Welcome to one of the highest capital cities in the world. Spread out across the Andean Valley at an elevation of 2,850 metres above sea level, the foundations of Quito are built upon an ancient Incan city.
With its beautifully preserved historic centre, Quito was one of the first ever cities to receive a UNESCO World Heritage Site listing in 1978. And indeed, its striking Jesuit Church and monasteries are exquisite displays of unique Baroque school of Quito architecture, which fuses Spanish, Moorish, Italian, Flemish and indigenous influences. Mixed with the old is the modern buzz of the sprawling metropolis.
Visitors will soon learn that there is much to captivate, interest and intrigue while discovering Ecuador’s capital in the clouds.
Taking a wander through the streets of the Old Town is a perfect introduction to Quito, as this is where much of the city’s magnificent history lies. Start at the ancient cobblestoned San Francisco Plaza, which is home to the 16th century Church and Monastery of San Francisco. Marvel at its ornate splendour before making your way to the nearby La Compania de Jesus Jesuit Church, which will dazzle you even more.
Close by you’ll find the Museum of Maria Augusta Urrutia, the perfect place to break the church trail and take a step back in time and into the beautifully preserved home life of Maria Augusta Urrutia, a noble lady of Quito.
Take in a different view of Quito by heading up El Panecillo, a 200-metre tall volcanic hill (it’s safest and easiest to go by taxi). Not only will you take in stunning panoramic views of Quito, you’ll also get up close to the towering 45-metre tall Virgin Madonna of Quito statue that gazes out over the city.
Eat and Drink
Whether you’re a meat-lover, pescetarian or vegetarian, you’ll be looked after in Quito. Both the Old Town and New Town have a variety of good restaurants where the seafood is fresh and the hornado (roast pork) is juicy and delicious. Don’t miss the chance to order a local ceviche (citrus-cured seafood dish) washed down with a cold Pilsener (Ecuadorian beer). For a good value lunchtime meal look out for eateries with almuerzos on the menu – this set meal consists of a couple of courses at a great price.
North of the New Town you’ll find a variety of up-market restaurants serving international cuisine including Japanese and French fare. There are also many Chifas (Chinese restaurants) around town serving up the local favourite dish of chaulafan (fried rice). After dark, salsa the night away or enjoy a few drinks in the pubs and clubs at the popular Mariscal district.
Where to Stay
The bustling district of Mariscal, with its vibrant bars and clubs, offers an array of accommodation options ranging from the affordable to the elegant. The New City offers luxury hotels with modern rooms and amenities, while the charming district of La Floresta has a lovely local feel. The Old Town has a number of boutique hotels set in converted colonial homes to enhance your experience in the historic centre.
Quito is a wonderful place to find authentic Latin American handicrafts. Visit the fair-trade shops around Plaza San Francisco, Museo Mindalae and El Quinde to rest assured that your money is going to the local artisans.
Unique gifts and mementos in Quito include handmade leather crafts, jewellery, pottery, candles and beautiful woven tapestries crafted by skilled indigenous people. The Mariscal district is awash with souvenir shops and boutiques for all your last minute bits and pieces.
Quito Like a Local
Mingle with the locals and see the colourful displays of fresh produce stacked high at Mercado Santa Clara (Santa Clara Market) on Antonio de Ulloa. Buy some exotic fruit or a freshly squeezed juice, or visit the food court to sit down with the locals and tuck into hearty regional favourites.