Riobamba Ecuador is an intriguing town that travelers sometimes bypass during their Ecuador itinerary. Yet we discovered there are so many awesome things to do around Riobamba, particularly when it comes to outdoor adventure throughout the surrounding Chimborazo province! For those traveling in between Quito and Cuenca, Riobamba can make an ideal halfway stop to use as a base for further Andean explorations.
The town of Riobamba itself also makes for a pleasant place to explore. There are enough things to do in Riobamba to fill a day of sightseeing within the city. Yet it’s really the many adventures to do from Riobamba that make a visit here so worthwhile. After all, Riobamba sits at the foot of Ecuador’s highest mountain, Chimborazo, and is nestled right in the middle of Ecuador’s Avenue of Volcanos. This positioning provides for countless recreational pursuits surrounding Riobamba.
Come to Riobamba Ecuador for these incredible day trips into the Andes. Then while in this adventure hub, be sure to have a look into the city’s churches, parks, museums, landmarks, and more. There are also some interesting local specialties to taste in Riobamba. Plus there are a handful of great affordable hotels to get a good night’s rest in between the area’s many adventures.
From Riobamba, there are volcanos to climb, an incredible mountain biking trip down Chimborazo, what we’d argue is Ecuador’s best rail excursion (Tren de Hielo), and charming indigenous villages like Guano to explore. This Riobamba Travel Guide covers it all, complete with videos, directions, travel tips, and other important info you need to know before you go.
Get to Know Riobamba Ecuador:
While the excursions all this town may provide for some of Riobamba’s star attractions, that’s certainly not Riobamba’s only claim to fame. Riobamba is a city of firsts in Ecuador.
Riobamba is the first city in Ecuador to be founded by the Spaniards, all the way back in 1534. Riobamba is often referred to as “where Ecuador was born,” since it is indeed the first city in what has become modern-day Ecuador.
But this designation has another meaning. Because Riobamba is also where the first constitution of Ecuador was signed, in 1830, marking the nation’s independence from Gran Colombia. That took place decades after the 1797 earthquake that destroyed the city and subsequently moved it to its current location, where it remains firmly today. There is some deep Ecuadorian history to be discovered in Riobamba that includes many of the country’s oldest assets.
Here are some more quick facts about this Andean city in Ecuador.
- Full name: San Pedro de Riobamba
- Capital City: of Chimborazo Province
- Population: 157,000, 14th most populous city in EC
- Elevation: 2,750 meters (9,022 feet)
- Weather: Avg high: 19°C (66°C), avg low: 9°C (48°F)
- Climate: June-Sept: cooler, drier, windier, Nov-April: more rainy days
- Get here: 3½ hours by bus from Quito, which has int’l airport
So let’s take a closer look into Riobamba Ecuador!
What to Do in Riobamba Ecuador?
Riobamba may be best visited for its surrounding adventure. But in between trekking volcanos and cycling down them, it can be fun to more deeply explore this city.
Sights to See in Riobamba
It’s possible to explore most of Riobamba’s sights and attractions within one day of strolling around the town. Among the city landmarks are churches, museums, park spaces and more.
Riobamba’s city highlights may not be among Ecuador’s top attractions. But it’s definitely worth spending an enjoyable day wandering around town to see Riobamba’s sights and to taste its local specialties.
The map below and subsequent list show Riobamba’s most notable highlights that can be easily accessed by walking around the city center.
The Riobamba Cathedral Mixes Old with New
The Cathedral located on Plaza Mayor is arguably the most notable church in Riobamba. Parts of the cathedral were built using stones from the former city that was destroyed in the 1797 earthquake.
Look closely at the exterior and you’ll notice it incorporates traditional Catholic elements that are mixed with indigenous symbols. This was in an effort to help sway the indigenous population towards Catholicism. A prominent example of this is the circle above the entranceway that aligns with the sun, which native populations regarded as a god.
Other notable Riobamba churches:
- Basilica: Constructed from 1883-1915, known for its round dome.
- Iglesia de Inmaculada Concepción: Ornate church adjacent to the former monastery of the same name.
- Iglesia San Antonio: Church perched up on one of the city’s highest points.
- Iglesia La Merced: Neoclassical church near the market of the same name.
Find Neptune and Inspect the Lions in Sucre Park
Parque Sucre is one of Riobamba’s most central plazas. It’s punctuated by the Neptune fountain that inaugurated the city’s potable water in 1913. The sculpture is one from RL Potts Ironworks, of which similar fountains can be found around the world.
