South of Quito, the two parallel chains of the Andes that cross Ecuador from north to south rise to their most dramatic peaks. During his visit to South America in 1802, the German explorer Alexander von Humboldt (XIX C) called this section of the Ecuadorian Sierra "The Avenue of the Volcanoes". Eight of Ecuador’s ten highest summits are found in this part of the country.
On a clear day, from Quito you can seethe perfectly symmetrical cone shaped Cotopaxi (19.347 ft), the highest active volcano in the world. This snow-capped volcano and its surroundings make up the Cotopaxi National Park. This park offers numerous activities for adventurers and nature lovers, all immersed in an imposing geological landscape.
Although the Cotopaxi has had at least ten major eruptions since 1742, it’s been fairly quite since its last burst of activity in 1904.
Today, it is Ecuador’s favorite climb. Some of the highlights in this National Park are: the Rumiñahui volcano (15600 ft), and the Limpiopungo and Santo Domingo lagoons. On both lagoons it is possible to see the reflection of the surrounding volcanoes.
The Cotopaxi National Park is home to white-tailed deer, rabbits, lamas, Andean foxes and pumas, and over ninety species of birds.
Cozy hostels and beautiful traditional haciendas in the region offer comfortable lodging and numerous activities such as horseback riding, biking, trekking, and visits to typical country villages, nearby rose plantations and local markets.
The Saquisili weekly market (close to Latacunga) is the one of the most exhilarating in the region. Every Thursday hundreds of indigenous people fill the streets to sell their colorful handicrafts as well as their fresh crops and livestock.
Further south, taking a right from the city of Latacunga, riding through an extraordinary view of dense patchwork fields, the imposing Quilotoa crater strikes the visitors’ eye with its extraordinary turquoise water. The hike from the border of the crater (11.840ft ) to the lake at the bottom (7.446ft) is of approximately 30 minutes; we recommend that you hire a mule on the way back. The nearby Zumbahua town has an very interesting Saturday –morning market. Close to the town of Pujilí is the village of Tigua, where many artisans are devoted to the naive art painted on sheep hide depicting daily life scenes, legends and village fiestas against a bright background of coloured mountains and fields. These naïve paintings can be found for sale mostly all around the country, and are locally known as Tigua paintings.
The town of Baños is probably the most charming tourist destination in this province. It is located at the skirts of the Tungurahua active volcano (16.500 ft). The town of Baños is a favorite spot for national and international tourists. Its pleasant sub tropical climate and its extraordinary landscape and vegetation are very welcoming. Baños is considered the gate to the Ecuadorian Amazonia, as it is nestled between the volcano and the rain forest. The city has plenty tourist information, and several agencies offer adventure sports. For years, Baños has been the place to which Ecuadorians make pilgrimages to honor "Our Lady of the Holy Water". The walls of the Basilica are covered with paintings depicting miracles that are credited to this Virgin.
The town has several hostels for young adventure tourists, but the best accommodations are offered by LUNA RUNTUN, The Adventure SPA.
The Chimborazo is the highest Ecuadorian peak (20.702 feet), and the third highest in America. Moreover, the summit of the Chimborazo is the furthest point from the center of the Earth, as it is crossed by the Equatorial line, where the Earth is wider. The Chimborazo is the "Colossus" of the mountains of the region, but on a clear day, other impressive snowcapped mountains can be admired: the Altar, the Carihuairazo, and the Sangay volcano.
Chimborazo province has the largest concentration of indigenous population in Ecuador. These communities worshiped the Chimborazo as a god. Many of them still preserve their way of life, dress, food, and traditions.
Riobamba is the capital city of the province. From here, it is possible to arrange trips to the surrounding mountains. In the city one encounters indigenous people sharing with mestizos and a minority of white population. The Religious Art Museum "Madres Conceptas" and the Science Museum of the Maldonado School are definitely worth visiting.
The history of Riobamba is marked by the fact that it is the link between the Coast and the Highlands.
Riobamba's importance in the last few centuries was highly due to the presence of the train station, the main means of communication in Ecuador at the time.
Today, the train is no longer an important means of transportation, but is a unique tourist attraction. From the Riobamba station, the train parts to the most impressive track of the railway through the Avenue of the Volcanoes", which ends up at the "Nariz del Diablo" (Devil’s Nose).