Indigenous markets, scenic train rides and Ecuador’s tallest mountain; Riobamba is an Ecuadorian gem.
Set in the Chambo River Valley in the Central Highlands of Ecuador, Riobamba is an energetic town awash with pastel-hued colonial buildings lining cobblestone streets, leading to leafy plazas such as the Parque Maldonado. In the distance, the snow-dusted peak of Chimborazo can be seen on a clear day, and there are many other natural sights to discover on day trips out of Riobamba, including Sangay National Park, the lakes of Atillo and Ozogoche, plus the enthralling ‘Devil’s Nose’ train ride.
The indigenous and colonial influences to be seen and heard around Riobamba are in many ways a throwback to the various major turning points in Ecuadorian history. The Puhurá Indians were the first settlers to the region many years ago, and much of their traditional way of life still exists to this day. The town of Riobamba itself was established by the colonising Spanish in the 16th century, with nearby native populations moving to the city in the 18th century; bringing with them their traditional beliefs, culture, and practices.
Today, this mix of pre- and post-colonial Ecuador is intoxicating and fascinating in equal measure. The traditional markets are a living and breathing history lesson, as is much of the architecture. The skyline surrounding Riobamba is dominated by the looming sight of nearby Chimborazo, Ecuador’s highest mountain. Climbing Chimborazo is a major attraction for those brave enough, with the views on the way up and at the summit offering unparalleled vistas across the plateau. Another way to soak up the surrounding countryside is by taking the famous ‘Devil’s Nose’ train ride, widely considered to be one of the most spectacular on earth.
Riding the 'Devil's Nose' train
Undoubtedly one of the continent’s most thrilling rail journeys is the historic ‘Devil’s Nose’ train ride. Originally a functional route built between Quito and Guayaquil, today it is time to sit back and relax as the railroad rolls and winds its way through the valley and down the rocky slopes of the Andes. A memorable experience, though not for the fainthearted!
Once considered the tallest mountain on earth, the 6,000m-high Chimborazo Mountain makes for a formidable foe. Due to the Earth's geology and location of the mountain, the summit of Chimborazo does actually represent the furthest point from the planet's core, to its outermost surface. With numerous trails, multiple routes, and several fixed refuges across the mountain, hikers of all abilities can enjoy this wonder of mother nature.
Lagunas de Ozogoche
The collection of sprawling lakes known as Lagunas de Ozogoche is a welcome addition to the already attractive landscapes of Riobamba. Aside from their natural beauty, the lakes play host to an unusual and unexplained phenomenon in the bird kingdom, whereby an annual pilgrimage of migratory Plovers descend on the lake unannounced, in an apparent bid to commit suicide! This rare act is acknowledged in local festivals of respect after its occurrence, though conservationists are at a loss to explain it.