Sucre Park was eventually gated and used by Riobamba’s elite. Yet it has since been returned to the public. But not without some local controversy. Be sure to get a close look at the lions, which decorate the park’s benches. Locals were upset to discover that some of these ornately sculpted lions were pilfered by city officials, only to be replaced with far inferior renditions.
Other notable Riobamba parks:
- Parque Maldonado: main plaza in front of Riobamba Cathedral
- Parque La Libertad: central square in front of Riobamba’s basilica
- Parque Guayaquil: larger park space with paddleboats
Take in the Volcano Views at Parque Abril de 21
If you’re in Riobamba with clear skies, then head directly to the stairs that lead up a hill in the center of the city. That’s where you’ll find Parque Abril de 21. This hilltop spot offers excellent views of the volcanos surrounding Riobamba, that otherwise get obscured by buildings down on the city’s streets.
Explore the Free City Museum
Riobamba’s Museo de la Ciudad is housed inside a historic mansion that was donated to the city by the former resident of the home. Also left behind are period furnishings for visitors to tour.
The museum also houses some interesting artwork and rotating exhibits. For example, during our last visit, the museum held a display about Pases del Niño, one of the most important cultural events to the city. Entrance is free, so be sure to pop in for a look around.
💲 Free entrance. 🕗 8:00-6:00 but closes during lunch, 12:30-2:30 pm. 📍 Located here.
Visit the Religious Art Museum inside an Old Monastery
Set in a former convent, the La Concepción Religious Art Museum houses a collection of hundreds of paintings, photos, and sculptures pertaining to Christianity. Each of the fifteen rooms show a different display.
Tours in Spanish are included with admission or guests are free to tour on their own. The Religious Art Museum is often lauded as the best museum in Riobamba. Yet we’d personally only recommend it to those with an appreciation for religious art.
💲 $3 entrance. 🕗 Open 9:00-5:30 Tues-Sat. 📍 Located here.
Drink a Rompenunca in Riobamba
Throughout Ecuador, you’ll find fruit drinks called batidos. It’s basically like a thin smoothie. Fruit juice, a bit of ice, and often some sugar are mixed in a blender. Yet here in the markets of Riobamba the batidos are actually made with glacier ice, harvested by hand from atop Chimborazo.
It’s an old tradition that’s almost become lost since refrigeration and ice-makers have come about. Yet there is still one 75-year-old ice man left who keeps the tradition alive by trekking to the glacier to retrieve this pure mineral-laden ice and carrying it down on his back so this market can make these drinks.
Using Chimborazo’s glacial ice, these refreshing beverages are called rompenuncas. They come in a variety of flavors. We’ll always choose mora (local blackberry). It is delicious, super refreshing, and there may be something to the glacier ice.
Find rompenuncas at the outdoor stands on the backside of Mercado la Merced and expect to pay $1.00-$1.50.
Eat Riobamba’s Local Specialty: Ceviche de Chochos
While this is named a “ceviche,” there is no fish found in this Riobamba local specialty. This is the middle the Andes after all. So local ingredients are used instead of fresh seafood found along the coast.
So what is Riobamba’s ceviche de chocho? This dish starts with a tomato sauce base that also included cucumber and onion, not too dissimilar from Spanish gazpacho. Then comes the chochos, a protein-rich bean grown throughout the Andes.
Typically, meat is also added. Diners are given the option to have the ceviche de chocho “con cuero” (with leather) or “con oreja” (with ear).
If this sounds like it’s a bit much, it might be. We always try to approach local cuisine with an open mind, but it’s tough for us to find delight in rubbery pig skin floating around in an otherwise delicious cold soup.
If it weren’t for the chewy pig meat, our personal opinion of ceviche de chocho would be that it’s a pretty tasty dish. It feels a little like an Andean twist on Spanish gazpacho. Yet we’d caution non-adventurous eaters to consider a vegetarian rendition of Riobamba’s most famous dish. Add a bit of hot sauce, a squeeze of lime, and some popcorn for a crunch to really brighten up this ceviche of tomato sauce with beans.
Ceviche de chocho is eaten as a breakfast meal here in Riobamba and some shops close up by noon. It’s an inexpensive meal or morning snack, at $1.50 each.
You can find ceviche de chocho at eateries throughout Riobamba. Doña Mary is an oft-recommended ceviche de chocho joint to try this dish.
📍 It’s located here.
🕗 Open 7:30-2:30.
