nariz del Diablo and back - you'll be back in Alausi by around 1p.m.  This timetable may change, especially on bank holidays - check with the Alausi ticket office upstairs at the station or phone them on 03 2430126.  The autoferros are also sometimes booked for extra private tours by travel agents from Quito.  Buy your train tickets in good time as they sell out quickly.  Tickets cost $7.80 for the trip down the Nariz del Diablo and back and a further $3.40 to continue up to Riobamba, a slow but scenic rail journey.  Alternatively you can leave Alausi by bus to Riobamba or Quito.  
The train from Riobamba leaves the railway station there at around 7a.m. on Wednesdays, Fridays and Sundays and train tickets cost $11 to travel Riobamba - Alausí - the bottom of the Nariz del Diablo - Alausi.  From Alausi you can either take a bus back, or pay an extra $3.40 to return to Riobamba on the train.  The ticket office at Riobamba train station, tel. 03 961909, is open from 6am on the days when trains are running. 
Quito to Alausí by bus takes around 5 and a half hours - you may need to change in Riobamba, from where it is around 2 hours to Alausi.  If you're travelling to or from Quito you will pass through the town of Salcedo (between Latacunga and Ambato).  Salcedo is famous for its icecreams, especially the striped ones with several different flavors.  Vendors may board the bus, or you might just have to buy one through the window when the bus stops at a junction, but Salcedo ice cream is too highly recommended to be missed.
Ecuador train travel opportunities are still limited but railway enthusiasts are sure to appreciate the chance to experience one of the great train journeys of the world during a stay in Alausi.

Useful Spanish Vocabulary for an excursion to Alausí, Ecuador:
Nariz del Diablo: Devil's Nose
boleto: ticket
tren: train
ferrocarril: railway
autoferro: bus that runs on train tracks
helado: icecream
Ecuador Destinations: Alausí, mountain railway town and station for the Devil's Nose train journey - one of the world's great train journeys.
Alausi is an attractive town reached by bus from Quito or the famous Nariz del Diablo train from Riobamba.
Ecuador railway history, Devil's Nose train station phone numbers, Nariz del Diablo train times, Ecuador train travel & railway information
Website www.ecuadortravelsite.org, text and photos by Sarah Clifford.
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