Tren de la Libertad – a train ride from Ibarra to Salinas, Ecuador

by on 22nd June, 2018

Kat and her family hopped aboard the Tren de la Libertad and experience the beautiful change in scenery from the highlands town of Ibarra to the lowlands village of Salinas, surrounded by sugar plantations. Kat writes…


Ibarra – leaving the hustle and bustle behind

The train – well a train car, a hybrid between a train and a truck – left Ibarra in the morning and our first views were those of Ibarra’s shops, lining the streets. Butchers selling anything from mince to cow legs, shoes and clothes stalls, hair dressers inviting by-passers to have a cut, ladies selling sweetcorn and beans. One shop next to the other. My girls (3 & 5) are mesmerized, so much trade going on in the street is definitely a novelty for them.

Ecuador Ibarra Tren de la Libertad departure station

Ready to board

Slowly we leave the city behind, passing half finished buildings and dusty streets. Soon we are enjoying views of the valleys against a mountainous backdrop. The guide is telling us about Ibarra’s history, the agriculture in this region, the history of the railway – connecting the Andes with the coast – and the culture of Salinas, our destination, where black slaves first settled to work in the sugar cane fields. Today Salinas is still a mostly black community.


Tunnels, bridges and ice cream

The train slowly chugs along the tracks, high above several canyons – across a picturesque bridge high above a thundering river. Much to the girls excitement we pass through 7 tunnels, the train lightening up with disco lights in the darkness. It took years to build these tunnels, so we are told, all of them chiseled into the rocks by hand, with nothing more than pick axes and shovels.

We marvel at the deep canyon below which we cross on yet another impressive bridge, before stopping at a small station in the middle of nowhere. There is nothing much to do here, but eat ice cream – we happily oblige… (although I’d recommend Naranjilla over Avocado!)

Ecuador Tren de la Libertad eating ice cream

Ice cream time!


Sugar plantations and dancing La Bomba in Salinas

20 minutes later and we arrive at around 1600m and the last miles to Salinas are a different scenery altogether – the mountains are still looming in the distance, but instead of the green and brown fields of the Andes we are now passing green sugarcane plantations as far as the eye can see. The jumpers are coming off, too – it’s warm and muggy.

Just after lunchtime we pull to a halt in Salinas, a small town, with the air of a town deserted. The local dance group is expecting us and, dressed in bright blue and pink, are showing us how to dance “La Bomba”, their cultural dance. It feels touristy, yes, but it is also interesting to see and definitely entertaining. Much to the girls fascination (and ours) there are bottles placed on the dancers’ heads as they shake their hips. Soon our littlest one is on her feet, too – without the bottle though.

Ecuador, Salinas train ride , dancing La Bomba

Time to dance

What to do in Salinas? Well, there’s lunch, first of all – served at a local restaurant, or had at the plaza (we did the latter, taking some sandwiches). After that there is time to visit the small salt museum – Salinas name comes from its history of producing salt – or purchase local sweets and jams, and a few souvenirs of course. You can return by train, or like us, by car and will be back in Ibarra a mere 40 minutes later.


Top tip?

Ask for a seat reservation on the right side of the train going to Salinas, and on the left returning.

Ecuador Ibarra Tren de la Libertad tracks through Ibarra

Streets of Ibarra







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