Riobamba Ecuador, known as the liveliest city in the country's Central Sierra region, has old colonial charm, with cobbled streets, pastel-colored buildings, stately squares, and an overflowing Saturday market. The city is also a staging point for various excursions, including mountain-bike tours, the Parque Nacional Sangay wilderness area, the Chimborazo volcano, and the Nariz del Diablo (Devil's Nose) train ride.
Before embarking on a side trip, a stroll around the city is worth your while. The Parque Maldonado is a large square area rimmed by nineteenth-century architecture. Facing the park is the city's cathedral and the Municipio, where Ecuador's first constitution was signed. Several other parks throughout the city provide a welcome respite from walking.
The Monasterio de las Conceptas is one of the best museums of eighteenth-century religious art outside Quito, and many list it as a must-see. As in many Ecuadorian cities, food stalls offer welcome breaks for strollers, day and night.
The Nariz del Diablo train ride is a favorite of many tourists, who often travel on the roof of the train, to the amusement of locals. It's roughly a four or five-hour ride, depending on whether you get off at the town of Alausi or at Sibambe. The ride takes you through every climate zone in the land, starting in the cool high lands, going through the cloud forest, and ending in the hot coastal jungle. The train remarkably descends caboose first and mounts the cliffs by means of switchbacks with thrilling twists and turns, offering spectacular views of Chimborazo and a thrilling descent down the Devil's Nose, a 45-degree gradient. El Nino storms battered the tracks in 1997-98, but after reconstruction the train ride has become one of the most popular tourist activities in Ecuador, departing several times a week. Refreshments are available at the many short stops along the way.
Things to avoid: Getting caught in the weather changes and becoming uncomfortable while riding the Nariz del Diablo train. (Dress in layers for the differing climates and bring a sleeping bag or similar to sit on.
Also, to avoid disappointment, check the schedule, which can be unpredictable, and buy your ticket the evening before to avoid long lines.)