Wonderful scenery is common-place almost everywhere you travel in the Andes, but the central Andes offer some of the loveliest mountain scenery in the country. In this part of Ecuador, the Andes are at their most volcanic, with over fifty peaks pushing upwards from the colliding tectonic plates below them. Alexander von Humboldt described the route south from Quito to Riobamba as the ‘Avenue of the Volcanoes’, with the peaks of the twin sierras arrayed on either side.
On a clear day, from Quito you can see the perfectly symmetrical cone called Cotopaxi (19.347 ft). It is the highest active volcano in the world. This snow-capped volcano and its surroundings constitute the Cotopaxi National Park. This park offers numerous activities for adventurers and nature lovers. Located only 37 miles from Quito, it is one of the favorite visits in the capital city´s surroundings. 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.
LATACUNGA – When you visit the colossus “Cotopaxi Volcano”, do not miss the capital Cotopaxi´s province, Latacunga. This lovely city, heritage of Ecuador, holds the third best-preserved colonial downtown of the country. Full of history, architecture, culture and traditions. It is strategically located at the center of the country. This area has excellent lodging and dining options.
Latacunga with its spring-like weather is known both for its beauty and for friendly people. Here you can enjoy one of the most famous Ecuadorian festivals “The Mama Negra” (Black Mama) performed in the months of September and November. “The Mama Negra” is a reflection of the rich folklore in the region. As for traditional dishes, try the delicious “Queso de Hoja” (Leaf Cheese), “Allullas” (tortillas) and “Chugchucaras” (traditional dish with pork). You can also try the typical ice-cream in a town nearby called Salcedo. You can see the spectacular Yambo Lagoon from this small town.
Furthermore, in this amazing province you can find the “Llanganates National Park” where you can visit various stunning lagoons. Likewise, the “Limpiopungo” lagoon, and the “El Boliche” reserve; the majesty of the Ilinizas and Cerro Putzalahua and its rivers, waterfalls and hot springs to the coast of the province. Last but not least, the Quilotoa lagoon is a tourist site of growing popularity. The Quilotoa has a breathtaking water-filled caldera and is the most western volcano in the Ecuadorian Andes. This region has sites for adventure tourism and extreme sports, as well as hidden calm among the mountains and lakes viewpoints.
SAQUISILI AND QUILOTOA – 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 (11,840 ft.) to the lake at the bottom (7,446 ft.) is approximately 30 minutes; we recommend that you hire a mule on the way back.
The nearby Zumbahua town has a 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 hides, depicting daily life scenes, legends and village fiestas against a bright background of colored mountains and fields. These naive paintings can be found for sale mostly all around the country, and are locally known as Tigua paintings.
BAÑOS DE AGUA SANTA – The town of Baños is probably the most charming tourist destination in this province. It is located at the foot 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 rainforest.
The city has plenty of tourist information, and several agencies offer adventure sports. For years, Baños has been the place where 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 Samari SPA Resort and Luna Runtún Adventure SPA.
Chimborazo is the highest Ecuadorian peak (20.702 feet). Moreover, the summit of Chimborazo is the furthest point from the center of the Earth, as the Equatorial line crosses it, where the Earth is wider. Chimborazo is the “Colossus” of the mountains of the region, but on a clear day, other impressive snow-capped mountains can be admired: the Altar, the Carihuairazo, and the Sangay volcanoes.
Chimborazo province has the largest concentration of indigenous people 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. 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 departs 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).