Latacunga is a plateau town of Ecuador, capital of the Cotopaxi Province, 89 km (55 miles) south of Quito, near the confluence of the Alaques and Cutuchi rivers to form the Patate, the headstream of the Pastaza. It has a population of around 51,000 inhabitants, largely mestizo and indigenous.
Latacunga is an hour and half south from Quito on the Pan-American Highway. It was previously also on the old road from Quito to Guayaquil, and has a railway station between those cities. It is 9,055 ft. (2,760 m) above sea level. The active volcano Cotopaxi is only 25 km. away. Founded in 1534, it was four times destroyed by earthquakes between 1698 and 1798.
Latacunga's most noted food is chugchucaras, empanadas, plantains, popcorn, and tostado (a type of toasted corn.) Often mixed with ají, a type of condiment that can be mild to very spicy depending on how it's prepared.
The Latacunga economy is dependent on agriculture, and floriculture. It has an international airport that is not used for international passenger use, but as an Air Force base and some special commercial flights. The local volcanic activity has led to the accumulation of pumice deposits which are currently mined, as well as the presence of natural sparkling water, which is bottled under the brand name San Felipe.
“La Fiesta de la Mama Negra" is a well-known traditional festival in Latacunga. It is a mixture of indigenous, Spanish and African influences. It takes place twice a year. The first one was organized in September by the people from the markets "La Merced y Del Salto" in honour of the "Virgen de la Merced". The Virgin is venerated because she stopped the Cotopaxi Volcano eruption in 1742. That is the reason why Latacunga's inhabitants call her “Abogada y patrona del volcán” meaning (lawyer and boss of the volcano).
The second celebration is a party which all Latacunga’s inhabitants celebrate every year on Independence Day. It is a parade with the participation of well-known people, the army, clergy and others.
Both of these fiestas include a lengthy parade of various cultural characters, all dressed-up in various colours. The 'Mama Negra' is the last person to pass through, which is the culmination of each parade. It is a person with their face painted in black, riding a horse, and spraying the crowd with milk. Homemade strong alcoholic drinks are freely passed between one another along the parade route.
Latacunga’s historic downtown extends about 30 squares. Prominent buildings to visit are:
Saint Francis’s church, the first church built in the city.
The municipal palace; it was built with pumice stone in a neoclassical style.
The Main Square in which stands a statue of Dr. Vicente Leon.