At first glance, Riobamba may not be the most attractive city to visit in Ecuador. I’ve got to say, however, that each time we visit I find myself liking it even more and more. On one end, it serves as a great hub for adventure-based tourism in Ecuador, but it also has some gems of its own in its downtown! Riobamba is full of history itself, but in the past its economy fed off of the Chimborazo Volcano (which is the highest point in the world when measure from the center of the Earth).
Historically, before freezers, men from the town would hike up the volcano every day to collect ice to sell in town. Now in days this practice is mostly gone, except for one inspiring individual called “The Last Ice Man.” New York Times made this mini-documentary on his story which I highly recommend!
If you’re planning to go to hiking or adventuring outdoors, Riobamba makes for a great hub to get to the El Altar Volcano, the Chimborazo Volcano, the adventure town Baños, and the Sangay National Park. Do your research before embarking to any of these outdoor activities. The hikes are very physically challenging and require thoughtful planning and preparation.
Our most special memories are from the “Ruta del Hielero” Trail Run. This race is wild, challenging (range from 6k to 42k mountain runs at very high altitude), and totally worth it. Check out our experience in this post, and check out upcoming races on the NAFTAEC page (usually happens the second Sunday in March). Race info for 2019 can be found here.
Things to See
You could easily spend a couple of days or more just in Riobamba. I love walking around the downtown streets, eating their delicious foods, and on clear days, enjoying breathtaking views of the Chimborazo Volcano.
The Train Station + Take a Ride
The train station in downtown Riobamba is historic and quaint. They have a little museums and artisans selling their wares inside. On top of that, you can take a ride on one of their “ice routes!” The tour costs $25 and lasts for 6.5 hours (only available on weekends). On a clear day you’ll get spectacular views of Chimborazo and the countryside. Check out the Tren Ecuador website for more info.
Avenue Daniel Leon Borja
If you like to wander around, you’ll enjoy walking down Avenue Daniel Leon Borja. Here you will find tons of restaurants and nightlife. I was surprised by how lively things get Thursday through Saturday!
We really enjoyed walking around the more historic end of town. Here you will find tons of old churches and parks. Some are marked on tourism maps, others will be a complete surprise. If you get to Parque Sucre you can walk down Primera Constituyente (or Jose Veloz) and see tons of cool stuff. This end of town is close to Mercado de la Merced.
Eat Well in Riobamba
Mercado de la Merced
Mercado de la Merced is just as much a place to eat as it is a place to visit! The culture of this market is entertaining in itself! Enter and you’ll see the room filled with stands selling hornado (roasted pig) and its fixings (be sure to try my favorite llapingachos which are little mashed potato pancakes). The women selling yell for you to come to their stand and certainly flirt well telling each customer how cute they are! You order according to the weight of the meat you’d like. A $5 plate is plenty. While you’re here order a juice the traditional way! Juices are made with ice brought down from the Chimborazo Volcano.
This is a must-stop every time we are in Riobamba. Hugo’s is the 50’s style diner found in the little park in front of Mercado de la Merced. They have yummy sandwiches and huge juices. These juices are also served with ice from Chimborazo. So delicious!
The bubble tea trend has not spread across Ecuador yet, but Riobamba has a great spot. To be fair, I have not tried a bubble tea outside of Ecuador, so my expectations might be different. But nonetheless, these things are delicious. The shop is located on the main strip, Avenida Daniel Leon Borja, about two blocks up from train station towards the terminal.
We loved getting a high quality coffee at this adorable, hip little cafe. Food is a bit more expensive than other spots in Riobamba.
A cevichocho is a ceviche made with “chochos,” a type of bean that is popular in Ecuador (always eaten cold). They can be ordered with seafood or pork (sounds odd, but it is the traditional way), and are very, very cheap. The option with shrimp cost a whopping $1.50 instead of the normal $1 option with pork. You can find these in a little outdoor market area where all vendors are selling the same dish.
As far as road trips go, we are usually traveling by motorcycle from Cuenca. Our two favorite stops are Alausí, which is known for its historic Devil’s Nose train. We love to get some fresh bread and coffee right in front of the train station. I highly recommend this train ride which only takes a couple of hours. However, you should book ahead for this one.
Our other favorite stop is the little Balbanera church in Colta. This is the first Catholic church built in Ecuador in 1534! This is just along the main road about 20 minutes before Riobamba.
Have you been in or around Riobamba? What did you like best? Let me know in the comments!