Visit Chimborazo Volcano, in Riobamba Ecuador
Ecuador’s Chimborazo is the Tallest Volcano in the World
Many travellers either don’t spend long in Riobamba, or they miss it out altogether. However, there is something about being in a city that has 3 volcanoes on the skyline that immediately takes your breath away.
When you get to learn a little more about Riobamba, you find out that one of these is the tallest volcano in the world, and the closest point on Earth to the sun, Chimborazo. This city, perched up in the Andes at 2,700m, was my first experience of South America. I loved the vibrant, bustling markets, the wide-open parks, and the friendly people.
Riobamba is home to the largest indigenous population in Ecuador and every day you see people in traditional dress – think brightly coloured ponchos and trousers, topped with a white or black hat. Each persons’ dress denotes the village that they’re from. You can learn about these cultures the Riobamba museum.
A great way to immerse yourself in local culture is visiting one of the many parades that happen throughout the year. The most important are Semana Santa in March/April time and the Paseo del Niño at Christmas, where you’ll see traditional Andean costumes from Ecuador’s sierra region. The parades are a great way to meet locals and relax with them over a Pilsener beer or a Canelazo.
One of the days I spent here was one of my best travelling experiences, and it inspired the name for my travel blog. Mountain biking down Chimborazo was an almost magical experience. The mountain is regarded as a God, and Ecuadorians attribute mystical powers to it. It is even said that you should ask the volcano permission before you hike or ride on it, otherwise bad things may happen to you.
There’s also more wildlife than you’d expect up here too – I ran into a herd of vicuñas, small llama like creatures that produce the most expensive wool in the world. They’re usually scared of people, but if you’re really lucky, they’ll come right up close to you and you’ll get the most amazing pictures! Other wildlife in the area includes the maned wolf, and a number of large birds. There are no condors though – even though the lake at the top of Chimborazo is called Condor Cocha (Condor lake).
There’s a lot of history and culture to discover in Riobamba, and people should consider spending time here seeing the city as well as its awe-inspiring surroundings.
SEE – Photos & Videos
GO – Getting There
The most common and easiest way of travelling to Riobamba is taking the bus. From Quito, it takes 3-4 hours and costs between $4-5, depending on which company you take. From Guayaquil, it’s a little longer – 4.5 hours, and usually around $6. You can also take private taxis from either city, but they’ll cost a little more.
Although Riobamba has a train station, it’s only used for the tourist Tren de Hielo. There’s an airport, but it doesn’t offer international flights. It’s mostly just used for private planes.
Do – Activities & Attractions
Climb or bike on Chimborazo
The main reason that people come to Riobamba is to experience this magnificent mountain. You can get to the second refuge on your own at 5,100m, but any higher than that and you’ll need a certified guide. Getting to the summit is expensive – expect to pay around $200+ per day. You will need to have spent some time in the Andes acclimatising before tackling this. Keep your eyes peeled for vicuñas – their wool is the most expensive in the world.
Check out Pro Bici for mountain biking, or Julio Verne travel for climbing.
Take the Tren de Hielo from Riobamba’s beautifully restored train station.
Another way to experience Chimborazo and the stunning countryside around the city, Tren de Hielo is a throwback to Ecuador’s old rail network. You’ll pass by the Capac Urcu volcano, and visit one of Ecuador’s most famous residents – the last iceman of Chimborazo, in the villages of Urbina and La Moya.
Saturday Market (Plaza Roja)
Every Saturday morning, Plaza Roja becomes a bustling, friendly, indigenous market where you can buy everything from woolly jumpers to souvenirs, to roasted guinea pig (try it if you’re feeling brave). It’s a great place to spend a morning watching traditional handicrafts being made, before a spot of lunch or breakfast at one of the many stalls in the square.
People watch in Parque Maldonado
One of the city’s many parks, and definitely one of the most pleasant for whiling away an afternoon. It’s centred around Riobamba’s cathedral; whose façade was reconstructed stone by stone after a huge earthquake in 1797. Take a bench here and spend a few hours watching the world go by. It’s a good idea to buy a tasty ice cream off one of the local helado hawkers.
See Ecuador’s first Catholic church in Colta
Not in the city itself, but still in the province, Colta is about a half an hour bus ride from Riobamba. The reason you shouldn’t miss it is that La Iglesia de Balbanera (Balbanera church) was the first Catholic church built by the Spanish conquistadors. The small, beautiful building is right by a traditional market. Colta also has a lake where you can rent a bike, or simply just relax and drink in the views.
Some other options for day trips include trekking on El Altar, visiting the quaint village of Guano, or taking a trip to the co-operative town of Salinas de Guaranda, where small businesses make chocolate, cheese, and footballs to name just a few.
Stay – Accommodation
Hotel Tren Dorado
A cheap and cheerful option near to the train station (as the name suggests), Hotel Tren Dorado is a great choice for budget travellers. Rooms are clean, comfortable, and have wildcat-inspired blankets! Most importantly, hot water is always available. Less common than you’d hope in Ecuador!
