Due to his protests and plots against President Gabriel García Moreo (in office 1869-1875), Col. Victor Proaño was banished to the jungle, but more than just this, the punishment included the journey, via the then torturous route from Quito to Macas, which used to take a month if you were lucky. The most difficult stretch began in Riobamba and would take days and days to traverse, between the mountains of the Andes and the unexplored world of the jun- gle. However, today, those 184 kilometers of seemingly-impossible landscapes, from the Andes to the Amazon, can be covered in just three hours.
The ideal starting place for this route is in Guamote, on a Thursday. From Riobamba, take the E46 highway (Guamote – Macas). The road passes through the village of Flores. If its landscapes of flowers, quinoa and barley weren’t enough of a feast for the eyes, the Guamote indigenous market and colors will: red, purple and blue ponchos, skirts, belts and hats mix with the vibrant natural colors of fruits, cereals and potatoes. This spectacle all starts at 8am; it’s worth going early to catch a breakfast of empanadas, breads, juices, rice pudding drink, hogroasts, to name just a few options.
Gullies born in the highland páramo form rivers that feed the mighty Amazon.
Throughout the day, the dynamism of the market never stops. From the sound of the loudspeakers announcing the sale of watches, food or clothing, to the bustle of people buying and selling in Quechua, to the people who come every Thursday just to catch up on what has happened all week. The market seems to never end; its delights and surprises extend along several streets and include sheep, pigs, chickens and other animals. A visit to this market is the perfect start to this tour; the energy and life found at the market is infections and invigorating.
Back on the road, eyes and cameras must be prepared for what is to come. In the region of Cebadas, a small diversion off the main road at kilometer 43 brings you to the Lagunas de Atillo. The lakes sit at one of the entrances to the Sangay national park. You must stop the car and get out to appreciate the incredible scenery, which includes a smattering of traditional houses with thatched roofs, sheep and poultry pottering around; flora like chuquiragua, valerian and Andean lupins; as well as Andean plateau fauna. It’s said that the best trout in the country live here, in these lakes. You can try it at the huts near Laguna Negra (Black Lagoon), 1 kilometer away. Don’t let the legends put you off (they say if you get into the water, you’ll never get back out); luckily you can observe it from its banks and leave safe, sound and satisfied.
Try ayampaco in Macas.
The road continues along the Andean plains between towering peaks. Within just a few kilometers, the landscape gradually changes to become a spectacle of green vegetation, with streams of water everywhere. A sign announces that we have reached the boundary between Chimborazo and Morona Santiago. It is worth planning to make several stops in this region, which looks like something out of a Frederic Edwin Church painting. There are several look-out points to stop at, which not only help you appreciate the area’s esthetic beauty, but also to breathe the air purified by thousands of trees in this seemingly endless vegetation — might Col. Proaño have found a blessing in his punishment amid such beauty?
The Zuñac waterfalls can be spotted from the road between this and the village of 9 de Octubre, which ends up in Macas. For those traveling this route 50 years ago or more, the greenery would have been unbroken; what is today Macas city would have been splendid rainforest.
Arriving in Macas today, you’ll easily find places to stay, food to eat and enjoy the many options offered by this wild landscape. You can access the protected Cutucú forest, as well as the Domono and Myrtle forests and the beaches along the Upano river, among other attractions: the tourist information center in Macas has all the necessary information. If you can’t take more than one day to do this route, we recommend a walk around Macas. See the beautiful stained glass windows of its church that tell its story, eat a delicious ayampaco washed down with guayusa water and formulate a plot to return, as we surely will in another edition to deepen our knowledge of these eastern lands, which we believe hold untold surprises.