Set on the edge of a gorge with a giant statue of patron saint San Pedro dominating the town, Alausí is a fittingly dramatic departure point for the most dramatic train ride in Ecuador—La Nariz del Diablo (Devil’s Nose).
When train service resumes from Riobamba in mid-2012, the train stops in Alausí in the mid-morning before embarking on its two-hour descent and then returning to Riobamba in the early afternoon. Some people shorten the train ride by boarding here for the best part, making Alausí an alternate overnight stay to Riobamba. It is also the starting point for heading south to Achupallas and hiking the Inca Trail to Ingapirca.
Aside from the train service, Alausí springs to life for market day on Sunday, when indigenous people come down from the nearby páramo wearing their best and most colorful clothing. You can get a closer look at the statue of Saint Peter and admire the panoramic views by climbing the Lluglli hill.
The town’s festival is celebrated on June 29 with bullfights and colorful parades.
Nariz del Diablo Train Ride
Alausí’s train station, the goal of most visitors, sits behind the small plaza at the north end of 5 de Junio. The train through the famous Nariz del Diablo (Devil’s Nose) to Sibambe (departs 8 a.m., 11 a.m., and 3 p.m. Tues.–Sun., $20 pp) takes 2.5 hours. When train service from Riobamba to Alausí resumes, the train will leave Riobamba at 6:30 a.m., stopping in Alausí three hours later.
Buying tickets in advance is strongly recommended, especially for weekend trips, because standing is not allowed. You can buy a ticket at the train station in Alausí (tel. 3/293-0126, www.ferrocarrilesdelecuador.gob.ec) or make a reservation at the train station in Riobamba (Av. de los Volcanes, tel. 3/296-7316 or 3/296-1038, www.ferrocarrilesdelecuador.gob.ec) and collect the ticket at the train station in Alausí.
The Devil’s Nose was one of the most incredible feats of railroad engineering when it was completed in the early 1900s. The train descends through a hair-raising series of switchbacks that are so tight the entire train has to back up momentarily to fit through. Just below the switchbacks, the train stops near Sibambe, turns around, and climbs back through the entire route. For the best views, sit on the right-hand side of the train if you can. Riding on the roof is now prohibited following the deaths of two Japanese visitors in 2007.
If you are coming from Riobamba, the return journey takes all day, but you can shorten it by taking the bus back from Alausí to Riobamba (2 hours, $1.50). Buses from Alausí also run to Quito and Cuenca.
Getting to Alausí
Buses head to Ambato (3 hours, $3), Cuenca (4 hours, $5), Guayaquil (5 hours, $5), Quito (5 hours, $6), and Riobamba (2 hours, $1.50) from the corner of 9 de Octubre and 5 de Julio. More buses pass on the highway up the hill ($1 by taxi), picking up passengers at the gas station on the Panamericana.
To begin the Inca Trail, occasional trucks bound for Achupallas, where the market is on Saturday, leave from 5 de Junio. There is more transportation available 30 minutes south at the road junction at La Moya, just after the river crossing.
© Ben Westwood and Avalon Travel from Moon Ecuador & the Galápagos Islands, 5th Edition