Ambato has evolved into a large city, a growing concrete jungle, known for its industries, its agriculture and its colorful Fiesta de las Flores y de las Frutas (Flower and Fruit Festival). A very short distance away, however, along paths less traveled and often even ignored, an unexpected world opens to the senses, a world where nature reigns, ancient traditions abound, and life beats to a different rhythm. All you need to enter that world is a car adventurous enough to make it down rarely-traversed highland dirt roads.
An ethnic tour and more
Everything located west of Ambato inspires curiosity, starting with the splendid properties of Ecuador’s most revered national writers, Juan Montalvo and Juan Leon Mera, located in the suburbs of Ficoa. They lie only minutes from Ambato’s downtown and we suggest you visit them on your way back from this mind- bending journey of discovery.
To start off on your adventure, follow the signs to Camino del Rey. One of its entrances starts in Panzaleo, located west of the E35 road just southwest of Salcedo, on the provincial border between Cotopaxi and Tungurahua. This road reveals, among other things, traces of the ancient Kapak Ñan, the Inca road, leading us to Pinllo, a small town known for its food. Especially on weekends, Ambateños from all walks of life haunt its smoky kitchens and roadside dives, seeking out the locally- beloved Pinllo bread or the classic oven-baked chicken. Mama Lushi is one of the most popular restaurants in the area.
Continuing on, Quisapincha – the next town over – is a must. Its name coincides with the ancient Kichwa ethnic group that has its territory in the surrounding hills and has, for many years now, become an important leather product manufacturer. Bags, hats, jackets and other garments are sold in the shops around town.
After winding around the mountain, we make it to Pasa, a community known for its shirt production. It made indigenous button-downs a thing in and out of Ecuador (exporting to the US, Australia and Europe) and produces hundreds of varieties. To explore the high paramo region located in the western part of the province, head to Cerro Aguaján and the beautiful lakes along the Tiliví road.
We then arrive at Pilahuín, a spectacular and beautifully preserved Andean town. Bring your best photographic lenses for the colonial architecture of stone and waddle-and-daub walls with wooden balconies. A little before the town, you can also stop at the restaurant and community project of Chaupi Uchu. And as we continue, more crafts await – including beautiful shigra bags – in Chibuleo and Juan Benigno Vela. In this last town, Wednesday’s market is a good place to shop for local products.
Further west, already reaching the paramo, one can stay at the community project and reserve of Llangahua, which offers walks to beautiful grassland lakes and down Polylepis forests, with fishing activities and horseback riding, as well as lodging. Another unique image-friendly site is Cerro Casigana, which opens to a remarkable view of the growing city of Ambato and its enclave in the heart of the Inter-Andean valley.
As you go deeper into the landscape, you will come in contact with the representatives of many different ethnic groups that make up the complex cultural kaleidoscope of this province. Perhaps you will realize the different clothes they wear serve to differentiate the Chibuleos from the Pilahuines, Kisapinchas and Tomabelas, who together represent a wonderful example of Ecuadorian and Tungurahuan cultural diversity.
But it’s not over yet. Because we promised to stop at the Juan León Mera and Juan Montalvo homesteads. The well- reputed 19th-century writers lived amid lush gardens which are an invitation to contemplation and deep breaths of fresh air. Learn more about the history of these talented poets and discover the corners that inspired their great careers.
Tungurahua, an adventure less traveled.
A peaceful place to eat (and sleep) in Pasa at an old Colonial house serving local food with comfortable rooms for the entire family. On the second floor, find Juan Ulloa’s workshop, where shirts are made to measure in maximum two hours (with a wide variety of fabrics, colors and patterns).
Calle Dr. José Tobar, Parque Central.
(+593 9) 85 53 7272