Ambato, Ecuador, a modern city 75 mi/120 km south of Quito, was rebuilt following a 1949 earthquake—little evidence of the colonial era remains. Ambato, however, is a good place to buy Salasaca Amerindian tapestries and other handicrafts as well as being a major hub in the flower market trade (Monday is the main market day, with smaller markets on Wednesday and Friday).

Ambato is known as the Tierra de los Tres Juanes (Land of the Three Juans). Writers Juan Montalvo, Juan Leon Mera and Juan Benigno Vela, a famous politician and writer, all hail from this area. There are parks, museums and monuments dedicated to these men all over town.

Sights include the Museo Provincial Casa del Portal (an excellent museum), Quinta de Mera (the estate of Juan Leon Mera), the Museo de Ciencias Naturales, (Museum of Natural Sciences), the Casa y Mausoleo de Montalvo alongside the relaxing Parque Juan Montalvo (named after the Ecuadoran political essayist), and Juan Benigno Vela Park, known for its incredible views over the city and hedges that are trimmed into all sorts of topiaries. The city's otherwise unnotable cathedral has become a tourist attraction for its large collections of murals.

Try to visit during the Fruit and Flower Festival, held to coincide with Latin America Carnaval, usually the end of February or early March, and you'll see all manner of fruits, flowers, bullfights, street dances and general festivities.

Visitors can take excursions to Chimborazo volcano (at 20,700 ft/6,310 m, it's Ecuador's highest peak); the Chimborazo Fauna Production Reserve (15,000 acres/6,100 hectares of native flowers and plants); and the nearby town of Banos.

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