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Picaflor: Ecuador on track

10 days from £2727pp

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Picaflor: Ecuador on track:
Trip Dossier

This unique escorted group trip ran for the first time in 2014 to celebrate the reopening of Ecuador's railway network, and is back again for 2017. For over 15 years much of the rail line that once traversed this small Andean country had been closed following destruction by torrential rains and landslides, but after considerable work and investment from the government portions of this spectacular railway are now up and running again. We start the tour in the capital Quito and the nearby temperate cloud forest of Mindo on the western slopes of the Andes. Then continue by road and rail, over high passes and amazing switchbacks to finish in the sweltering Pacific lowlands in Guayaquil, Ecuador's main deep water port, and largest city.

Short itinerary

Holiday itinerary

UK clients depart Thursday, arriving Quito, Ecuador, the same day.

Day 1

Transfer to hotel in Quito, overnight in the capital.

Day 2

Guided tour of the city and the Equatorial Monument.

Day 3

Travel to Mindo.

Day 4

Bird spotting and walks in Mindo Cloud Forest.

Day 5

Back to Quito, stopping to spot hummingbirds on the way.

Day 6

Board the Slow Train Sierra, passing magnificent volcanoes including Cotopaxi.

Day 7

Continue your journey by train, passing Ecuador's highest station.

Day 8

Travel by traditional steam train and tackle the famous Devil's Nose.

Day 9

By train into the tropical lowlands, finishing in Guayaquil.

Day 10

Day at leisure before flying home.

UK clients arrive home the following day, Sunday.

Detailed itinerary

UK clients depart Thursday, arriving Quito, Ecuador, the same day.

Day 1

Transfer to hotel in Quito, overnight in the capital.

You will be met at the airport by a local representative and transferred to your hotel in the centro historico of Quito. This colonial highland city was founded by Spanish conquistadores in 1534 on the ruins of Inca and pre-Inca settlements that had occupied the site for at least 1000 years. Over recent decades, colonial Quito has been given the sort of facelift - façadelift that befits its being the very first city to be declared a Unesco World Heritage site. Your hotel is located in the centre of this beautifully preserved area and your guide will accompany you to dinner in one of the excellent local restaurants.

Day 2

Guided tour of the city and the Equatorial Monument.

The old town, with its steeply cobbled streets and elegant plazas is a pleasure to explore and this morning you will be taken on a tour to visit the many churches, cathedrals and old world buildings that line the streets. There is also the chance to visit the equatorial line at Mitad del Mundo (which gives the country its name), a short drive north of the city. It's not a spectacular site in itself but you can pose for photographs with a foot in either hemisphere and there is an interesting museum nearby, as well as some wonderful views over the surrounding volcanoes.


Day 3

Travel to Mindo.

After breakfast you will leave Quito for the cloud forest, and head to the El Monte Ecolodge your base for the next 2 nights. The lodge is located just outside the town of Mindo - recognised as a world class bird watching site by BirdLife International. On arrival you will be welcomed by your hosts who will offer a short informal introduction to the area. This is not simply a place to stay and the owners are dedicated to preserving and protecting the natural beauty of Mindo, one of the most biologically diverse and endangered Cloud Forests in the world.

In the afternoon a local guide will take you on a 2 hour exploration beside the Rio Mindo, where you will find exotic birds and be taught about the many medicinal plants and their local uses.

Day 4

Bird spotting and walks in Mindo Cloud Forest.
An early morning start gives you the chance to go to the local ‘Cock of the Rock’ lek, a meeting place where these marvellous birds congregate to feed. The Cock of the Rocks in Mindo have bright red crests and black wings and you can see them perform their wild dances, squawking and play fighting.

You will return to the lodge for breakfast before a walk along the heights of the Cordillera San Lorenzo, where your guide will point out native animals and some other spectacular birds such as the Golden Headed Quetzal, Choco Toucan and Crimson Rumped Toucanet.

The afternoon will allow you time to relax in the peaceful surroundings, or wander the many trails around the lodge or even do some whitewater tubing should you be feeling adventurous.


Day 5

Back to Quito, stopping to spot hummingbirds on the way.

After a relaxing morning and lunch you will make your way back to the bustle of Quito. En route there will be a stop at ‘Tony’s House’. This is well known local place to see more than 24 species of hummingbird that come to the house to eat from the feeders strategically placed around its grounds.

This time you will experience a different side of Quito staying at a hotel located in the new town, home to lots of restaurants, cafés and bars.

Day 6

Board the Slow Train Sierra, passing magnificent volcanoes including Cotopaxi.

The morning starts with a departure by bus northwards to the town of Otavalo, through a changing landscape of fertile green valleys and dry yellow forest. At the station a restored steam locomotive awaits to carry you further north to the city of Ibarra. En route there are a number of fascinating stops; visiting the woodcarving workshops of San Antonio, experiencing  the traditional food in Andrade Marin and a visiting a local music and textile weaving show at San Roque train station. Later that fternoon you'll be taken back to Quito by bus.

