The town of Cayambe is known for bizcochos (a not very sweet cookie with a particular shape.) Nothing in the factory is mechanized. Some of the bakery workers are up to their elbows mixing dough in a big trough, and others are shaping and cutting the bizcochos one at a time. Even so, this little factory produces 12,000 of them per day.
The bizcochos were pretty good by themselves, but wonderful with little tubs of dulce de leche to dip them in.
For those who love to hike Cayambe is the place for you. It easier to climb Cayambe than Cotopaxi but you should still go out with an experienced guide.
The refuge Ruales-Oleas-Berge is at about 4600 meters and Cayambe is 18997ft high or 5790 meters. At the refuge you can rest, there are about 37 bunks, a kitchen, fireplaces, dining area, running water and emergency radio.
Bizcochos is a local specialty. It's somewhat of a pastry typ treat, but it's not that sweet and its rather dry. I know there's cheese in the mix somewhere. You can buy bizcochos virtually all over Cayambe, however, the best place is on the main road (PanAmerican - the one going to Quito and Otavalo) just south of the roundabout. The price is about $1 a dussin, which usually involves one extra to eat while you wait for them to put it together. At a good place, they´re still warm when you get them. They taste the best if you also buy some dulce de leche/arequipe to dip them in. And, remember, there rather dry, so you´ll want to buy something to drink as well!
Right next to the town of Tabacundo (a few minutes away from Cayambe), you will find the Lagunas de Mojanda. Essentially, there are two lakes, and smaller and one bigger one, located at almost 4000m (in the "paramo"). The place will offer a great view, a relaxing afternoon, and if you´re lucky you might just spot a condor!
Take the bus (Transportes Mojandas) to Tabacundo or the "Y" (just outside of Tabacundo). There ask around for a camioneta that can give you a ride up. It should NOT be more than $30 (which is not too bad as you can fit plenty of people in the camioneta). If you get a ride up, it is possible to walk down, but make sure you have plenty of time. Ask the driver for the best route down before he leaves you.
Laguna San Pablo is actually situated in the Provincia de Imababura, but is not that far from Cayambe. Just head down the road going out of town towards Otavalo. The lake is beautifully situated at the foot of the Imbabura mountain, and is the home of many of the people you see selling goods at the Saturday market in Otavalo. It is a nice area and a good place to go for a picknick. However, be aware that some of the population around the lake is rather poor, and while you should not have to worry of being robbed, there might be issues with beggers. Despite that, this place should not be missed!
There are buses to the lake from Cayambe, and should not take more than 30min. I went here for a day trip, but also found a travel agency that runs a hotel here. They can be found on: www.travelinecuador.com
On the way to Quito (the one that goes by Tabacundo), there is a protected area that contains 15 truncated clay pyramids covered by earth and grass and nine with long ramps. I have acutally never been here, but some of my friends went, and they really enjoyed it. Essentially, Cochasqui is an archaeological site, administered by the Consejo Provincial de Pichincha. Built by Indians of the Cara or Cayambi-Caranqui tribe between 900 and 1500 A.D. Visits to the pyramids are available and there is a small entry fee.
The site is located after the towns of Esperanza and Cubinche, so the local buses to not go this far. Either way, there is some ways to walk after the Panamerican anyway. The best thing is probaly to get a group together and rent a camioneta. Ask at the tourist office what the price SHOULD be before you´re on your way.
El Quinche is very well known by "La Virgen del Quinche" (El Quinche virgin) where there is a sanctuary to Nuestra Señora del Quinche in the main plaza. Also known for the processions held on 21 November honoring the virgin and asking for miracles. The small village is situated fairly close to Cayambe. The virgin's image was the work of a sculptor around 1600 in Oyacachi.
This is also where people from all over come to have their new cars, trucks, bikes, etc, blessed by the monks. It´s truly a cultural experience for somebody who did now grow with catholicism!
There are plenty of buses that go from Cayambe to Quinche, however, I went there with car, so I won´t be able to give you details. HOWEVER, if you just ask around, there should not be a problem. Also, I went to Quinche on a Sunday, and it seems like that is a good day to go as there was a big market.
To really experience a small highland town, you can make a quick daytrip to the town of Esperanza. With the local buses, which cost 22cents, the trip will take about 40min (but it´s only 10min by car). Esperanza is a cute place with a nice church, and a very nice view of the valley. A small park right infront of the church offers a good place to have a picknick while enjoying the view.