A Travel Guide to Riobamba, Ecuador
Read our personally curated travel guide to Riobamba, a city in Ecuador. Riobamba offers a large selection of things to do, indigenous culture, and many options on one-day trips. In this travel blog, we share tips on top attractions, and practical information on where to stay, what to pack, and how to get to Riobamba.
Riobamba in Chimborazo province is an interesting place. When walking around the city center, you would not believe that more than 150 000 people live here. The heart of Riobamba has a small-town feel, and the feeling is even intensified by a large number of indigenous people strolling around Riobamba dressed in their traditional clothes.
This is what we liked about the city the most - the connection with local people, that we could see the traditional way of life and authenticity, which we feel is still harder to find when traveling around the world, then we appreciated that the architecture was quite interesting, and we were able to discover and explore some of the top attractions in only one day, and the most positive thing about Riobamba was that the city is close Chimborazo, Ecuador's highest peak.
When looking for the best things to do, you can either find them within the city, but some of the best highlights are outside Riobamba, a short ride away by car, or by train.
Although Riobamba is often bypassed by travelers as it is not an easy task to create perfect Ecuador itinerary, as the country, despite its size has so much to offer, if you have one or two days spare, it is a good idea to give Riobamba a chance.
The city has a great atmosphere, and Chimborazo volcano is a true must-see thing.
This destination is great for both, adventure travelers, and even for visitors enjoying the slow pace, sightseeing in the city, and even for those who are completely satisfied to get only a glimpse of high peaks in Andes mountain range.
In this travel guide, we would like to inspire you to visit Riobamba, share with you the best things to see and do in the city, and also up-to-date information which should make your visit easier and more efficient.
BEST THINGS TO SEE AND DO IN RIOBAMBA
Riobamba played a significant role in Ecuador's history, and thanks to it there is no shortage of wonderful buildings, parks, churches.
Simply, Riobamba has a style, but it also has its unique soul.
The top attractions and must-visit places within the city can be seen in only one day, but if you want to get more intimate experience, get closer to the highest mountain Chimborazo or even take an iconic train ride, reserve for your visit two to three days.
And what are the best things to do in Riobamba?
Keep on reading!
SIGHTSEEING IN RIOBAMBA
Although Riobamba will probably never make it to guidebooks as Ecuador's most beautiful city as it will always be overshadowed by the capital Quito, there are still quite many notable sights you should not miss.
For most of the time in the city, you do not need any particular plan, just walk around the center with your eyes wide open, your legs will eventually take you to the most exceptional places.
Riobamba has several parks in the heart of the city only a couple of blocks from each other, but to see the best, head to Park Maldonado. It is a good place to start because you will find here the city's finest buildings.
There is a chance that your eyes will be caught by Catedral de San Pedro which is the most notable cathedral in the city.
We found the architectural style a bit similar to other religious buildings in the country, but it does not change the fact, that the cathedral, which survived a destructive earthquake in 1797 is beautiful.
Some parts were also destroyed by the earthquake, but the cathedral was repaired by using rocks from other destroyed buildings.
Among other notable buildings on the square belongs Municipio, which played a major role in Ecuador's history, because here was signed the country's first constitution in 1830, then notice a Museum de la Ciudad. Nearby is Parque Sucre, where you will find Iglesia Concepcion and on the corner also Teatro Leon. Parque La Libertad is home to Basilica del Sagrado Corado de Jesus. It is possible to walk inside the churches and admire the interior as well.
When walking the other direction from the center, you will get to Train Station, and inside the building, you will find a small museum with a free entrance. Although the departure point of a train going to Devil's Nose was moved to Alausi station, it is still a building significant for Riobamba as other trains leave the station, and the station is also significant for Riobamba’s history.
Also, on the way between the center and the station, you will find many restaurants, fast foods, and stalls with traditional sweets.
Riobamba has a large selection of markets and on market days (which is usually on Wednesday and Saturday), it seems that one market blends into another. One of the best markets for handicrafts and clothes is near Plaza Roja, but if you are looking for cheap grocery shopping (mostly fruits and vegetables) or something to eat, head to Mercado Central (it is usually quiet on Sunday).
We will not name here every single pretty building in Riobamba, simply walk around, and you will stumble upon another church or another small plaza or fountain which is well worth it.
One of our favorite things to do in Riobamba was photographing people (always ask permission and be polite when the interaction is unavoidable - in the cities we usually use a small camera) as this province is home to a large community of indigenous people, and their colorful dress and tall hats (depending on the hat, you can guess from which tribe a person is) are absolutely photogenic.
We are never tired of good perfect views of cone-shaped volcanoes, so when the day is coming to an end, it is a time to watch the sunset.
Same as in Latacunga - which is the base for the most popular multi-day trek in the country, Quilotoa Loop - many hotels in Riobamba have a rooftop terrace, from where you can watch the last sun rays touching the surrounding peaks, alternatively, walk to Parque 21 de Abril which is near to the train station.
We always prefer nature over cities, so no wonder, that our main motivation to visit Riobamba was getting closer to Ecuador's highest mountain, Chimborazo (although later we found out that Riobamba is a pleasant stop on its own).
Chimborazo is over 6200 meters high, and even if you plan on doing a one-day trip to the reserve, you should be acclimatized or at least know how your body usually reacts in the heights.
There are several activities you can do in the park, so you can choose the right one for you depending on your interests and level of fitness. The park is approximately one hour drive from the city, so first, you have to solve a problem of how to get there.
