Not only the north and south poles of the planet have frozen places with an undeniable attraction for the tourist. At ITV-Ice For Life we are well aware of the ice tradition throughout the world, one of the most surprising being that which takes place in the Ecuadorian Andes. In order to visit such a historical place the best way is to go to the highest railway station on Earth.
This is where you can catch what is known as the Ice Train, a railway route that allows tourists to get to know the wastelands of Urbina, the tradition of the Icemen of Chimborazo and to learn how ice was extracted from the glaciers. This is one of those unforgettable experiences that are a must if you visit Ecuador.
The route, apart from allowing us to learn more about ice, leads us through the inter-Andean countryside, full of nature and history. The communities that live in these regions will make us feel alive and protagonists of an adventure, full of surprises.
The Ice Train starts off in Ambato, in the province of Tungurahua. This place is two and a half hours away from Quito, the capital of Ecuador. Once we are on the train, the first stop is the station at Cevallos, 45 minutes away from Ambato. In this region we shall cross fruit orchards and cattle fields. Although stockbreeding has decreased over the last years due to the eruptions of the Tungurahua volcano, another spectacle worth seeing in this conjunction between ice and fire.
The next step is Urbina, in the province of Chimborazo. This is probably the stretch that we shall enjoy the most, both for its landscape and its relationship with ice. Here, we shall again enjoy the grandeur of the Chimborazo volcano, the highest in Ecuador, at 6,310 metres above sea level. Moreover, this volcano is the point furthest away from the centre of the Earth and offers us a magnificent view surrounded by llamas and other livestock belonging to the indigenous communities in the area.
Urbina is, in fact, Ecuador’s highest railway station (3,000 metres above sea level). On this section of the Ice Train’s route there is a small museum dedicated to both the train and the icemen. The fact is that these figures form part of the magic of this route. These were the men who climbed up the volcano up to the glaciers where they would chip out the ice. From these blocks they obtained the necessary raw material to be taken to the cities and be able to preserve foodstuffs or make ice cream.
The most curious story at this station is that of Baltazar Ushca: the last iceman of Chimborazo. At least, that is what they call him. He still goes up a couple of times a week to a frozen mine at a height of 4,500 metres. There he carried on the work of extracting blocks of ice. He has been doing this work since he was 15 years old. During each trip he is the one who explains how the extraction is carried out, as well as the uses and benefits ice has for the communities in the area.
After this icy experience, the route reaches its end, continuing on through the city of Riobamba, the capital of the province of Chimborazo. You also have the option of returning to Ambato. On both stretches you will cross the inter-Andean countryside and enjoy the spectacular view of part of the route of the volcanoes.