💲 Cost: $1.25 – $3.00, depending on the choice of meat (or lack thereof).
Also, try Riobamba’s hornado!
You may have tried hornado elsewhere in Ecuador. Yet Riobamba has a distinctive style to their rendition of this classic Ecuadorian pig roast.
Find hornado at Mercado de Merced, a local food market where the women will woo potential customers with plentiful free samples, along with plentiful compliments. It’s a funny scene to take in, even if you’re not planning to eat there. But you definitely should!
Buy Local Crafts at Riobamba’s Saturday Market
Every Saturday in Riobamba, a local market sprouts up in Plaza Roja, next to the Iglesia de Concepcion. It’s a hodgepodge of clothing, crafts, and other items, many of which are made in Riobamba and surrounding villages.
It’s more of a market by locals and for locals. Yet visitors may be able to find some unique souvenirs too. This Saturday market gets going early, around 6 am, and lasts until the afternoon. Vendors start packing up during the four o’clock hour.
More Sights to See Around Riobamba:
🚂 Riobamba Train Station: There’s a small free museum here with exhibits about the construction of Ecuador’s railway. It’s also the departure point for the Ice Train, explained in greater detail below.
🏟️ Olympic Stadium: Ecuador’s first Olympic Stadium, inaugurated in 1926, is situated in Riobamba next to Guayaquil Park.
🎭 Teatro Leon: The city’s 100-year-old theatre has been under construction since 2014 and remained under scaffolding during our last visit. The planned reopening has been delayed to 2020 (or potentially beyond).
🐂 Plaza de Toros: Ecuador’s first full fighting ring (1951) is sporadically open to the public during the day to look around.
🏫 Correos de Ecuador Riobamba: Post office building with clocktower that is a landmark to Riobamba.
🏛️ Casa de Bolivar: A former home of Ecuador (Gran Colombia) Independence hero, which now houses a well-decorated restaurant, El Delirio.
5 Best Day Trips & Adventures to Do from Riobamba:
Tucked into the Avenue of Volcanos, Riobamba is an ideal staging ground for adventure!
Riobamba can act as a great hub to organize excursions throughout the greater Chimborazo province. There are a handful of reputable outfitters in Riobamba to help plan an adventure. Or Riobamba can be used to stock up on supplies and organize an excursion of your own!
Chimborazo: Climb, Hike, or Bike Ecuador’s Highest Mountain!
Rising 6,263 meters (nearly 4 miles high) above Riobamba, Chimborazo isn’t just the tallest mountain in Ecuador. This inactive stratovolcano is the furthest point on Earth’s surface from the center of Earth! When using this measurement from the earth’s center, rather than sea level, it’s the summit of Chimborazo, not Everest, that is the highest point in the world.
This occurs because the Earth contains a bulge near the equator, caused by Earth’s rotation. As a result of this equatorial bulge, Chimborazo juts out closer to outer space than Everest does. And Riobamba acts as the staging ground to set off on an adventure to this remarkable mountain peak.
There are a few different ways to explore Chimborazo from Riobamba.
🧗 Climb: Experienced mountaineers can attempt the harrowing 2-day ascent to the summit.
🥾 Day Hike: It’s possible to take a short unguided trek to 5,100-meters, without embarking on the more technical overnight trip.
🚲 Bike: Another thrill is to go mountain biking down Chimborazo!
Summiting Chimborazo is a challenging high-altitude ascent, in which technical ice-climbing gear is required. The summit begins with a trek to a refugio to rest in before the overnight summit takes place. It’s during the dark pre-dawn morning hours that climbers scramble up to the peak, before later returning back down to Riobamba that same day.
It can be dangerous, particularly for those who aren’t acclimated to the altitude or aren’t experienced. While the vast majority of people summit Chimborazo without incident, climbing deaths do occur on Chimborazo due to bad weather, avalanches, falls, and health/altitude issues. So, take this into consideration.
If attempting the summit Chimborazo, ensure it’s within your comfort level. And go with a trusted guide service that can provide the necessary gear and safety equipment. Reputable outfitters can be hired in Riobamba.
Day Hike Up Chimborazo:
For a less extreme challenge on Chimborazo, it’s possible to take a short day hike towards the summit. While you won’t make it to Chimborazo’s 6,263-meter summit, you can hike as far as a small pond, Condor Cocha. Set below melting glaciers, this little lake is at an altitude of 5,100 meters high (16,732 feet)!
