About 35km south of Quito along the Panamericana, a side road shoots east for a kilometre or so to MACHACHI (2950m). There’s nothing special about the town itself, but its setting – within a ring of hills and volcanoes – is magnificent and makes it a good base for climbers eyeing up the Ilinizas, Corazón, Rumiñahui and Cotopaxi.
Except for immersing yourself in the sprawling Sunday market, there’s not a lot to do here, but you may as well wander around its central square, dominated by the handsome old Teatro Municipal and the white-walled church, whose interior is embellished by swirling, brightly coloured Baroque designs, and a gilded altar proclaiming “Fear of God”. You could also visit the nearby Güitig plant, where Ecuador’s most famous mineral water is bottled; it’s 4km northeast of the town (head downhill along Pareja, the street one block west of the square; $2 there by camioneta from main square), and has a couple of swimming pools (daily 7.30am–3.30pm; $0.50) filled with cold, crystal-clear mineral water. On or around July 23, the town celebrates “El Chagra”, the Andean version of the cowboy, with rodeos and parades.