When I go to Ecuador later this year, I hope to take one of the trains that go through parts of the Andes. The only problem is that they are all tourist trains, that is to say, the locals do all their traveling by bus. Most of the routes are scenic fragments of what once were longer routes, back when one could ride the trains with Andean natives carrying their goods to and from market.
The problem is that I tend to dislike traveling with large groups of Americans. That’s when I dummy up and answer all questions in Hungarian. I don’t want to talk about how things are in East Jesus, Arkansas.
At present, the most spectacular route is through the Nariz del Diablo, or Devil’s Nose. It used to be part of the route between Quito and Guayaquil. Now it only goes between Alausi and Sibambe, where there’s a show for the tourists, a small hotel, souvenirs, and a small museum. According to Lonely Planet Ecuador:
Somewhere along the nariz, the old choo-choo (it’s actually more like a retrofitted bus) inevitably derails. Not to worry, though! The conductors ask everyone to get off and by using advanced technology—big rocks and sticks—they steer the iron horse back on track.
I remember taking the Chihuahua al Pacifico Railroad in Mexico between Las Mochis and Divisadero Barrancas some three decades ago, but that was a real train where there were no roads. Half the passengers were train aficionados like me, but there were many campesinos; and Tarahumara women sold tasty snacks at most of the train stops.
In Peru, I took the tourist train between Puno and Cusco, which was an all-day trip that I enjoyed immensely. Also, the only way to get to the Inca ruins at Machu Picchu is to take the train from Poroy or Ollantaytambo to Machu Picchu town. That wasn’t bad either.