No matter where you are headed in Ecuador, you will fly into the capital city of Quito, so why not take a few days to discover this colorful colonial destination. With 1.8 million residents, the city climbs high up the mountain that surrounds it, while only spreading about two miles wide.
Speaking of the mountain, it is the always looming volcano called Volcan Pichincha. Sometimes sending puffs of smoke into the sky as a gentle reminder of her power, the exact contrast to Pichincha is the city’s drop into a large valley called Valle de los Chillos. From this valley the traveler can head in the direction of the Amazon.
There is a charming Ecuadorian vibe in the capital city of Quito. Due to its high altitude located in the Andes, you can expect stunning views all around. Whether it is the mountain peaks contrasted with city lights and apartment buildings, or the tight alleys and colonial styles dating to a bygone era, Quito has a story to tell.
With a true independent spirit, the outdoor markets are as fitting for an afternoon as the impressive culinary and nightlife scene in the evening. Most travelers, and even some locals, usually end up in an area called “gringolandia“ or La Mariscal. This is where you will find the best guesthouses, places to eat, and bars.
Gringolandia however, is not where you will find the best parts of the history of Quito. For that you must head into the Old Town area. The Old Town of Quito has been designated a Unesco World Heritage Site. Here you will discover the seventeenth century facades standing alongside aging plazas and the many churches that serve to keep the place real. In fact, Quito is bulging with ornate churches flanked by an overload of people and honking cars.
Find your way to La Compañía de Jesús, certainly the city’s most elaborate church. It features a variety of standouts, like Moorish-type architecture, unique symbolism, and there are even native plants highlighted among the church columns. The church took more than 150 years to complete and former president Gabriel Garcia Moreno is buried inside.
Walk through the Plaza Grande once called the Plaza de la Independencia. Near the plaza there is a second and equally interesting cathedral on the southwest side. The history found in this cathedral includes a chance to look in at Mariscal Sucre’s tomb, or to get a firsthand glimpse at the location of President Gabriel García Moreno’s death in 1875.
Palacio del Gobierno, where the Ecuadorian President resides when in the city, is a fine stop. The palace is located on the northwest of the plaza. Monday guests are allowed to watch the changing of the guards at 11 a.m.
Quito is a place you might have on your bucket list because of its special location right on the equator. The La Mitad del Mundo is said to be where the equatorial line runs through, so it is not surprising this is one of the first places tourists want to visit when arriving. Thanks to the crowds there is not short supply of vendors bulging with food stalls and handicraft.
For gondola lovers, the TelefériQo takes visitors from the city center to the side of Pichincha Volcano and a lookout point called Cruz Loma. The 10-minute ride offers the chance for hikers to keep climbing to the top at Rucu Pichincha if they choose. A note to the traveler, be sure and acclimate to the elevation before engaging in the high intensity hike to the top.
If you want to get out of Quito for a day, there are a number of interesting quick trips. For birders, try the bird watching in Mindo. If you want to get pampered, try the hot springs at Papallacta. The pyramid ruins of Cochasquí are also nearby.
Due to its location in the Andes, the best time to visit Quito is in July and August. Even this can vary, so don’t let the weather be your guide. Just expect the perfect vantage point at the top of the world in a city with a magical energy. Indeed, even if just for a few days, Quito is the place to relax before heading in any direction for beach, mountain, the Galapagos Islands or the Amazon. www.ecuador.travel