If you’ve ever considered a trip to Ecuador now is the time to go.
The government run Tren Ecuador is hoping to lure tourists with a new venture call Tren Crucero, a luxury train cruise from the mountains of Quito to the coast at Guayaquil. And there’s a special price for this new train cruise.
An introductory price for the all-inclusive, 4-day, 3-night train excursion , for departures in 2013, costs $990; that includes all meals, three nights lodging in haciendas and stops along the way at rose and cocoa plantations, visits to indiginous markets and even a meeting with a tribe of Amazonian villagers. It’s a bargain price as it includes not only meals and lodging but transportation and activities. There’s a small discount for children.
The coaches are luxurious; two have assigned seating areas where tables go along with the chairs arranged in front of wide windows for optimum viewing. Another car houses the bar where you can order up cappuccinos, cervezas or something stronger. The last car is a viewing area, the back half of which is open air, a prime spot for photo taking when traversing the steep rail switchback of the Devil’s Nose.
Over the course of the trip, riders are treated to mountain highlands, cloud forests and high grassland terrain before moving into the tropical areas of the coast. At each spot, you pass through small cities and tiny villages, where waving children are happy to watch the train go by.
You leave the train each day for excursions, elaborate lunches and for dinners and overnight stays in three haciendas. The overnight accommodations are uneven, but each place has a highlight that makes the stay worthwhile. The first hacienda, La Cienaga is historical and atmospheric with a long, tree-lined entrance that feels quite gothic. Day two of the trip ends in Riobamba with dinner and an overnight at Hacienda Abraspungo, a more modern and comfortable place with welcoming outdoor and indoor spaces. The third-night’s stay was at Hosteria Eterna Primavera. Some of the rooms were outdated, but a swimming pool and lush outdoor space for drinks and dancing at night and morning breakfast made up for the rooms. Ask for one of the modern rooms if you’re particular and make time to lounge in the hammocks and pet the dogs that call this place home.
During the last day of the excursion, a steam locomotive is hooked to the train and riders get a chance to see it get fired up, an impressive site even if you’re not a train afficianado. A band is brought aboard for a final fiesta as the train makes its way to Guayaquil, the end of the train journey, and the major starting point for most trips to the Galapagos.
Major airlines fly into Quito and Guayaquil (my recent international flight from Chicago cost about $800 round trip) and there are multiple daily flights to Cuenca from either city, with roundtrip airfare costing about $150 or less.
In Cuenca, the Hotel Casa del Aguila is a restored 19th Century mansion with simple rooms around an open air courtyard, where the included breakfast is served. Rates for a double room are about $75. For more information on Cuenca, visit www.cuenca.com.ec
In Quito, the Hotel Patio Andaluz in the colonial center offers comfortable rooms in a good location. Rates for a double room are about $110 with breakfast included.