Heading south of Riobamba, the towering mountains of the Central Highlands are replaced by undulating green hills. Everything is mellower down here—the climate warms up little by little as you move south, and the people are well known for their sweet temperaments and singsong accents.
This region’s relative isolation from the rest of the country has helped the people to hold on to their traditions. The population is noticeably sparser, with fewer towns and villages between the main cities. Loja and Cuenca are far more conservative at heart than commercial Guayaquil and cosmopolitan Quito, and the indigenous heritage thrives in the cultures of the Cañari and Saraguro Indians.
Ecuador] is most visible. There are ruins in and around Cuenca and at Ingapirca, and there is even a lesser-known Inca Trail.
There are few peaks over 4,000 meters in the provinces of Cañar, Azuay, and Loja, and the landscape receives less visitor attention than the snowy peaks farther north. Deeper into the hills, however, it becomes more rugged and isolated, particularly in the two largest national parks, Cajas and Podocarpus, within touching distance of Cuenca and Loja, respectively.
East of Loja is one of Ecuador’s remotest regions in the forbidding Cordillera del Condor. This is the inaccessible area that was the center of a long-running border dispute with Peru, only settled in 1998.
© Ben Westwood and Avalon Travel from Moon Ecuador & the Galápagos Islands, 5th Edition