When traveling south along the Pan-American highway from Riobamba, you may notice a church at the side of the road that doesn’t really look like anything special. However, you’d be mistaken!
Constructed in 1534, La Iglesia de Balbanera is one of the earliest examples of colonial architecture in South America and the first Catholic church in Ecuador. Though it has survived centuries of earthquakes, the church still stands and is still in use today.
The building is a beautiful blend of European and indigenous techniques. It’s built in the Baroque style and was cobbled together with local rocks, volcanic rubble, and adobe. Although it appears to have a traditional colonial design from the outside, you can see some traditional Inca-style carvings in the stone of the main façade.
Unlike European Catholic churches, the interior is plain and the only adornment is an altar to the Virgin of Balbanera, from the La Rioja region of Spain. Every October and November, hundreds of locals turn out to see the Virgin paraded around the town of Colta. At the back of the church, there’s a tiny room which is billed as a museum where you can see some dolls and children’s costumes.