To get there, it’s a 1.3-km (0.8-mile) uphill hike that begins at Refugio Carrel, at 4,850 meters in elevation, the highest point on Chimborazo accessible by road. From Refugio Carrel, the well-marked trail climbs to Refugio Whymper, the highest lodge in Ecuador and commonly used to sleep at for those who are summiting the mountain.
From this lodge, it’s only a bit further to reach Condor Cocha, the furthest point permissible on Chimborazo without a guide. The small lake lays scenically beneath the icy mountain peak. Take a moment here to be silent and you’ll be further rewarded with the sound of cracking glaciers.
While the trail is less than a mile each way, the thin air at over 5,000 meters altitude, in combination with the relatively steep terrain can make it a slow-going hike. Plan about an hour and a half for the hike up, spend some time there, and then trek back down.
It’s possible to reach this trailhead by public bus to the Chimborazo park entrance, then a 3-hour hike or taxi. Yet it’s much more convenient to pursue this hike as part of a day tour from Riobamba. A hike-and-bike tour of Chimborazo allow time for this day hike. More on that below.
Mountain Biking Chimborazo!
Mountain Biking down Chimborazo is an ultimate thrill to pursue down the volcano! From Refugio Carrel, there is a series of single track and rural roadways that wind down the rocky mountainside while offering sweeping views of Chimborazo much of the way down.
There are a few different biking operators in Riobamba. We went with and recommend ProBici. We found that the other tour operators tend to use the roadway down Chimborazo. Yet ProBici’s route takes a more off-road approach to make use of Chimborazo’s fun mountain biking trails. They’ve also been doing this for 25 years, use quality bikes, and have a vetted track record of great reviews.
From Riobamba, it’s a scenic drive through the Andes and up Chimborazo. Then the optional hike to Condor Cocha can be pursued, as described above. Unless suffering from altitude, the hike is strongly recommended. After that is when the real fun begins and you move onto two wheels.
The 40-km descent is almost entirely downhill. Little peddling is required. Just hang on tight, let gravity do its thing, and enjoy the ride! The first kilometer or so of Chimborazo’s mountain bike trail is the most harrowing and includes a few particularly steep sections. But it’s not very technical. And it’s such a fun ride!
Along the way down, there are optional stops at a scenic canyon, ancient Inca Barracks, and a Polylepis forest. This section of Chimborazo also has many vicuñas, a relative to llamas and alpacas. The final stretch of the mountain biking descent rolls through a charming rural community along the base of Chimborazo. It offers an interesting look into local life while pedaling past farmers and people herding livestock.
Mountain biking down Chimborazo is not just one of the best excursions to take from Riobamba. For us, it easily became one of our favorite adventures in all of Ecuador. In our opinion, it’s worth a trip to Riobamba alone just to experience this awesome day on Ecuador’s tallest mountain.
🎥 To really get a good idea of what this Chimborazo mountain biking tour is like, be sure to check out the video we created, below:
If You Go: Mountain Biking Chimborazo
💲 This route with ProBici costs $65. We felt it was excellent value and a well-run tour.
📍 ProBici’s office is centrally located in here in Riobamba, above a fabric shop. Hotel pick-up is included in the tour.
📅 Tours run daily when there are at least three participants.
⌚ The entire tour lasted about 10 hours but times can vary.
🔗 Visit ProBici for more info.
Take a Ride on Riobamba’s Ice Train – Tren de Hielo I
The Tren de Hielo I (Ice Train) offers an incredible rail journey from Riobamba to Urbina, Ecuador’s highest train station. In years past, it was possible to embark on the scenic rail trip to Nariz de Diablo (Devil’s Nose) from Riobamba. But that is no longer possible from Riobamba since it has been relocated to the town of Alausi.
Beware that many outdated publications list that the Devil’s Nose train ride is possible from Riobamba. But as of 2019, the Nariz de Diablo trip does not operate from here. Instead, this new Ice Train may be an even better rail experience!
The Tren de Hielo now operates from Riobamba every weekend. The 8½-hour excursion makes for an awesome day trip from Riobamba. Throughout the twists and turns across this section of the Ecuadorian Andes, Chimborazo will occasionally reveal himself on clear days.
But the highlight of the Tren de Hielo is the stop in Urbina. It’s Ecuador’s highest train station, at 3,609 meters high. The real treasure here isn’t its high elevation. It’s for the rare opportunity to meet Baltazar Ushca.
