Best for: landscapes, culture, trekking, riding, markets
DURATION: 7–10 days ROUTE: Quito • Cotopaxi • Latacunga • Quilotoa • Baños • Riobamba WHY GO? Good for active pursuits, de-stressing in hot springs and train buffs. WHEN TO GO? All year; high season Jun-sep Due south of Quito, Ecuador’s volcano avenue begins. The first giant is Cotopaxi, near the towns of Machachi and Lasso. Haciendas and lodges in and near the volcano’s national park offer accommodation, hiking and horse riding. A bit further south, Latacunga is the starting point for some excellent trekking, biking and horse-riding circuits around the crater lake of Quilotoa and the surrounding villages (these can also be done by car or bus). On the route is Saquisilí, whose Thursday market is a major indigenous event. Latacunga celebrates La Mama Negra in September and November, a riotous but confusing affair honouring the Virgen de la Merced, whose central figure is a man dressed as a black woman.
Head south-east to the hot springs at Baños, situated in a valley of waterfalls, bridges for bungee jumping and a thriving expat community. From here you can head east to the Oriente (see p81), or turn south to Riobamba. This chilly city gives access to another relatively easily accessible volcano, Chimborazo, and to the Devil’s Nose train ride, whose switchbacks form the most famous section of the Quito-guayaquil railway. The Alausí to Sibambe stretch is only a short section of the 450km line, but it’s undoubtedly one of the most spectacular 12km of railway in the world.