The Central Andes' biggest city, located a couple of hours south of Quito, tends to be more of a bus stopover than a tourist destination, and most travelers choose to continue on to the livelier and more appealing town of BaĂ±os, a mere hour away. This is partly due to the destruction of the 1949 earthquake, which killed 6,000 people and destroyed the city's colonial center. Much of Ambato is modern and rather plain as a result. But Ambato isn't without attractions though, and there a couple of decent museums and appealing parks. In addition, nobody can argue that Ambato doesn't present visitors with an authentic Ecuadorian experience, particularly when it comes to its busy markets.
Carnival, held annually in February or March, is when Ambato really comes alive. The city's festival, Fiesta de las Flores y las Frutas (festival of flowers and fruits), has grown tremendously in reputation, if not in reality. The festival is advertised as a two-week-long celebration with colorful parades, festivities and bullfights. If there was ever such a huge festival in Ambato, though, there isnât now. What you get, instead, is four nights of dancing and drinking (and afternoon bullfights) in the build up to Ash Wednesday, a Roman Catholic observance that kicks off Lent. Plan to book early if you want to spend the weekend in Ambato, as accommodations fill up quickly.