Ecuador // The northern sierra //

Cayambe and around

Overshadowed by the eponymous volcano, CAYAMBE (2850m) is worth a quick visit for its renowned home-made cheese and bizcochos – buttery biscuits locals carry around by the bagful. It’s also a regional centre for Ecuador’s flower industry (its fourth-largest export), evident in the shimmer of plastic-sheeted greenhouses gleaming across the valley. For much of the year it’s a quiet provincial town most travellers skip on their way from Quito to Otavalo, but during the fiestas of late June, things really get busy when indígenas descend from the surrounding villages for singing, dancing, parades and bullfights. The celebration kicks off with Inti Raymi (Quichua for “sun festival”), which heralds the summer solstice and continues for several days until it merges with the fiesta of San Pedro on June 29, honouring the town’s patron saint.

The centre of Caymbe is the leafy Parque Central, at the northern end of which is the town’s grandest building, which houses the Centro Cultural Espinosa Jarrín and Museo de la Ciudad, exhibiting pieces recovered from the nearby Puntiazil, an important ceremonial site of the ancient Cayambi people. The site itself, located down a grassy track by the town cemetery, has not borne well the passage of time, though the remnants of a large pyramid are discernible. At the centre of the site once stood a large cylinder (destroyed in 1834) made of packed earth, which measured celestial movements; a similar device has been reconstructed at the Quitsato monument just outside town.

For local shopping, several little biscuit factories are dotted around town – the Fábrica de Bizcochos San Pedro, opposite the cemetery, is one of the best – and many stores sell the speciality queso de hoja, a salty, white cheese boiled and wrapped in achira leaves. Market day is Sunday, when the town streets and marketplace on Junín and Restauración are filled with stalls selling many kinds of locally grown fruit and vegetables.

Apart from this, there are few things to see in Cayambe other than the archeological site of Puntiazil and the local museum with corresponding finds. Still, the town makes a good base for exploring the area, as does the splendid Hacienda Guachalá, a short distance away.

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