Under the shadow of a volcano

Latacunga, thrice destroyed by a volcanic eruption, loves to party.

Ecuador travelogue: Chapter 21 | Read other chaptersSee photo gallery

↑ Painting that captures the town’s relationship with Cotopaxi volcano

Imagine you are walking on a street and you see this…

↑ Emergency! If the volcano erupts, run for your life and see you at the shelter. Such signs are posted all over the town.

Locals don’t think seem to care about it but as a visitor I found it difficult to grapple with living in this constant threat of a volcanic eruption.

↑ Main entrance to Latacunga town. The phrase means “Latacunga: A city to live” which is ironical considering that the city was destroyed in 1742, 1768 and 1877.

Historic centre

Latacunga has a small historic area, with a mandatory main plaza surrounded by a cathedral and some government buildings. The main market stretches around few blocks adjacent to downtown proper.

↑ Town hall at the Vicente Leon central plaza.

The main reason for tourists to be in Latacunga is to attend the city’s signature Mama Negra festival (more about it later), held several times a year but the biggest celebrations occur on September 22 and 23 which is when I visited this place. Mama Negra parades are legendary, with huge street parties and drunken madness. The parades end by sundown, people take a break and start celebrating again at night in concerts and parties that stretch well into the wee hours.

↑ People waiting for a bus.

Cotopaxi Volcano

Latacunga is merely 25-ish km from the active Cotopaxi volcano which last erupted in 1877, effectively destroying the town. Yet, people continue to live here and are very relaxed about the whole affair. My couchsurfing host told me that the soil in this vicinity is extremely fertile and the air is perfect for agriculture and horticulture.

↑ Another plaza.

Besides being a volcano town known for wild parties, Latacunga is a great base for trips to Cotopaxi and for travelling on the famous Quilotoa loop. Several adventure outfitters cater to the tourist crowds, arranging trips and adventurous activities such as mountain biking, hiking and climbing to the summit of Cotopaxi. I slept here for three nights and was in-and-out for another five days.

↑ Typical narrow streets of the historic centre. Latacunga has a friendly small-town vibe to it.