Some 20km south of the turn-off to Cotopaxi, LATACUNGA (2800m) is a charming, mid-sized market town of narrow, cobbled streets and whitewashed, clay-roofed houses, huddled on the east bank of the Río Cutuchi. Its centre looks distinctly colonial, but most buildings date only from the early twentieth century – a fact owed to Cotopaxi's repeated and devastating eruptions, which have seen the town destroyed and rebuilt five times since its foundation in 1534, most recently in 1877. Despite its troubled history, Latacunga is a cheerful, easy-going place, full of activity in the day though something of a ghost town at night. It gets very busy, however, during its two famous and colourful Mama Negra fiestas, the original religious celebration of which is held on September 24, and the newer secular festival, involving local colleges and civic institutions, falling on the weekend before November 11, marking the independence of Latacunga.
At other times of the year there's little to occupy you in town after a couple of hours' wander. Close at hand, though, is the Parque Nacional Cotopaxi as well as the sprawling, hectic indigenous market at the town of Saquisilí. The sparkling crater lake of Quilotoa can also be visited on a day-trip, or as part of a circuit – often called the Quilotoa loop – taking in the remote villages of Zumbahua and Chugchilán.