About two hours after leaving Ambato, you wind your way down to GUARANDA (2670m), which sits in a shallow basin surrounded by hills. It’s hard to believe this is the provincial capital of Bolívar, what with its physical isolation and sleepy, small-town air. The centre of town is marked by the charming Parque Bolívar, lined with old adobe houses with painted wooden balconies and sloping, red-tiled roofs flecked with lichen. The square also houses a grand, twin-towered church, a striking mixture of bare stone and white stucco, and the gleaming, white-walled Municipio, looming over the mature palms that give this place a more tropical look than its climate warrants.
The town’s narrow, cobbled streets see relatively little traffic, and it’s not unusual to spot someone leading his horse down the road, or a couple of hens clucking around the pavement. After you’ve nosed around the square, and checked out the Museo Escuela Cultura Andina in an old hospital on 7 de Mayo and Rocafuerte – a building at least as interesting as its displays on archeology, local culture and medicine – the only real “sight” to head for is the towering stone statue of “El Indio Guaranga”, the sixteenth-century indigenous chief after whom the town is said to have been named. It’s up on one of the nearby hills ($1 by taxi; 45min walk), with sweeping views down to the town and across to Chimborazo, and a modest museum of history (variable hours; free) alongside it. Otherwise, there’s a colourful Friday or (bigger) Saturday market on the Plaza 15 de Mayo, where you’ll see campesinos from local villages trading wheat, barley and maize for fruit brought up from the coast.