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138km (86 miles) S of Quito; 47km (29 miles) S of Latacunga; 288km (179 miles) N of Guayaquil

Despite its reputation as a cultural center that gave birth to, or was the home of, various prominent authors and intellectuals, and the fact that it is the largest city in the central Ecuadorean highlands, Ambato is rightly bypassed by most tourists. While it's an important commercial hub for the region, and has the largest Monday market in the country, Ambato holds little of interest for visitors. Most folks breeze through on their way to someplace else. Moreover, with Baños and a couple of truly beautiful haciendas nearby, I see very little reason to overnight in Ambato.

Ambato is known as the "City of Flowers and Fruits," and you can find an overwhelming abundance of both in the city's markets. Ambato is also sometimes called the "City of the Three Juans," because three prominent Ecuadorean writers and intellectuals -- Juan León Mera, Juan Montalvo, and Juan Benigno Vela -- either hailed from the city or spent much time living and writing there. Montalvo was a prominent novelist whom some have called "the Cervantes of South America," while Mera was both a poet and novelist, but is most famous for writing the country's national anthem. Benigno Vela is best known as a critic and essayist.

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