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Southern Andes Highlights

Cuenca: Ecuador's third largest city is also its most charming, with a centuries-old colonial center full of stunning architecture, venerable churches, interesting museums and well-kept parks. Cuenca has a mix of excellent hotels and restaurants, making it a great place to spend some time as you explore the surrounding artisan communities, archaeological sites and national parks.

El Cajas National Park: Home to more than 250 glacier-fed lakes and inhabited by a diverse mix of wildlife and an interesting set of endemic plant species, El Cajas is a delight for hikers, bird-watchers and sport fishers. Over 15 hiking trails wind through the park's valleys, lagoons, highland vistas and rock formations, making for interesting landscapes with surprises at every corner.

Ingapirca: The most impressive set of Inca ruins in Ecuador, Ingapirca was once an important Inca military and religious center. Although they may not size up to the major Inca ruins in Peru, the ruins of Ingapirca are still interesting to visit and have a fascinating history. The Temple of the Sun is the focal point of the ruins, remaining the best-preserved structure in the complex.

Vilcabamba: After just a few moments in the small bohemian village of Vilcabamba, you will probably realize why it is called the "Valley of Eternal Youth." As your stresses drift away into the gorgeous mountainous scenery and you put down your vegan truffle to start the day's yoga session, you may just forget about time altogether.

Saraguro: Visit this small, rarely visited mountain town for a peek into Ecuador's best-preserved indigenous community. Saraguro is an exemplary model of what community tourism should be, and eager visitors can stay with a local family, tour weaving and traditional hat workshops, and learn about medicinal uses of sacred plants.

15 Feb 2013

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