Beyond Calderón, the Panamericana sweeps 700m down into the dry Guayllabamba gorge and plain. Stalls laden with jumbo avocados and exotic fruits line the main road into GUAYLLABAMBA, 32km from the capital and home to Quito’s zoo, the largest and best designed in the country. A few kilometres outside town, the Zoológico Guayllabamba puts the emphasis on crowd-pleasing native fauna, such as the Andean spectacled bear, pumas and condors.
Buses bound for Cayambe, such as Flor del Valle, which leave from Manuel Larrea and Asunción in the new town, usually stop at or just outside Guayllabamba. It’s a 30-minute walk up a cobblestone road to the zoo; at weekends there’s a free bus, otherwise a camioneta will take you for a small fee.
About 7km southeast of Guayllabamba lies the village of El Quinche, famous for its outsized church. For pilgrims, its most important feature is the wooden image of El Virgen del Quinche, carved at the end of the sixteenth century by artist and architect Diego de Robles, who was saved from tumbling hundreds of feet into the Río Oyacachi by a thorn snagging on his clothes.
Since Robles cheated death, the Virgin has been credited with countless other miracles, depicted by paintings inside the church and plaques on the walls. Visitors make their way from across the country to venerate her, especially during the festival in the third week of November, climaxing on November 21, and throngs of people receive blessings all year round. There are regular buses to El Quinche via Pifo from the Río Coca stop on the Ecovía system in Quito and others from Guayllabamba.