Tren Crucero

Day 7

Continue your journey by train, passing Ecuador's highest station.

Early morning on day 7 sees us on our way to the newly rebuilt (in a distinctly unglamorous suburb) railway terminus at Chimbacalle. There's also a small museum dedicated to the history of the railway. It's here that we board our Slow Train Sierra, our mobile HQ for the next four days: the diesel locomotives and rebuilt carriages are capable of speed, but the track is not, so we climb gingerly southeastwards out of the city. Our highest climb today is the bank up to El Boliche [3547m]. Weather permitting, there are views of Antisana [5,758m], Corazón [4,788m] and Illiniza Norte [5,120m].

As we approach El Boliche, the perfect snowbound cone of the still-active Cotopaxi looms into view - 5,897m. Here, alight to explore the woods and ecosystems of the area. Board the train once more, to cntinue up on-to the coarse highland grasslands which cover the plains to Urbina station. Bleak and isolated, this is the highest station in Ecuador at a dizzying 3,609m above sea level.  There's a visit to the interpretation centre of the Chimborazo icemen to appreciate how these hardy men climb the slopes of Ecuador's highest volcano to mine the glacial ice in the traditional manner, to be sold in the Riobamba markets. It's claimed by locals to have natural healing properties far superior to factory-made ice. Finally, transfer by bus to your hacienda in Riobamba.

Day 8

Travel by traditional steam train and tackle the famous Devil's Nose.

You leave the hotel early for the station at Riobamba. This is a real highlight of the journey, since this short section is hauled by steam power [Baldwin Consolidation N°53 2-8-0]. At Colta there's a visit to the small chapel of Balbanera, one of Ecuador's earliest.

Continue by rail to Guamote, to visit the city and the renowned indian market. After lunch at the station, board the train for Alausí. This is where, twenty years ago the line divided. Southwards, a spur carried on to Cuenca, Ecuador's third city; whilst the track to Guayaquil turned westwards and plunged into the lowlands. Only a tiny section of the Cuenca spur is scheduled for rebuilding, and so it is at Alausí that we begin the most spectacular part of the journey and, from an engineering point of view, the most ambitious section of track to be built between Quito and Guayaquil. This is the Devil's Nose (Nariz del Diablo).

The track descends 800m of a steep wall of rock by a series of switchbacks. At the bottom, beyond Sibambe station, there's a brief stop to contemplate the view of the track you have just descended.

Back on board once more to continue down the river valley. It's a spectacular route that drops from high sierra [2,347m] into Andean lowlands at Bucay [294m]. The climate, and so both natural and cultivated vegetation, changes dramatically in the 56km journey - from temperate to tropical. Here we disembark to spend the night.

Ride the Devil's Nose

Day 9

By train into the tropical lowlands, finishing in Guayaquil.

After breakfast we journey to Naranjito station where we depart the train, jumping on a bus to a coastal hacienda to visit a cocoa plantation and to learn about the history of this remarkable crop and its effect on Ecuadorian culture. There is also time for some chocolate tasting and a typical Ecuadorian lunch before boarding the train again. On this stretch we pass through coastal plantations of banana, sugarcane and rice en route to Yahuachi, where you transfer once more to the steam train for the final journey to the disembarkation point at the terminus in Durán and the Complejo Eloy Alvaro, where the locosheds and works are. And where, in the heyday of the line, passengers were trans-boarded onto a ferry across the estuary to Guayaquil. The ferry now sits rusting in the works yard, although both it and the yard itself are off-limits to us. The estuary and river Babahoyo is crossed by the road bridge to bustling, modern Guayaquil.

Our hotel for the night is the Oro Verde, long considered the acme of sophisticated accommodation in the commercial city, and though it's no longer the only good standard hotel in town, it retains an aura of an era when all the great and the good of Guayaquil disported here. There's an outdoor pool and a gym.

Day 10

Day at leisure before flying home.

We have the best part of a day in the city; you can relax by the pool, or join one of a number of optional excursions - a tour of the old city, a stroll along the sea-front malecón, or a drive out to the mangrove swamps if flora and fauna is your thing - although iguanas also live in the garden plazas of this tropical port.  

Guayaquil serves as a jumping off point for the Galápagos Islands, so please ask one of our specialists for further information if you wish to add a cruise or land based visit at the end of your tour.

Flights back to the UK leave in the early evening, arriving the next day.


UK clients arrive home the following day, Sunday.

Essential information


4 days spent travelling by train is the focus of the tour. The rail journeys are interspersed with road journeys and there are 2 additional private bus journeys to and from and Mindo.


Mid-range hotels and traditional haciendas.

These hotels are subject to change and are dependent on availability. Address and contact details will be sent out with your final documents. 

Examples of hotels include:

• Quito: Patio Andaluz
• Mindo: El Monte Ecolodge
• Quito: Swisshotel
• Riobamba: Hacienda Abraspungo
• Bucay: Hosteria d'Franco
• Guayaquil: Hotel Oro Verde


Breakfast daily; Lunch days 2, 5 and 9; Full Board days 3, 4, 6-8.

