A bustling market town and the capital of Cotopaxi province, Latacunga appears rather dull from the Panamericana. But once you cross the bridge over the swift Río Cutuchi and head toward the main plaza, the buildings get older, terra-cotta-tiled roofs appear, and old Latacunga starts to looks pretty damn cool. The town is famous for its Mamá Negra festivals and seems to have more barber shops per capita than any town in Ecuador. It’s a good base for transportation to Cotopaxi, it’s the starting point for the Quilotoa loop, and it’s the best point from which to visit the Thursday morning market in Saquisilí.
Latacunga’s name originates from the indigenous words llacta cunani, which translate charmingly into ‘land of my choice.’ Latacunga was once an important colonial center, but today there is little evidence of its long history, thanks to nearby Cotopaxi. The volcano, which dominates the town on a clear day, erupted violently in 1742 and destroyed the town. Latacunga was rebuilt but destroyed by another eruption 26 years later. The indomitable (or foolhardy) survivors rebuilt the town again, only to have an immense eruption in 1877 destroy it a third time. Proving that history repeats itself, Latacunga was rebuilt on the same site. Fortunately, at present, Cotopaxi’s activity is extremely minor.