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Destination Details

Various, Ecuador

 

In 1899, after 25 years of frustrated plans and abortive attempts, work finally started on Ecuador’s first railway, which would link the coastal city of Guayaquil with the capital, Quito, in the highlands – a feat finally achieved in 1908. The greatest obstacle, which prompted the line to be dubbed “the most difficult railway in the world”, was met 130km east of Guayaquil at a near-vertical wall of rock, known as La Nariz del Diablo (The Devil’s Nose). The ingenious engineering solution was to carve a series of tight zigzags out of the rock, which allowed the train to climb 800m at a gradient of 1-in-18 by going forwards then backwards up the tracks.

Despite frequent delays and derailments, the service from Guayaquil to Riobamba and Quito ran, with interruptions, until 1997, when El Niño-related weather devastated the tracks. Currently, only the 12-km stretch from Alausí to Pistishi (usually advertised as Sibambe) at the end of the Devil’s Nose descent, is open. However, a controversial multi-million-dollar project to restore almost the entire original rail network is now underway, so it should soon be possible to start the trip in Riobamba again (see p.000). Although the currently curtailed route, inflated price and abandonment of rooftop travel have undoubtedly diminished the appeal of the journey, it still offers stunning views of Chimborazo and Carihuairazo and a thrilling descent down the Devil’s Nose itself.

 

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