Riobamba doesn’t have a presence on Hostelworld, but it does have a couple you can book upon arrival or by email. One of those is the Hostal Oasis, south of the city centre. It has a great garden and a shared kitchen and is situated close to Parque la Libertad. The area can be a bit sketchy at night, so take a taxi if you’re out having dinner or partying.
This 4-star option offers much more than you’d expect from its affordable price. Set in a colonial building, Casa 1881 effortlessly mixes late 1800’s style décor with mod cons like smart TVs, power showers, and Wi-Fi. There’s a beautifully decorated courtyard, and some of the best rooms come with balconies.
The tallest building in Riobamba, Hotel Zeus is close to the Terminal Terrestre (bus station) and the city centre. The onsite restaurant offers local and international food, and a buffet breakfast. Rooms have Wi-Fi, flat screen TVs and private bathrooms with hot water. The best rooms have views of Chimborazo when it’s not covered by clouds!
Eat – Restaurants
Riobamba is said to be the best place to eat hornado in Ecuador. What’s hornado? It’s a whole roast pig, cooked overnight for 8 hours and slowly turned over coals to make the meat juicy, and the skin crispy. It’s often served with llapingachos (small fried mashed potato balls), mote (boiled corn), and salad. It’s delicious, but also very fatty!
For the best hornado, go to Mercado de la Merced in the city centre. There’s a room full of it, where the women who serve will all be shouting at you to pick their kiosk.
Other dishes to try here are yaguarlocro (a soup made of lamb/pork entrails), cuy (roasted guinea pig), and fruit juices made with ice chipped away from the Chimborazo glacier.
There are also several Western restaurants on Avenida Daniel Leon Borja where you can get pizza, burgers, and chifa (Ecuador’s take on Chinese food).
Time – Seasonality & Schedules
The great thing about Ecuador is that due to its position on the equator, there’s never a bad time to visit. Daylight is from 7am to 7pm every day and the clocks don’t change. The days are mostly clear from June to September, whereas it’s cooler and wetter for the rest of the year. Riobamba is regarded as the coldest city in the country, and Ecuadorians refer to it as Fríobamba. At night, it can get seriously cold, but in the daytime, you’ll need sun cream.
Safety – Possible risks
Riobamba is one of the safest cities in Ecuador. However, like everywhere, there are places you should avoid, especially at night. Violent crimes are rare, but pickpocketing happens. Westerners stand out as targets, but in two months of living in the city, I never experienced any problems. That said, don’t take any unnecessary risks, and always take taxis at night.
Please Note: Travel inherently comes with an element of risk (just like crossing the road does). You are putting yourself in elements that are unfamiliar and foreign to your usual lifestyle and with that, become more susceptible to fall victim those who try to play off those unfamiliar to their local scams. There are also potential dangers in the environments to which you may not be accustomed to.
Please take extra care in travelling, ensure that you have adequate medical insurance (accidents seem to happen when you least expect them), and have let a trusted colleague, family member or friend know your whereabouts and activities.
Where Sidewalks End travel advises you to travel at your own risk, and to be extra aware of your surroundings (without letting it spoiling your time).
Pay – How much does it cost?
As a city, Riobamba is one of the cheapest places to travel in Ecuador. Tours of the surrounding mountains can be picked up for much cheaper than in Quito or Baños. Thanks to Ecuador using the US dollar, it’s a pretty easy transition currency wise too. Low prices of food, travel, and hotels mean that if you’re frugal, you can easily get by on $30 a day here.
Responsible Travel – Best Practices
As mentioned above, Riobamba has the largest indigenous population in Ecuador. Make sure the company you are touring with is responsible and pays an indigenous guide the wage they deserve. Although haggling can be fun at markets, remember that many of the products on sale are handcrafted by local and indigenous people. Be fair and pay a respectable price.
Reality Check – Be Aware
Riobamba is a great introduction to real South American life. The main problem that visitors will face is the altitude, but if you’ve spent a few days in Quito beforehand, that’s a great way to get yourself acclimatised.
You certainly should spend a few days trying the local food, perusing through souvenirs at the markets, and maybe even try testing out your Spanish! It’s a little different to the main tourist draws of Ecuador, and a few days here will set you back very little cost wise. You won’t regret a trip to Riobamba!
https://www.ecostravel.com/en/ecuador/cities-destination/riobamba/catedral-riobamba.php – information on Riobamba cathedral
https://www.riobamba.co (in Spanish) – A website about the city.
http://www.ecuadorexplorer.com/html/riobamba.html – Information on Riobamba and other cities in Ecuador.
www.thecuriousvicuna.wordpress.com – travel blog by an English teacher based in Riobamba.
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Have you ever been to a city that had a really unique historical or cultural feature? Where was it and what made it so unique?
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