This 75-year-old (in 2019) man is known as the last ice merchant. For the past 60 years, he’s been climbing up to the “ice mine” on Chimborazo every week to harvest glacier ice that he then sells to the markets in Riobamba. It’s a tradition that’s been held for centuries and passed on through generations. But others who were once in the profession have either died off or went on to pursue more lucrative jobs.
This has made Baltazar the last person practicing the trade. At age 75 (in 2019), he’s still making the rigorous trek up the side of Chimborazo to about 5,000 meters in altitude (over 3 miles high) to collect the mineral-laden ice. Through local legend, Baltazar considers himself to be a son of the sacred mountain that he continues to make his weekly pilgrimage to.
More recently, this has all garnered him local celebrity status. The town of Riobamba celebrates the humble man and there have even been a number of documentaries made about Baltazar, like this one. So the Ice Train provides an extremely rare opportunity to meet this local legend while he’s still around practicing his unique trade.
After this encounter with Baltazar Ushca, the Ice Train journey continues onto the small Andean community of La Moya. There, children and llamas greet passengers at the train station for a short walk through farmland to their village. A delicious full lunch is available here situated in the among the looming Andes.
Having been on a few of Tren Ecuador’s rail excursions, we rate this one as our favorite of the bunch. We highly recommend a trip to Riobamba that coincides with the weekend in order to set off on this most fascinating and scenic train ride and meet our new friend Baltazar.
🎥 Check out the video review of the Tren de Hielo I to get a feel for all the beauty encountered on this rail journey from Riobamba:
If you go: Tren de Hielo I
💲 It’s $25 per person. (Lunch is extra.)
🎟️ Tickets can be purchased at the ticket office in Riobamba or other Tren Ecuador locations (e.g., Quito). The online payment system was not working with foreign credit cards during our latest attempt. Advanced reservations are recommended.
📍 The ticket office is located here at the Riobamba train station, where the Ice Train I departs.
📅 Tours run Saturday and Sunday only. So be sure to plan a weekend visit.
⌚ It’s a 6½-hour trip in total, from 8:00 am to 2:30 pm.
🔗 Visit Tren Ecuador for more info.
Trek to the Collapsed Volcano of El Altar
El Altar is a collapsed volcano near Riobamba that now contains a beautiful crater lake known as Laguna Amarilla. The El Altar Crater is also part of Sangay National Park, which is Ecuador’s only other natural UNESCO World Heritage Site, alongside the Galapagos Islands. Sangay is recognized for the spectrum of ecosystems and the indigenous species found throughout this isolated slice of Ecuador. (More about its Unesco recognition: here.)
Even after the volcano’s collapse, El Altar is still the fifth highest point in Ecuador. One of El Altar’s nine peaks reaches up to 5,319 meters in altitude!
Those who are ready for an adventure to El Altar must embark on a 35-km roundtrip trek, in which at least two days are needed to complete. This hike to El Altar is a grueling and muddy trek at high altitude, hovering around 4,000 meters. Along the way, mountain peaks open up to scenic valleys and flowing streams. But it’s the stunning El Altar itself that provides for the most dramatic vistas.
An overnight camp is required in the lone refugio before ultimately reaching the rim of El Altar. Upon climbing up into the crater rim, you can peer down into the beautiful sight of the Laguna Amarilla crater lake that lays below El Altar’s many craggy peaks that surround. We think it’s one of the most spectacular views in Ecuador, even on a cloudy day.
It’s a tough yet rewarding trek to embark on from Riobamba. Few travelers pursue this hike through the Andes, in comparison to more popular trekking routes like the Quilotoa Loop. Yet those who make the time and effort to tackle El Altar will be rewarded with solitude in this secluded slice of the Ecuadorian Andes.
If You Go: Trek El Altar from Riobamba
This is a trek that can be pursued independently for those with experience. Otherwise, a guided trek is recommended. It’s a little tricky to reach El Altar on your own and info is lacking. There’s a lot to know before you go, so we do plan to publish a more detailed post and video with complete instructions on how to trek El Altar from Riobamba. In the meantime, here are some basics:
💲 Guided treks to El Altar can cost $250-$300, including everything you need. It can be done for about ~$60 independently for those who can procure supplies, transport, lodging, and can navigate the trails.
📍 The trailhead to El Altar is located here, about an hour drive from Riobamba, accessible by taxi or bus.
📅 Any day. Just check current weather conditions and availability at the refugio.
⌚ It takes a minimum of two days to reach El Altar and return to Riobamba.
