Back in the early 20th century, in the heyday of trains and train travel, the railway connecting Guayaquil with Quito was one of the world’s best tracks. Aside from the fact it reduced the trip from nine days down to two, what made the line such global fame was the near vertical, harrowing ascent up the mountainous “Devil’s Nose.” Rising over 2,000 vertical feet in only 7 miles, the track was engineered in a way that the train goes forward—and then in reverse—as it climbs up the switchbacking track. The building process was laced with tragedy, from snakebites and floods to deaths, but finally the track in 1908 was complete between the two cities. By the late 1970s, however, road travel had made trains impractical and the tracks were in disrepair, until the government spruced up the Devil’s Nose and made it a high end draw. While it’s no longer possible to ride on the roof of the carriages like travelers of old, the views looking down in the valleys are just as spine-tingling and steep as before, and this marvel of modern engineering continues to thrive to this day.
June-December is the dry season and considered the best time to visit. The trip begins in the town of Alausí, about 2 hours from Riobamba, and be sure to bring along a jacket for the 7,700 ft. elevation.