In case you will take a tour, the problem is solved as transport is included, but if you want to be completely independent, getting closer to the hiking trail is a bit more challenging, but for sure not impossible.
The easiest way is to arrange a shuttle in one of the travel agencies in Riobamba, or you can take a public bus which goes to Guaranda, you will have to get off at the park's entrance, and from here either walk 8 kilometers uphill, take a taxi or hitchhike.
Although this option is not impossible, it can be tricky to get back, especially when the weather is bad.
Therefore, we recommend you to book a tour or private transport.
Most experienced travelers, or rather we should say climbers can attempt to get to the top of Chimborazo volcano, but a guide and experiences are necessary to enhance your chances.
Another option on what to do in the park is to take a short hike from Refugio Carrel at 4850 meters to Laguna Condor Cocha at 5100 meters. The hike is not challenging except for the wind and the altitude.
We opted for a biking tour, which included transport to the park, independent hike to the lake, and then almost 40 kilometers long downhill ride from the slopes of Chimborazo.
You can read more about our biking experience here, but we must say in advance, that it was one of the best experiences we've had in Ecuador.
The landscape around Riobamba is incredibly scenic, and one of the most popular ways how to see the beauty in a short period, almost effortlessly, is by taking a train tour.
There are several train paths around Riobamba, one of the most popular ones is a train to Devil's Nose alias Nariz de Diablo, which zigzags through impressive scenery, and the views, in combination with steep ascends and descends will leave you speechless.
This train does not leave from Riobamba but from a nearby village Alausi (where you can also start Ecuador's Inca Trail to Ingapirca), but another train, which goes only on weekends, Tren de Hielo, leaves from the city's train station.
Train tours are usually also combined with learning more about the region's culture, and you will have a chance to see some products made in Chimborazo province.
WHERE TO STAY IN RIOBAMBA
You can find quite many accommodation options in Riobamba for every budget, even in the city center, so it does not make sense to stay anywhere far.
We've handpicked three best hotels for every type of traveler.
Budget | Hotel Estación - This traditional family-run hotel features clean rooms and excellent location. There is also a great view from the terrace, reliable WiFi, and a good breakfast. A great choice for all budget travelers.
Mid-range | Casa 1881 - If you are looking for a quiet and peaceful stay in a historical building from the late 19th century in the city center, this might be just the perfect choice for you.
Mid-range | Hotel Santa Isabella - We stayed in this beautifully renovated hotel built in colonial style and had a great time. The room was bright and clean, and we loved the indigenous soaps and shampoos from Amazon.
Alternatively, search for your accommodation via Hostelworld.
WHEN TO VISIT RIOBAMBA
Riobamba is an all-year-round destination, but in general, you can expect the best conditions - blue skies and dry weather between June and September.
This season also coincides with school holidays in Europe or the USA, so you can also meet more travelers in the area.
Temperatures do not vary that much, usually, there are pleasant temperatures during the day, and it gets chilly at night.
Remember, that Riobamba is 2700 meters above sea level, so it is not very hot here, and also surrounding mountains can always bring clouds (or hold them) and rain any time of the year.
It does not matter if you plan on hiking or biking near Chimborazo or you prefer taking a train ride or wander around Riobamba, here are several essential things to pack:
HOW TO GET TO RIOBAMBA
Although Riobamba is often bypassed by travelers heading to other unmissable places such as Banos, Cuenca or Guayaquil which is the departure point for visiting the Galapagos Islands, the good thing for visitors intending to spend some time in Riobamba is, that most of the buses traversing Ecuador stop here, and either pick up or drop off passengers.
That's why you should not have a problem to get by bus to all destinations mentioned above, but also to the capital city, Quito.
Roads in Ecuador, at least on the main highways connecting touristy destinations are very good, most of them are new, and we found traveling by buses completely fine, even above our expectations.
The only downside of traveling by bus is a danger of pickpockets and bag snatching - always keep your valuables on your lap, never leave then on overhead shelves or the ground.
Although renting a car is not that common in Ecuador, what we could see, the infrastructure is really great, and you can consider this way of getting around when short on time, or simply when you prefer a higher level of comfort and independence.
Last but not least option on how to get either from or to Riobamba is by train.
There are no regular passenger trains, but touristic services. Some travelers might find interesting that railroad traverses Ecuador from north to south, and there are many options in the country to get from one point to another by train.
The most popular one-day train trip leads around Devil's Nose, but it does not have to be visited only on a one-day tour from Riobamba, but you can also combine it, and use it as a transport option, as you can be dropped off in Cuenca as well.
If you are a fan of trains, one of the best-rated activities in Ecuador is a multi-day train tour from Quito to Guayaquil.
SAFETY IN RIOBAMBA
Riobamba is one of the safest cities in Ecuador, and we never felt threatened when walking in the city center.
Riobamba was also one of the few places we walked outside even after dark, and although we could see several homeless people close to the train station or close fast foods, no one ever approached us, and we also minded our business.
Streets were not somehow crowded, and the place with the highest concentration of people we visited in this destination was the central market.
Always watch your belongings, pickpockets can happen as anywhere else in the world, but in general, you should not experience any troubles in Riobamba, but always keep in mind you will always stand out even if you try to keep a low profile.
HOW TO GET AROUND RIOBAMBA
It is possible to get around Riobamba by public transport, but as the city center is compact, we think it is much easier to simply walk than trying to figure out how the system works.
Taxis are plentiful, so it is easy to flag down a taxi to get from a restaurant to your hotel after dark, only remember to negotiate the price before getting in.
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