🔗 Info for refugio: Hacienda Releche | Guided treks to El Altar + gear rentals: Julio Verne Travel
Explore the Town of Guano Ecuador
Embarking out to the village of Guano makes for an easy and appealing half-day trip from Riobamba. It’s a delightful little town that’s worth venturing the 8 kilometers away from Riobamba to visit.
Many people visit Guano to shop for its shoes, carpets, and other crafts that the town has developed a reputation for. Yet even non-shoppers may delight in the town’s other little attractions.
Most notably is the City Museum, which contains the Guano Mummy. In 1949, when an earthquake ravaged the town, a mummy was discovered amidst the rubble of the La Asunción Church. Research then revealed that this mummy was a Franciscan monk who looked after the church way back in the 1500s, before being buried in the church’s walls as per local tradition at the time. The monk’s 400-year-old mummified body is now on display at the museum, adjacent to the former church.💲 $1 entrance. 🕗 Open 8:00-5:00 M-F, until 6:00 weekends & holidays. 📍 Located here.
In addition to the shops and this museum, there are a few other Guano attractions to check out. Walls of that aforementioned crumbled church remain in ruins adjacent to the museum. A jog further to the west is a hill to ascend by a network of stairs to gain a panoramic view of the city. A teleferico (cable car) was also under construction on the hill and may be operating by the time you visit.
From this hill, you’ll see the central park, which makes a pleasant place to sit and enjoy a local specialty. Look for the bakeries around the perimeter of this central square to find Guano’s signature “cholas.” A Guano chola is a yummy local pastry that contains a sweet and sticky filling.
If You Go: to Guano from Riobamba
📍 Guano Ecuador is 9 kilometers from Riobamba. It’s located here and takes about 20 minutes or so by taxi or bus.
🚕 Expect to pay about $5 by taxi, each way.
🚌 There is a Riobamba to Guano bus that departs from here, near the General Davalos market.
⌚ A leisurely visit to Guano could last a few hours.
Laguna de Colta & the Oldest Catholic Church in Ecuador
Venturing to Laguna de Colta and the Balbanera Church are two separate things to do from Riobamba. Yet since they are directly next to each other, it’s worth combining these two nearby attractions to form a half-day trip from Riobamba.
Laguna de Colta Park
Laguna de Colta is a lake with an enjoyable park that surrounds the laguna. This lakefront park is a nice setting, but it could be found underwhelming in comparison to other attractions throughout Chimborazo province.
At Laguna de Colta, visitors will find bikes to rent for a ride on a short network of trails, which don’t go around the entire lake. Many birds and ducks make Laguna Colta their home in the Andes and can be found around the lakeshore.
Park-goers can also take one of the sightseeing boats plying the lake waters on weekends. Additionally, Laguna de Colta Park holds some scenic little bridges, resident llamas to visit, natural chairs built into the landscaping, gardens to stroll through, and a playground for children.
If You Go: to Laguna de Colta from Riobamba
💲 $0.60 admission fee.
🕗 Open 8:00 am – 4:00 pm.
📍 The entrance to the park is here, about a 40-minute drive from Riobamba.
🚕 Expect a $6-$12 taxi from Riobamba, depending on your negotiating skills.
🚌 Alternatively, from Riobamba’s main bus terminal, take virtually any bus going south on the Panamerican Highway (e.g., Alausi, Cuenca, etc.) and they should be able to drop you off at Colta for a fare of about a $1 per person.
⌚ The park can easily be visited within about an hour or so. Those with children or those who simply want to relax may spend longer.
Iglesia de Balbanera: Historic Church
Less than a five-minute walk from Laguna de Colta’s entrance is Iglesia de Balbanera. It’s the oldest Catholic Church in Ecuador. Built way back in 1534, a visit to Iglesia de Balbanera offers a fascinating look into the nearly 500-year-old structure.
The faithful throughout Ecuador make pilgrimages to Balbanera not only to visit the old church, but also to pray to the Virgin of Balbanera. This ancient relic of a Virgin Mary comes from Spain and is positioned inside the church on its own alter.
There’s a small museum on-site. You can also take a short tour through the church too.
In taking this quick tour, we were given the nearly half-millennium-old key to the church. It’s one of only two originals! And there’s something special about using the heavy key to lock and unlock the ancient church’s front doors. It’s just as church-keepers have been doing here for hundreds of years!
If You Go: to Balbanera Church from Riobamba
💲 Free to visit the church. $1 for a small museum and quick tour.
🕗 Open 8:00 am – 5:00 pm.
