In many ways, San Pedro de Riobamba, Ecuador (which everyone simply calls Riobamba) is the town that tourism forgot. But that doesn’t mean there’s nothing to do, see, and eat in the city. Use our city travel guide to make the most of a stay in historic, unsung Riobamba.
Riobamba is just 120 miles (193 km) from Quito and it makes a great base for exploring some nearby top-tier destinations including Baños (25 miles / 40 km away), Chimborazo Wildlife Reserve, and Sangay National Park (where you can hike to the El Altar Volcano like we did).
But Riobamba, which has dubbed itself the Sultan of the Andes, has some attractions of its own including more patrimonial buildings than Cuenca, the site of the signing of Ecuador’s first constitution, and the best pizza in the country.
What to do in Riobamba
Riobamba was founded by the Spanish in 1534. A massive earthquake in 1797 leveled Riobamba, destroying almost every scrap of colonial architecture. A few years later, the city began to rebuild a few miles from its original location. This means that the historic architecture you see in Riobamba is in the Republican style (not the colonial style). The first constitution of Ecuador was signed in the “new” Riobamba in 1830.
Every Saturday there’s an indigenous market in Parque Concepcion where vendors sell a little bit of everything. This is a great place to see real people shopping for real goods and not just a bunch of cheap crap being flogged to tourists. In Parque Libertad, you’ll find the city’s Basilica. It’s the only round church in Ecuador and it was designed mostly by locals.
Take a 10-minute walk to Parque 21 De Abril, a few blocks from the city center, and you’ll be on a small rise above town where you can enjoy amazing views of the massive Chimborazo Volcano (weather permitting).
What to eat in Riobamba
D’Baggio Pizza in Riobamba turns fresh, delicious, thin crust pizzas with homemade sauce using a real wood-fired pizza oven (US$13.50-US$23.50 for a 12 slice pie, smaller sizes available). Don’t miss it.
Mercado La Merced is the place to go for a fresh juice with ice hacked off the Chimborazo glacier. The ice is collected from the glacier at about 16,000 feet (4,876 meters) by Baltazar Uhsca Tenesaca who delivers blocks of the coveted ice (locals believe the centuries-old ice contains special vitamins and healthy properties) to vendors at this market around 6 am every Saturday.
This market also has a hall full of women selling slow roasted whole pigs. Succulent slices are served over mote (a type of corn) and iceberg lettuce with a spicy sauce on top (US$4-US$6 depending on the size of the plate).
Where to sleep in Riobamba
After three years of restoration, Hotel Mansion Santa Isabela opened in 2010 in a building that dates back more than 120 years. Original wood floors were rescued and the building’s high ceilings give even the smallest rooms a more spacious feeling. A new wing was added in 2015 and a spa was added after that. There’s a fully accessible room for guests with limited mobility and solar panels are used to heat water.
On a tighter budget? Check out Hotel Shalom where US$40 got us a clean and comfortable private double room with a private bathroom, breakfast, Wi-Fi, and they even had a secure parking area for our truck.
Here’s more about travel in Ecuador