Zaruma, Ecuador

A cool mountain retreat with inspiring views.  After winding your way up and over lushly covered mountains with gushing streams pouring through the foliage, the final climb up to Zaruma (southeast of Machala) feels like the end of a pilgrimage. And for those traveling along the washboard-flat coastal roadway, this old gold-mining town (c 1549) is a revelation, with its narrow, hilly streets and wooden balustrades decorated with potted plants. While its mines are mostly exhausted or closed to the public, you can visit the 500m-long tunnel of nearby La Mina el Sexmo, where you’ll don boots and a helmet for a stroll into the earth (following a 10-minute video on the mine’s history). It’s a short $2 taxi ride (or long uphill walk) from the town center.

Most hotels and restaurants are found along the main narrow road that winds its way up through Zaruma eventually reaching the pretty Plaza de la Independencia and the quaint Virgen del Carmen church rising above it. Beside the plaza, a small museum with historical and archeological artifacts sits above the town’s tourism office.

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