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Ambato's picturesque downtown park, Parque Juan Montalvo, is a solid-square-block area with tall palm trees, pretty gardens, plenty of bench seating, and crisscrossing footpaths. It's very busy on weekdays during lunch and in the early evening, as well as throughout the day and into the night on weekends. On the northeast side of the park is the city's massive modern cathedral with its soaring domes.

On the northwest corner of the park (Montalvo 3-50 and Bolívar) is the Greek-style Casa de Montalvo (tel. 03/2824-248), the restored birthplace and residence of one of the town's famous Juans; it houses the Museo de Reliquias Montalvinas, which features a collection of old Ambato relics, including traditional dress, manuscripts, photos, and literature from the Montalvo collection and era. The museum is open daily from 9am until noon and 2 to 6pm. Admission is $1 (65p).

La Quinta de Mera (tel. 03/2820-419) is the home and retreat formerly belonging to another of the three Juans, writer Juan León Mera. Today, the small estate is a beautiful place to get away from the bustle of downtown Ambato and admire stunning views over the Ambato River. Located on Avenida Circunvalación in the parish of Atocha, the house boasts luscious French- and Oriental-style gardens; a natural museum displaying the late author's possessions, art, and literature; and beautiful botanical gardens housing over 250 plant and flower species It's open daily from 9am to 5pm; admission is $1 (65p). La Quinta is located a little over 1.5km (1 mile) north of downtown. You can walk here, or take a taxi for around $1 (65p).

The arty Atocha sector also boasts the Centro Cultural La Liria (tel. 03/2425-085; contactos@fiestasdeambato.com), on Av. Circunvalación, which displays collections of handicrafts, typical dress, photography, and contemporary art. This center was donated by the families of Juan León Mera, Juan Montalvo, and Luis Alfredo Martínez.

For a great view, head to the Monumento a la Primera Imprenta (Monument to the First Printing Press), located on a high point northwest of downtown. On a clear day, you'll have no problem seeing the plume of smoke from Volcán Tungurahua. A taxi here should run you $2 (£1.35) each way.

Ambato is famous for its markets. These are working traditional markets where locals and highland dwellers sell and barter for food, clothing, tools, animals, seeds, spices, and just about everything else imaginable. The city is particularly well known for its fruits and flowers. The biggest market day is Monday, with Wednesday and Friday not far behind. Really, though, Ambato's bustling Mercado Central and Mercado Modelo have ample offerings pretty much every day of the week. The Mercado Central is located on Avenida 12 de Noviembre, a block northeast of Parque 12 de Noviembre. The Mercado Modelo is located on the southeastern side of Avenida Cevallos, about 2 blocks northeast of Parque Cevallos. On Monday and other market days, vendors fill the city streets all around these two markets. Only a small amount of art and craftworks is available, but you can certainly buy hand-woven wool clothing and traditional Andean headwear.

For organized tours, contact your hotel tour desk; Metropolitan Touring ★ (tel. 03/2820-211), inside the Centro Comercial Caracol, on Av. Los Capulies 59-62; or Delgado Travel (tel. 03/2423-070), on Juan León Mera 6-13 and Sucre. Options include city tours as well as trips to Cotopaxi or Baños.

Flowers & Fruit -- Befitting a town known as the "City of Flowers and Fruits," Ambato celebrates the yearly Carnaval season with a major blowout party known as La Fiesta de las Flores y de las Frutas. For 2 solid weeks, Ambato hosts a near-constant stream of parades, open-air concerts, beauty contests, bullfights, and street fairs with portable amusement park rides. The exact dates vary, but the celebrations coincide with traditional Latin American Carnaval periods, and tend to occur around mid-February and early March, preceding Ash Wednesday and the beginning of Lent. During this fiesta, hotel rooms are sold out long in advance. For up-to-date information, see www.fiestasdeambato.com.

Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.