Tren Crucero, The Luxury Experience has been on track since 2014, yet along its 280-mile route between Quito and Guayaquil, the turnout to meet and greet this award-winning train still remains a heads-up event. And like Queen Elizabeth, passengers on board learn to keep waving back: at farmers in the fields, women hanging out laundry, children in school yards, families in cars or picnicking by the crossings, herders on horses keeping pace with the train, and photographers set up for the perfect shot.
Tren Crucero is also becoming a must-do with international travelers who are discovering that, in Ecuador, travel by train—especially on this spiffy train, carrying 50 passengers in the luxury of two handsome, Colonial- and Republican-styled passenger cars, two comfy observation lounges with bar and open observation deck, pulled by restored steam locomotives—is not just transportation. It’s an extra-special way to get to the heart of the country, while riding the rails: beneath snowcapped volcanoes and over Andean mountain passes, across the sweeping parano, scaling and descending a mountainside of rail switchbacks that link the highlands to the Pacific’s tropical coast delta. To this galaxy of geographic splendor, Tren Crucero adds what amounts to a 4-day cornucopia of culturally rich experiences combined with 4-night stays at historic luxury lodgings along the way.
If you book this rail experience from Quito to Guayaquil (Duran station), you’re on the 4-night Train of Wonders itinerary; traveling from Guayaquil to Quito, it’s the Train to the Clouds program. Both run along the historic rail line first completed in 1908.
New this year is the introduction of Gold Class accommodations—hotels-with-a-history housed in signature buildings and distinguished by superior guest service. In Quito, a choice, both centered on San Francisco Plaza in the Old City: Hotel Plaza Grande and Casa Gangotena; near Riobamba, the historic ranch house of 16th century Hosteria La Andaluza; in the coastal delta, Hacienda La Danesa, and in Guayaquil, elegant Hotel del Parque. Luxury Class passengers stay at the five-star Swissotel in Quito, the classy Hacienda Abraspungo in Riobamba, rural and charming Hosteria D’Franco in the delta, and the luxury Hotel Oro Verde in Guayaquil.
“Already, the Gold Class properties are the first to sell out,” reports Supinder Singh, president and CEO of Palace Tours, Tren Crucero’s U.S. representative. “Americans always respond positively to boutique, heritage hotels; however, all the hotels and haciendas on this rail-cruise program are top category.”
• Day One in the highland valley of Otavalo, a marathon of informal meet-the- people visits: textile weavers and musicians in San Roque, a wood-carvers’ studio in San Antonio, a fascinating textile museum in Imbabura, and a rose plantation tour and luncheon in Cayambe.
• Day Two along the Avenue of the Volcanoes. On our outing to Hacienda la Alegria, a working dairy and horse-breeding/horseback riding adventure farm, owner Gabriel Espinosa joins his Andean cowboys in displaying the skills of cattle roundups, introduces his friendly llama herd, and invites guests to lunch in his beautiful family home. At the end of day two, mighty Chimborazo Volcano—Ecuador’s tallest—begins to fill the horizon. Passengers spend time at the sky-high Urbina station with Baltazar Ushca telling (translated) tales of his 50 years of harvesting ice—pick in hand, donkey for transport—from the Chimborazo heights.
• Day Three, our steam engine is exchanged for a diesel locomotive to navigate the legendary Nariz del Diablo (Devil’s Nose): a vertical drop of 2,000 ft. in only seven miles.
• Day Four in the company of Niels Olsen, a member of the founding family of beautiful and sustainably operated Hacienda la Danesa. He introduces us to a cacao experience, observes our progress in milking cows, leads an estate tour on foot/by bike, and hosts a luncheon of typical Ecuadorian cuisine.
And every day, the superstars of Tren Crucero are the crew, including two guides who provide both expert knowledge and home-country passion, and the bartenders and waitstaff who maintain a constant flow of fresh juice, imaginative snacks and cocktails, and beautifully presented lunches, prepared by the communities along the way.
Four-night, all-inclusive Tren Crucero journeys are priced from $1,735 pp dbl.