CEN­TRAL ECUADOR

Best for: land­scapes, cul­ture, trekking, rid­ing, mar­kets

Wanderlust Travel Magazine (UK) - - ECUADOR & THE GALAPAGOS ISLANDS -

DU­RA­TION: 7–10 days ROUTE: Quito • Co­topaxi • Lat­a­cunga • Quilo­toa • Baños • Riobamba WHY GO? Good for ac­tive pur­suits, de-stress­ing in hot springs and train buffs. WHEN TO GO? All year; high sea­son Jun-sep Due south of Quito, Ecuador’s vol­cano av­enue be­gins. The first gi­ant is Co­topaxi, near the towns of Machachi and Lasso. Ha­cien­das and lodges in and near the vol­cano’s na­tional park of­fer ac­com­mo­da­tion, hik­ing and horse rid­ing. A bit fur­ther south, Lat­a­cunga is the start­ing point for some ex­cel­lent trekking, bik­ing and horse-rid­ing cir­cuits around the crater lake of Quilo­toa and the sur­round­ing vil­lages (these can also be done by car or bus). On the route is Saquisilí, whose Thurs­day market is a ma­jor indige­nous event. Lat­a­cunga cel­e­brates La Mama Ne­gra in Septem­ber and Novem­ber, a ri­otous but con­fus­ing af­fair honour­ing the Vir­gen de la Merced, whose cen­tral fig­ure is a man dressed as a black woman.

Head south-east to the hot springs at Baños, sit­u­ated in a val­ley of wa­ter­falls, bridges for bungee jump­ing and a thriv­ing ex­pat com­mu­nity. From here you can head east to the Ori­ente (see p81), or turn south to Riobamba. This chilly city gives ac­cess to an­other rel­a­tively eas­ily ac­ces­si­ble vol­cano, Chimb­o­razo, and to the Devil’s Nose train ride, whose switch­backs form the most fa­mous sec­tion of the Quito-guayaquil rail­way. The Alausí to Sibambe stretch is only a short sec­tion of the 450km line, but it’s un­doubt­edly one of the most spec­tac­u­lar 12km of rail­way in the world.

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