10 reasons to explore the Chimborazo area
Setting out to discover Chimborazo and the larger Riobamba area is an experience that takes us deep into Ecuador’s history, nature and Andean geography, where the Inca’s sacred quinoa is cultivated, painting landscapes red, yellow, green and purple; where the Spanish first founded conquered lands within today’s Ecuadorian territory; where the first Western churches were built; where the country’s highest volcano rises… There are certainly more reasons than these to explore… but here are ours.
1 Walk the placid town of Riobamba
Riobamba was destroyed by a terrible earthquake in 1797, which made rebuilding the entire city farther east of its original site a necessity. Today, the city has grown tenfold. It is known as the “city of firsts” (ciudad de las primicias), since many Ecuadorian “firsts” took place here, including the founding of the first professional soccer team, the first radio station, the first housing project, and the first Olympic stadium, which greets you as you make it down the city’s main artery, Avda. Daniel León Borja… Wonderful churches, a placid village spirit with cobblestone streets amidst a bustling city life, you’ll certainly discover quaint corners and good food along the way.
2 Visit Balbanera Church
Probably Ecuador’s oldest church, built around the time the Spanish conquistadors founded their first Spanish city, Santiago de Quito, upon defeating the Incas in a crucial battle (later the Conquistadors would scratch it and found San Francisco de Quito and Santaigo de Guayaquil, today the two largest cities in the country). The church itself has been restored, but many of the original stone details remain. Set just across fabulous Colta Lake, and right along the train tracks, Balbanera is a must visit…
3 Climb to the refuge of Chimborazo and beyond
Some 45 minutes north of Riobamba lies the parking lot of the Chimborazo refuge. Anyone can make it here, although most will grab a hot chocolate at the refuge café and admire the spectacular view of the volcano; but it is actually a true “amusement park” for mountaineers (and good hikers). It is the world’s highest point from the planet’s core… and about an hour’s walk from here takes you to the legendary “Machay” cave. You can also try and make it up to the summit (athletic individuals will need about two weeks to get acclimatized). Opposite of the refuge entrance, also find a detour towards San Juan Canyon and its polylepis forests, where spectacular views await.
4 Guano and its fabulous rugs
Just ten minutes from Riobamba lies the town of Guano, known for its fine rugs (one even dons the United Nations’ building in New York). Seek out some of the few remaining rug artisans… and don’t forget to taste freshly baked cholas, bread buns with melted brown sugar inside.
5 Taste one of Ecuador’s best hornados
The Riobamba market is an experience within itself, one of great commotion and cross-cultural lure… it will be hard for you to avoid tasting its world-class hornado, considered one of the best in the country, as the vendors come up to your face with morcels for you to taste!
6 The Guamote Market
Not only is it one of the most colorful gatherings of people in the country, it is also one of the most authentic markets as well, an explosion of colors, identity and warmth of natives from nearby communities who come to sell their products, dressed in colorful garb, which is always a striking vision.
7 El Altar
Perhaps Ecuador’s most dramatic snow-capped volcano, with a total of nine peaks, a true altarpiece of the Andean “cathedral”, any hike or road that takes you towards this majestic presence is worthwhile… spectacular views and wonderful contact with nature.
8 Cacha and Pucará Tambo
The indigenous communities of Cacha are some of the most deep-rooted and authentic, and at the Pucará Tambo interpretation center you can learn about the great Puruhá people of the Andes, an ethnic group that predates the Incas.
9 Llamas, alpacas and vicuñas
Three of the four South American camelids are common sights here in the province of Chimborazo. Perhaps the most striking is the beautiful vicuñas that roam free on Mount Chimborazo (you can see them at the refuge).
10 The train, the Devil’s Nose and the ice-man
The portion of the tren crucero that reaches this province reserves many highlights for the curious, including a stop at Balbanera Church and Guamote, on its way to the fabulous Devil’s Nose. From Riobamba, you can also make your way to the Devil’s Nose and take this one-and-only ride zigzagging down a steep mountain. There is also the chance to visit the last hielero, a man who climbs up Chimborazo twice a week to chisel ice from the mountain’s glacier, as was done centuries ago.