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.
The best place to stay is the friendly Hospedería Refugio Chiguac (t 02/2310396, e firstname.lastname@example.org; $21–25 including breakfast, other meals $6), at Los Caras and Colón, complete with beamed ceilings, a stag’s head on the wall and a blazing fire. The rooms have shared bathrooms with hot water, and those on a budget can sleep in the dorm for $5 or camp in the garden for $3. La Estancia Real (t 02/2315760; $11–15), two blocks south of Amazonas at Luis Cordero and Panzaleo, just off the market, has clean and spacious rooms with private bathrooms, but the service is variable. Northwest of town at Km415 on the railway, you’ll find greater comfort and character at the hacienda La Alegría (t 02/2462310 or t 09/9802526, w www.haciendalaalegria.com; $51–80 including breakfast, over $121 full board), an organic farm run by a family with a strong tradition of equestrianism. Guests can stay in the farmhouse or extension with en-suite rooms; activities on offer include horseriding.
Arriving in Machachi on one of the frequent Transporte Mejía buses from near the Villaflora trolley stop in Quito, you’ll be dropped on the main street, Avenida Amazonas, leading down towards the square. Internet facilities in Machachi can be found on Colón, just off the main square.
For restaurants, try El Pedregal on Colón and Pareja, serving bargain staples including fried chicken, or the two chifas on the same street not far from the square. The best dining is at Café de la Vaca (t 02/2315012; daily 8am–5.30pm), on the Panamericana Km41, 4km south of Machachi, which serves excellent food ($5–10), especially beef, using produce from their dairy farm; it’s busy at weekends.