From Saraguro, the road drops steadily to Loja, whose elevation and proximity to the Oriente gives the town a delightfully temperate climate. Despite Loja’s isolation (the nearest town of any importance is five hours to the north), Loja is one of the county’s most cultured cities. Founded in 1548, it’s one of the oldest towns in Ecuador and is home to a nationally renowned university, an important conservatory and a law school. The city is famous for its musicians (it seems like everyone in town plays something) and its award-winning parks. Despite all this, and the fact that it’s the provincial capital, it’s still a small town at heart – so much so that you’ll find a day or two here plenty of time. Loja is a good base for visiting nearby Parque Nacional Podocarpus and the main stop before heading south to Vilcabamba and (if you’re roaming that far) Peru.