📍 The church is located here, about a 40-minute drive from Riobamba.
🧭 Follow the same directions for Colta, above. It’s a 5-minute walk from Laguna de Colta park entrance.
⌚ A visit to this church may last 15-60 minutes.
Where to Stay in Riobamba
There are several dozen accommodation options within the city of Riobamba. We took time to scout out some of the city’s best options. So here are our top Riobamba lodging recommendations, depending on budget and preferences.
Hostels in Riobamba
There is a lack of great hostels in central Riobamba. We suggest considering staying in budget-friendly accommodation in central Riobamba. If not, there are a few hostels on the outskirts of town, closer to the bus terminal.
Of those, Home Humbolt is what we found to be the best option. Beds are $9 and privates start at $20. It has kitchen facilities, wifi, a rooftop patio with volcano views, and is convenient to the main bus station. Check current prices and availability on HostelWorld.
Great Budget-Friendly Private Rooms
Hotel Estacion is our top pick for a budget-friendly private room that’s centrally located. Really, you can’t get more central in Riobamba than this hotel located directly across from the train station. Rooms are fairly basic yet comfy, and some overlook the busy plaza down below and has helpful front desk staff. All rooms have a private bathroom and a stay includes a well-stocked buffet breakfast. With rates starting at about $30, it’s really a great value choice in Riobamba. Check prices and availability for your travel dates.
Best Hotel in Riobamba?
For a step up, we can highly recommend Casa 1881, a centrally-located 4-star boutique hotel. Rooms are well decorated with antique furnishings and are super comfortable, sporting large flat-screen TVs with Netflix and excellent wifi. The included breakfast is the best we’ve had throughout Ecuador. The multiple courses even included a creative rendition of an eggs benedict, complete with hollandaise sauce and asparagus, one morning.
With this 4-star accommodation priced between $40-$70, it must be one of the best hotel values in Ecuador. Rates are even lower for single occupancy. The least expensive rooms (Deluxe Double with Balcony) get booked up early and all rooms in this highly-regarded hotel do get booked full. So advanced reservations are important. Compare prices and check availability now.
Riobamba Ecuador Travel Tips to Know Before You Go
📅 How Many Days to Spend in Riobamba Ecuador?
The amount of time to spend in Riobamba largely depends on how many adventures and activities you may want to pursue. A full week would be needed to complete everything listed in this Riobamba Travel Guide. Yet 2-4 days in Riobamba can be appropriate for those who simply want to see the city and add a day trip or two. For anyone wanting to embark on the Tren de Hielo, ensure a trip to Riobamba coincides with the weekend.
✈️ How to Get to Riobamba Ecuador:
Riobamba is not served by an airport. But there are frequent bus connections to Riobamba from Quito: (3h 15m) and from Guayaquil (3h 45m), which both have international flight connections.
Riobamba can also make a convenient stop for those traveling through Ecuador and are coming from Baños (1h 30m), Latacunga (2 hours), Alausi (2 hours), and Cuenca (6 hours).
For those traveling overland between Quito and Cuenca, Riobamba can make for an ideal stopping point to break up the journey about half-way. (For more on what do to in those cities, be sure to check out our Quito Travel Guide and Cuenca Travel Guide.)
🚇 Getting around Riobamba:
Riobamba is a very walkable city. If you’re of decent health, using your own two feet can be the best way to get around town. To get further afield, consider taxis, which are generally honest and cheap. The meter isn’t always used here, so be sure to negotiate a price in advance. Expect to pay about $2 to get from the bus terminal into central Riobamba. There is no Uber service in Riobamba.
⛰️ Beware of the Altitude in Riobamba
Riobamba is situated at 2,750 meters high (9,220 feet), with adventures recommended throughout this Riobamba travel guide exceeding 5,000 meters in altitude (16,400 feet).
Altitude sickness can occur over 2,400 meters. So if coming from lower elevations, like Guayaquil, be sure take it easy during your first few days in the area. If visiting Riobamba from sea level, it’s likely to experience mild symptoms of altitude sickness. Allow a few days to acclimatize before pursuing high altitude activities such as venturing to Chimborazo.
An old Ecuadorian remedy is to suck on panela (unrefined cane sugar). Refugio Carrell, atop Chimborazo, further offers the natural remedy of coca tea. Yet for those particularly prone to altitude sickness, consider this natural medication. It’s well worth it, as evidence from all the great reviews it gets on Amazon. Avoid that throbbing headache and instead enjoy your trip to Riobamba.
