Sometimes the best way to see a country is to ride its tracks.
Case in point: Ecuador's Tren Crucero -- or train cruise -- is a luxury train that takes travelers from the Andes to the Pacific ocean (or vice versa, depending on your route) over the course of four days. The train travels through the Avenue of the Volcanoes and down a treacherous descent called "The Devil's Nose."
Originally built to unite the country in the late 1800s and completed in 1908, the route was abandoned over the years due to issues such as landslides. Also, interest in railroads was pushed aside for investment in highways and roads. But a recent investment in tourism and conservation pushed the government and the National Cultural Heritage Institute to restore the route for recreational use.
If you start from the mountains down, you'll begin at UNESCO-protected Quito, the country's capital, at an altitude of 9,110 feet. You might need to drink coca tea to acclimate to the elevation, as the highest stop is at 11,841 feet in Urbina.
The four coaches and open-air caboose are powered by diesel and a restored steam locomotive. There are no sleeper cars; you and the 53 other passengers are bussed to a different historic hacienda every night along the way.
While the views and interactions with the local communities at each stop (restaurants, farmers markets and rose plantations, for example) are surely memorable, it's that notorious stretch called the "Nariz del Diablo" that makes this trip.
On the train, you'll experience a nail-biting, 7.5-mile long series of switchbacks that descends you 1,640 feet in 15 minutes. "At times, the ground below was not visible from onboard, which created an eerie feeling of floating," a travel writer described of her trip.
Sample the trip in the pictures below, should you need more convincing.
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