Included excursions

• Quito: guided city tour and equator monument
• Mindo: excursions as described
• 4 days on board the Trans Andean Railway

Summary of nights

10 days, 9 nights: Quito 2; Mindo 2; Quito 2; Riobamba 1; Bucay 1; Guayaquil 1.

Included in the journey price

• Local tour leader throughout
• All land transport
• Accommodation as specified
• Meals as specified
• Excursions as specified, including entrance fees
• International departure tax

Not included in the journey price

• Tips and gratuities
• Meals other than specified
• Optional excursions

Travelling alone

There is no extra cost for single travellers who are willing to share a room. You will be accommodated with a same-sex member of the group who is usually also travelling solo. For single travellers who wish to be sure of having their own room there are a limited number of single rooms available, which carry a surcharge.


The unit of currency in Ecuador is the US dollar.


It is very difficult to give a guideline for essential expenses, but as most meals are included you should only need an extra $20-30 a day for drinks and souvenirs.

How to take it

Cash machines are available in all major cities and towns, and so taking a debit or credit card with a PIN number is the most convenient way of withdrawing money while on your trip, and in most shops and restaurants you can also pay by card. However, since cards can get lost, damaged, withheld or blocked, you should not rely exclusively on a card to access funds. 

We recommend that additionally you take a reasonable quantity of US dollars cash (no more than is covered by your insurance), which you can spend as the dollar is the local currency, and possibly some travellers’ cheques (American Express are the most widely accepted), though these are gradually falling out of use. Dollar bills should be in good condition, soiled or torn bills may be refused. You can take sterling, but the exchange rate is not always competitive or even available, restricting the number of places where you can change money.


Tips are normally welcomed and expected. Local guides often rely on their tip as a significant proportion of their income. We recommend approximately $US5-10 (or local equivalent) per person for each of guides and drivers, depending on the size of the group.

Tipping guidelines can be found in our Briefing Dossier.


Travel insurance is essential. Details of our recommended policy can be found on our Travel Insurance page. 

Airport taxes

If you have purchased your flights through Journey Latin America, the international departure tax is usually included in the ticket.

Journey grade

There are some early mornings and some fairly long days of travel. All walks are optional and you should discuss with your guide which are suitable for you.


Lying at 2,850m on the Equator, the highlands have a permanent spring-like climate. The rainy season in the Andes runs between November and April when there are showers most afternoons. The dry season is June, July and August when the sun is strong during the day, but at night the temperature drops dramatically (maybe as low as freezing point.). May, September and October are less predictable, with both rainy and sunny spells. Given the proximity to the equator, altitude is the determining factor with regard to temperature. In the mountains at any time of year you should expect a variation between 15°C and 25°C.


Several days are spent at high altitude (over 2,500m). A small minority of visitors may suffer temporarily from altitude sickness. Symptoms vary; most common are mild headaches, slight nausea and breathlessness. If you don’t recover in a day or two speak to our representatives; in very rare instances it is necessary to descend to lower altitudes. Most people are unaffected and if you drink plenty of water and allow your body to acclimatise (don’t exert yourself or drink alcohol) in the first couple of days after arrival, you will minimise your chances of suffering any symptoms.

Please refer to our Briefing Dossier for further information. 

Clothing and special equipment

For day-to-day wear you should go prepared to encounter all seasons. Both warm clothing and a sun hat are essential at altitude; a light fleece jacket and a Gore-Tex outer shell makes a good combination.

Strong, comfortable footwear is essential and you should bring insect repellent, sun block, hat and sun glasses.

Don’t forget your binoculars, camera, charger and memory cards.

Please get in touch with the office before departure if you have any doubts. Good equipment is very important and hard to come by in South America and Galápagos.


Preventative vaccinations are recommended against the following: typhoid; polio; tetanus; hepatitis A. You should consult your GP for specific requirements such as malaria prophylactics. For admission to the Galápagos a yellow fever certificate is required for anyone over 1 year old coming from an area with risk of yellow fever transmission.  You can also find helpful information on the Masta Travel Health website. 

Cases of Zika virus have been reported in parts of Latin America. If you’re pregnant, or planning to be, you should follow the advice of the  National Travel Health Network and Centre


Holders of a full British passport do not require a visa, although passports must be valid for at least 6 months after the trip begins.  Clients with a different nationality should enquire or check with the Ecuadorian Consulate.

Esta - if flying to the US, or via the US you will need to fill in your application to ESTA online at

This costs $14 per person. This must be done by you personally.

Passports must also be machine-readable (MRP). Avoid locking suitcases if transiting the USA, as their customs authorities retain the right to break into them.

APIS - Many countries now oblige airlines to provide additional information about passengers prior to the flight departure. This Advance Passenger Information (APIS) must be supplied to us promptly in order to issue tickets and avoid fare increases. We will provide the airlines with the relevant details if we are booking your international flights. If the information is not provided you may be denied boarding.

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