💵 Money in Riobamba:
Ecuador uses the US Dollar as its currency. There are plenty of ATMs around Riobamba to access cash. Many businesses in Riobamba will have a difficult time breaking larger bills, so don’t come with $50 and $100 notes. Thankfully, the ATMs in Riobamba tend to always give $20s. Credit cards may be accepted at some of Riobamba’s nicer hotels and restaurants. But that is not the norm. Cash is always best.
💬 Learn Some Spanish before Traveling to Riobamba
Most places around Riobamba are strictly Spanish-speaking. Some tour guides may speak English. For example, there is always an English-speaking guide on the Tren de Hielo. Yet English speakers are rare at Riobamba’s restaurants, hotels, markets, etc.
A trip to Riobamba will prove more enjoyable, knowing some basic Spanish. Even learning a few simple pleasantries can go a long way with pointing and a smile. We also like to use Babbel as an easy, fun, and inexpensive way to learn Spanish. With each lesson just 10-15 minutes, it’s something we can always work into the day and the associated app even lets us use it on-the-go. And right now they’re having a sale with this discount link to save up to 60%-off a subscription.
☔ Best Time to Travel to Riobamba
Any time of the year can be a great time to visit Riobamba. You’ll have better chances of clear days to see the surrounding volcanos from May to October. Although, the potential for high winds and colder temps can affect outdoor plans from June through August. November through March brings an increased chance of rain and clouds, but clear days are still possible during this period too. The months of May, September, and October can bring particularly nice weather to Riobamba.
December and January usher in Pases del Niño festivities, one of the city’s biggest events. Carnival is then celebrated around February or March, with Semana Santa activities following about a month thereafter. In June, Inti Raymi celebration takes to mark the summer solstice on June 21. Riobamba then honors its patron saint, San Pedro (Saint Peter), with lots of festivities occurring on June 29.
🧳 What To Pack for Riobamba Ecuador:
Pack for Riobamba like you would for any cool-weather destination. Layers are absolutely critical, as short sleeves can be comfortable during the day. Yet when the sun drops or while atop Chimborazo, you’ll need to bundle up more. Long-sleeve shirts and light jackets tend to prove valuable in Riobamba.
Other notable items to pack for Riobamba are:
- A Lifestraw allows drinking from mountain water sources.
- Pack plenty of sunscreen to protect from harmful rays at high altitude. It’s more expensive in Ecuador, so add a few bottles of Banana Boat to your Amazon cart before your trip.
- A compact travel umbrella or rain jacket if going to Riobamba during the rainy season (Nov-Apr).
- A travel guide to Ecuador. Lonely Planet’s Ecuador Guide can be very helpful in navigating the country.
For a complete list of everything we pack for Riobamba, be sure to go through our: Ultimate Packing Checklist.
☠️ Safety in Riobamba
We’re not aware of any major personal safety problems to be concerned about in Riobamba. We felt safe walking around the city center, even during evening hours. We advise to simply take general precautions as you would in any other city.
⚠️ Important: Be Sure to Have Travel Insurance in Riobamba
You never know what may happen during a trip to Ecuador, from a minor incident like lost luggage or flight cancellation to a major disaster like an earthquake or a bus accident. Travel insurance will not only come to your rescue but will cover those unexpected costs.
Travel insurance is particularly important for those pursuing adventure activities around Riobamba. It is a must if climbing or biking Chimborazo or if hiking El Altar. There is some inherent risk in these pursuits and travel insurance carries emergency evacuation if something were to go horribly wrong.
We always use travel insurance while roaming around Ecuador and recommend it. We like World Nomads, which has what we’ve found to have the best price and coverage combination, particularly so for longer trips. Enter the dates for your Ecuador trip to get a quick estimate.
Traveling to Riobamba Ecuador?
We hope this Riobamba Travel Guide has helped to give a little insight and travel inspiration into the area. It’s an interesting city that’s so full of awesome adventures to embark on!
If you’re planning a trip to Riobamba, let us know in the comments what you’re most excited for. Or feel free to ask any questions.
For more travel ideas and inspiration in Ecuador, be sure to check out a big post about the 20 Best Things to Do in Ecuador & Incredible Places to Visit.
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Have an excellent trip to Riobamba and have fun roaming around Ecuador. 🇪🇨 ¡Buen viaje amigos!
Nadja Wunderlich says
Really amazing blogs about Ecuador. Thanks a lot for your effort. It helps us a lot planning our stay :). Stay safe 🙂