Tren Crucero: Ecuador’s excellent Rail Adventure
Considerable investment and government support for smart initiatives have revitalised rail travel in Ecuador, a captivatingly beautiful country where the scenery ranges from snowcapped volcanoes to tropical lowlands. The Tren Crucero (which means Cruise Train) leads the way in showcasing the pleasure of seeing the country in a relaxed, stress-free manner. Australians are already an important component of the Tren Crucero‘s clientele and are among the most highly regarded by the company; the staff enjoy the relaxed travel style and good humour of Australian guests adventurous enough to come to Ecuador in the first place and also curious enough to partake of the train’s insightful journeys, which include not only travel on a private train between Quito and Guayaquil but also several excellent cultural stops along the way accessible only to Tren Crucero passengers. A visit to a woodworking shop to see the creation of the beautifully decorated carved statues found in the churches of Ecuador (and the secrets these statues sometimes conceal), the chance to meet Ecuador’s famous Last Ice Merchant, and a stop at Hacienda La Danesa where debonair host Niels and his staff welcome Tren Crucero guests to learn about the origin of chocolate are but a few of the experiences enjoyed along the way. Roses are among the country’s top exports; Ecuador produces some of the most beautiful roses in the world and a visit to a rose farm is a highlight of the trip.
Many people expect mishaps or unexpected problems when travelling in Latin America. These sometimes happen in Ecuador, too, the difference being that the foresight of Tren Crucero‘s management has alternative plans in place to handle unexpected circumstances without any drama whatsoever. Ecuador has a surprisingly dense rail network and Tren Ecuador, the parent of the Tren Crucero, is able to position historic rolling stock along the route in the event that tracks are temporarily blocked by falling rocks or other circumstances beyond human control. No worries; despite the pristine scenery viewed along the way, Ecuador’s compact size means that civilisation is never all that far away. Teams of rail experts check the lines every morning to verify they are clear and in suitable working order. In case not, bus transport is provided to the next accessible railway station and sometimes even yields bonus experiences not originally part of the itinerary. Railway stations visited by Tren Crucero have also benefited from heavy investment and are exceptionally clean and welcoming, even in the smallest towns visited by the train such as Imbabura, where a former textile factory has been transformed into an extraordinary museum.
Tren Crucero guests do not sleep on board the train. During the four-day journey, accommodation in atmospheric haciendas with spacious rooms and all the modern conveniences. Dining experiences are also special, both on board during the day and in the evenings at the haciendas, some of which, such as Hostería La Andaluza and Hacienda Abraspungo are among the most impressive hotels in the country.
Similarly impressive is Tren Crucero‘s endeavour to put money into the communities visited along the way. Farm-fresh ingredients sourced for dining on board, presentations made by local organisations, visits to otherwise unknown attractions, and other experiences unavailable to anyone other than its passengers are only a few of the ways in which Tren Crucero seeks to involve the locals in the success of the train and therefore their own livelihoods. Though there are ample opportunities to shop for souvenirs, there is absolutely none of the invasive touting or push to purchase sometimes found in other countries.
Ecuador’s national airline, TAME, flies from New York and Fort Lauderdale to Ecuador, whose location in northern South America makes for a relatively short trip from the US. For cruise passengers starting or ending their trips in Fort Lauderdale, a sidetrip to Ecuador can be a very satisfying addition to the itinerary.