Found just off the main Latacunga – Quevedo road is this delightful small indigenous community high in the Andean Mountains, famous for its Saturday market, which sees people venturing from far and wide to sell all sorts of weird and wonderful produce and livestock.
Zumbahua is located at an altitude of 3,800 metres above sea level, and it’s very easy to lose your breath if you are not accustomed to this height. Especially on a Saturday morning, when if arriving by bus you are dropped off smack bang in the middle of the action-packed hectic weekly market. If you arrive any other day of the week, you could be mistaken for feeling like you have come to a ghost town, the pot-holed roads almost empty of the traditionally dressed Andean people that make the Saturday market so enthralling.
The setting of Zumbahua is pretty spectacular thanks to the sharp peaks dominating the skyline and the patchwork of tawny fields that surround the town. Although most people use Zumbahua as a stop-off point before travelling on to Laguna Quilotoa, there are a couple of reasons worth bringing you to Zumbahua alone. The most popular is the Saturday indigenous market, filled with locals huddled together in a selection of coloured shawls and ponchos, selling anything from a freshly cut sheep, to an amazing selection of combs, to suit any hairstyle.
You can easily spend a good 45 minutes walking around the market, enjoying all of the sights, smells and sounds on offer. From the information I had read in my guidebook, I was expecting to also see livestock and a large amount of sheep heads for sale. Sadly, I was unable to find either of these available during my visit, but this didn’t take anything away from the experience. Before leaving the market, I would highly recommend buying empanada’s from the many sellers, which are cooked fresh before your eyes and sprinkled with sugar. They cost $0.25 for 3, which is well worth it, especially if you are looking for a snack for an onward trip to Laguna Quilotoa.
I would say the daily market in Latacunga, especially at the weekends is about three or four times the size of Zumbahua Saturday market, with a wider range of goods for sale, but it just doesn’t have the same atmosphere as Zumbahua market. Plus of course there is the added bonus of the numerous photo opportunities on offer of indigenously dressed locals bartering between themselves. The earlier you get to the market the better, as by midday the market is already cooling down. There is a small selection of hostels around the market square, if you choose to arrive the Friday night so you get to see the best of the action the following morning.
Other than the market, there isn’t much else to keep you in Zumbahua for more than a day or so. As already mentioned there is the opportunity of travelling on to the heavenly Laguna Quilotoa but if this doesn’t tickle your fancy then located just outside of Zumbahua, on the same road to the lake are a group of ‘dry islands’, formed during the 1995 earthquake, where 200 people lost their lives. The earthquake caused a huge rip in the land creating a canyon a good 200 metres across. In the middle of the canyon are the small outcrops of land (dry islands) that look like they were formed by an eroding river. It is a very strange sight, especially as they still have one or two house standing on top of the islands, which are now impossible to access since the earthquake. Such a spectacle shows how violent, powerful and destructive mother-nature can be sometimes.
I’m not sure if I would have made the journey to Zumbahua if I wasn’t on my way to Laguna Quilotoa, but I am happy to say that I experienced a Saturday here, if only for a few hours. If you can’t visit on a Saturday then I think it would be pointless to make a visit. Buses from Latacunga cost $1.25 and take around 90 minutes to reach Zumbahua, making it an easy day trip, even from the capital Quito, although the earlier you arrive, the better.