The capital of the province of Chimborazo is located at the southern end of the valley of the volcanoes. On a clear day it seems the great mountain is within touching distance and you can also see El Altar and Tungurahua. It’s more common that cloud envelopes them but even then it doesn’t actually rain much and stays warm enough during the day to wander around the colonial buildings and squares in the centre before you attempt a climb or take the train to the Nariz del Diablo.
The central square is called Parque Maldonado. You should find a few people sitting on the benches and walking around the fountain and flowers unless it’s Sunday when the whole centre is dead. Admire the stone façade of the cathedral on the north-east side and the colonnaded municipio building.
Continue up Calle Veloz and cross past the Iglesia de la Concepción to the art museum inside the Monasterio de las Conceptas which has an interesting collection of colonial art in a beautiful building.
On the corner of Primero Constituyente and Rocafuerte you can visit the building where Simon Bolívar stayed and read the epic poem he wrote about his attempted ascent of Chimborazo on 5 July 1822. This is also the building where the first constitution of Ecuador was hammered out.
On Saturdays there is a market around the streets between España and 5 de Junio. There are plenty of fruit and vegetables on sale you can also buy textiles and beads. If you’re planning to take the train to the Nariz del Diablo the next day look for a hat and gloves – you’ll need them. Head up to the train station, a missed opportunity in attracting tourists. Hopefully you can find the little desk to buy your ticket.
North of the station is a bullring and the ‘Olympic’ football stadium where the local team, Olmedo might be playing. Beyond this is Guayaquil Park, of limited beauty but somewhere to sit down and catch your breath. North-east of the station is Parque 21 de Abril which also feels dirty and neglected. On a clear day you can see the surrounding volcanoes from here but you have to gaze at them over the breeze blocks of the uglier parts of Riobamba.
Riobamba styles itself as the “Sultan of the Andes”. To me this conjures up an image of an oasis in the desert (not true) but I guess it refers to the relaxed pace of life (true).
Where to Stay, Where to Eat
Click here to find out Where to Stay or Where to Eat in Riobamba.
Riobamba comes to life in the evening. No not really; if you arrive with this hope you will be disappointed. However there are a couple of good places to hang out. The San Valentin club is a lively café/bar. La Vieja Guardia and Romeo & Juliet Bar play a mix of salsa and dance music.
Read more about the Routes to Riobamba: Riobamba – Ambato and Riobamba – Cuenca run north and south through the highlands. The Colta – Bucay road is the most direct connection with the coast.
Sights Around Riobamba
Alternatively you could catch a bus ( they leave from Pichincha and York) for the short 5km north to Guano. Guano means sea bird poo, fortunately not a major problem here. It does offer a good range of leather goods and carpets, a sleepy plaza and a little teleferico (cable car) ride which is not for the faint hearted but will give you a great view over the town and the gently rolling countryside all around.
The Laguna de Colta is located about 15km south-west of Riobamba just off the Panamericana. At the northern end there is a picnic area and paths from where you can see birds amongst the reeds.
On the roadside north of the lake is the beautiful little church of La Balbanera, rebuilt to replace the first one in Ecuador which stood on the same site and was destroyed in an earthquake in 1797. The name commemorates a miracle from Spain. In the Valle de Logroño, in Valvanera, a bandit named Nuño Onez heard the prayer of a victim and immediately repented his life of crime. An angel appeared and led him to look for an oak tree where he saw the image of the Virgin. A festival is celebrated here on 8 September.
A few kilometres downhill and north of Balbanera is Cajabamba. This was the second city founded by the Spanish in Ecuadorian territory, but it was destroyed by the 1797 earthquake and landslide. Following this disaster, Riobamba was established and modern Cajabamba is unremarkable.
Note that the train passes both the church and the lake. If you want a closer look you could also stop on a bus travelling from the south (possibly on your return from Alausí) or from the coast to Riobamba