Walking the Streets of Guamote Guamote, Ecuador

Half the fun of being in an unfamiliar place is discovering it through exploration. When I lived in Rome, I realized that it wasn't the big architectural landmarks that make a place memorable, it's the feeling of the everyday through the small streets, shops and back alleys. The best way I know to experience that is to randomly walk around and hopefully get a little lost.

A typical streetscape in the town of Guamote, Ecuador

This is just another way of saying that it's not about the destination, it's the journey.

Guamote was our home base for a number of days but we weren't actually doing anything in the town.

We would travel to Sablog, or the Gulahuayco girls' school, or go harvesting chochos and then return to Guamote for the night.

By the time we'd return it was dark and opportunities to photograph the streets in daylight were gone.

The only way for me to experience Guamote with daylight was to get up around 6:30 am every morning and explore before our daily activities started around 9:30 am.

One of the majestic church spires of Guamote

Luckily, that's my favourite time for photography anyways. It's not just that the light is softer, but it's a time when there is little motion or activity in the street. (And that's what I prefer, given that I tend to photograph abandoned buildings and environments.)

About Guamote

While Guamote has a population of 35,000 this includes a large rural area outside of the town. The part that is the ‘town’ measures only about 1 km × 1.5 km in size (not very large).

It consists mostly of 2-storey painted concrete buildings with cobblestone roads on a hillside with a noticeable slope. A railroad track runs through the middle of the town and this is also where the train station and central plaza are located.

My daily routine was fairly simple: get up early and start walking in a direction I hadn't walked before. If I recognized something, change direction. The only additional criteria was try not to get too lost so I can be back before the bus leaves.

Railroad tracks with vendor stalls and people
Child playing beside the railroad tracks? err… Right.

Thursday market

Guamote shuts down most streets each Thursday as they turn the town into a pedestrian-only market. Vendors setup shops and fill the streets with their stalls. It's not just people selling products and materials—services are provided as well.

Mother and daughter carrying box of bananas
Mom and daughter carrying bananas to the market

You could find everything from hats, to bananas, to yarn and meat. And everything in between that you can imagine.

Guamote street with market stalls
Street vendors with market stalls
Merket vendor street stall with shoes for sale
Many, many, shoes, flip-flops and boots for sale
Street vendor selling hats
It's possible that this guy sells hats

On the services side, I wasn't surprised to see shoe-shining stations. But I didn't expect to see tables with sewing machines and tailors and seamstresses providing services in the street. That was interesting.

And this wasn't happening just in the main square, it was in all of the streets, side streets and alleys. It completely changed the way I moved around the town because it had been transformed into an outdoor shopping mall. I'm glad I was lucky enough to be here this day to see it. Amazing! (Make sure you're in Guamote on a Thursday morning!)

Empty streets

I live in Toronto, and it's hard to find a time when the streets are empty. Wandering around Guamote in the early morning was interesting because it felt like you had the streets all to yourself.

Empty train tracks in Guamote at dawn
Early morning in Guamote—nobody to be seen

The streets were empty and abandoned (because quite simply, virtually nobody was awake yet). In many ways it's similar to what I typically photograph—abandoned buildings—except that instead of it being a building, there's an entire empty environment to explore.

Another empty cobblestone street
Man crosses empty cobblestone street
I found the only other person strange enough to be wandering the streets at 6 am


Animals and livestock were an unmistakable part of everyday life here. From the man riding the donkey up the road, to the recently slaughtered pig hanging in front of the residence next door, the rural connection was clear.

Donkeys: for when you just can't find an Uber

It wasn't uncommon to see someone walking their cows across a downtown street. And while most drivers parked a car, sometimes you'd find a parked donkey.

Man with cows crossing a cobblestone street
Giving the cows their daily exercise

If you were walking down a street and the front gate to a property was open, you were just as likely to see a cow or pig inside as you were to see a dog or cat.

Two lazy dogs, living a rough life

Apart from livestock and farm animals, you'd also often see dogs and cats roaming the street. While on the edge of the town I encountered a pack of 15 dogs chasing each other around in the brush beside the road. (We were heavily warned to avoid the dogs to avoid getting bitten. I didn't hang around too long to find out if they were friendly!)


No trip would be complete without spending some time looking at the details. Here are some of the things that caught my eye while wandering around.

Concrete block with Chimborazo Cement stamp
This block of concrete brought to you by Chimborazo Cement
A very fancy door, in an otherwise non-descript wall
Broken glass embedded into the top of an exterior concrete block fence
Anti-intruder prevention or seagull deterrent? Hard to say.
Wall with two sets of doors, one taller than the other
One door for the big people, one for the little people
Exterior building walls with doors
A fairly typical Guamote facade, always on an incline

After wandering around every morning for about 5 days, I had a good feel for the different parts of the town. The important thing was that this wasn't driven by visiting landmarks—it was about walking the streets, the alleys, and getting lost on the way.

The key thing to remember is that tours and guidebooks let you arrive at destinations, but they don't provide a journey. That sense of discovery while exploring the streets is what I remember most, and to me is the most important part about travelling anywhere.

Portrait of Kendall Anderson Photographer, software developer, ex-architect, drummer, martial arts instructor (I like to keep busy)