Some 20km south of the turn-off to Cotopaxi, LATACUNGA (2800m) is a charming, mid-sized market town huddled on the east bank of the Río Cutuchi. With its handsome, colonial-style buildings and bustling streets, it makes an agreeable base from which to organize forays into this part of the sierra, in particular to the not-to-miss crater lake at Quilotoa, or to the hectic indigenous market in nearby Saquisilí. It also makes an alternative launchpad for trips to Cotopaxi, well catered for by the town’s tour operators. If your visit coincides with either of the town’s two famous and colourful Mama Negra fiestas, one on September 24 and the other on the weekend before November 11, you’ll be treated to a riotous display of parades and street dancing. Otherwise, Latacunga’s charms are a good deal more sedate, and can be enjoyed in an afternoon’s wander around town.
Despite its colonial look, most of Latacunga’s architecture dates from the late nineteenth or early twentieth century – a fact owed to Cotopaxi’s repeated and devastating eruptions, which have seen the town destroyed and rebuilt five times since its foundaiton in 1534, most recently in 1877. The focal point of town is the Parque Vicente León, a leafy square enclosed by iron railings that is locked after dark. A cathedral, with whitewashed walls both inside and out, dominates the south side, while the austere municipio flanks the east side. A couple of blocks north the twin-towered Iglesia Santo Domingo is the most impressive of the town’s churches, with its Grecian pillars and extravagantly painted interior covered with swirling blue, green and gold designs. Right in front of it, on the little Plazoleta de Santo Domingo, you’ll find a small artesanía market selling knitwear, shigras and other souvenirs (closed Thurs & Sun).