From its glorious Old Town - one of the world's first designated UNESCO World Heritage Sites - to the sleek modern shopping malls and office towers, there is something to see, do, and experience around every corner in Quito.
The city's formal name is San Francisco de Quito, and at 9,350 feet above sea level, it's the world's highest capital city. The city lies on the slope of Pichincha, an active volcano in the Andean mountain range. It may take a little time to adjust to the high altitude; you'll want to get plenty of rest and drink lots of water to get over the hump.
There's a wealth of experiences waiting for you in Quito, from sophisticated nightlife and world-class dining, to lush, green parks, and the wild Andean landscape. Add the warm, friendly, traditional Ecuadoran culture, and it's one of the world's best-kept tourism secrets.
The central part of Quito is a UNESCO World Cultural Heritage site, designated as such because of its largely untouched historical buildings. These include 40 gorgeous and intricately decorated churches, 17 plazas, and much more to explore.
There are many ways to explore the stunning mountain ranges and picturesque views that surround Quito. The Cotopaxi National Park is an exciting day trip, where you can hike or cycle the green cliffs and the 19,350-foot-high volcano that lies underneath the city.
Quito is home to many impressive museums, including the Museo del Banco Central, with its massive collection of artifacts and exhibits from pre-Columbian and colonial days, and many works in gold. The Casa de la Cultura Ecuatoriana incorporates the Museo Nacional with its glittering Sala de Oro or Gold Room, along with a performing arts venue.
Quito is a city of beautiful parks, including the very popular Parque La Carolina, with the Botanical Gardens at its heart. Others include Parque Metropolitano del Sur, where you can hike or cycle through miles of trails, and the Parque Ecológico y Arqueológico Rumipamba, where archaeological remains have been found that date back as far as 1500 BC.
Culture and history rub shoulders with a top nightlife and dining scene in Quito. The local cuisine is a mixture of traditional Andean favorites like fried bananas and lots of delicious seafood dishes, along with many Japanese and other Asian influences. Plaza Foch (aka La Zona) is where you'll find a lively and youthful nightlife scene, with many live music and dance clubs.
Named a World Heritage Site by the United Nations, Quito's historic colonial center is full of meandering cobblestone streets, many of them car-free and perfect for a leisurely stroll. The streets are lined with ornate colonial architecture, some of which dates back to the 16th century including the wonderful San Francisco Church and Plaza. You'll find a wealth of restaurants and bars to choose from throughout the district, hidden in the side streets of the main boulevards, as well as upscale shopping.
It's not just arriving on the mountainside of Cruz Loma that's a thrill -- the trip itself is a spectacular ride up the Volcán Pichincha. You'll experience Quito's mountainous landscape in safety. A ride of just 10 minutes takes you 1.5 miles up to a plateau. From there, it's about a 3-hour hike farther up to the summit of Rucu Pichincha. Views of the city and surrounding mountains are stunning, and horses are available for rent to explore the area.
Intricately decorated spires tower above the impressive church hall itself in this remarkable structure that dominates the northeastern corner of the historic city center from a hilltop. The architectural style is Gothic Revival, but with uniquely Ecuadoran touches such as the turtles and iguanas that replace gargoyles along the sides of the main building. You can climb to the top of the basilica's towers along a steep set of stairs and a spiral staircase that leads up to the clock tower.
La Virgen del Panecillo, an enormous sculpture of the Virgin Mary, overlooks the city from the top of this 656-foot hill in the southern part of Quito. Its name comes from the word *panecillo* which means "a small loaf of bread" in reference to the shape of the hill. Formed by volcanic activity, the top of the hill and sculpture can be viewed from anywhere in the city. The statue is impressive, with its Virgin standing on a dragon -- the earth underneath them -- and the views of the city are panoramic.
At the heart of the city's historic center, Calle La Ronda is a pedestrian-only cobblestone street that preserves the city's colonial era charms. Popular both day and night, the charming streetscape is lined with shops and restaurants. Said to be one of the oldest streets in the city, it extends into the Old Town from the foot of El Panecillo. Some of the buildings were once home to Ecuador's artistic and political elite, and there are historic and informational plaques to fill you in on the details along the way.
Located very close to the equator, and at its high altitude, Quito's climate is fairly cool, and temperatures are quite constant year round. Daytime temperatures tend to hover around 65 degrees Fahrenheit, with nighttime lows dropping to just under 50. Winter can be rainy, particularly around March and April, making summer the most popular time for tourist visits.
Mariscal Sucre Airport (UIO) is located about 11 miles east of the city and is one of South America's busiest airports. There is an airport express bus that takes you to the city for $8.00. Taxi fares to town operate on a flat rate depending on your destination. A taxi costs about $25 to the Old Town.
The railway station (Estación de Tren de Chimbacalle) is located in south Quito. Because of the mountainous terrain, intercity rail service is limited. However, train rides are a wonderful way to see the mountainous region, and there are tourist trains that operate through Quito, including a scenic route to Guayaquil and Cotopaxi.
The city is located on the Pan-American Highway, with a tunnel into the city from the mountains. Driving in and around Quito tends to be on the fast side, so be forewarned, and the major highways, including the tunnel, tend to be very congested.
The main bus station is located in south Quito, in the Quitumbe district. Connections are available to locations south of the city, including the coastal, Amazonian, and mountain regions, as well as Lima, Peru.
You can sample the city's rich history close up by staying at the Hotel San Francisco De Quito, originally built in 1698. The Plaza Grande lets you stay in 5-star luxury, with rooms that boast carved wood trim and glittering chandeliers. At the Stubel Suites and Cafe, you'll enjoy sleek, modern rooms and a gorgeous view of the city from the dining room.
La Mariscal - this popular neighborhood is where you'll find a wealth of hotels, bars, nightclubs, and restaurants. If you're looking for an internet cafe, this is the place to find it.
Old Town - also called the Centro Histórico, this is where to explore Quito's rich history. Along with strolling the streets to admire the architecture, you'll find several interesting museums, theaters, and performance venues, including the National Museum and Teatro Nacional Sucre, along with many restaurants and cafes where you can fuel up.
North Quito - this is the modern part of the city, including the financial district and an upscale residential area. You'll find lots of restaurants like La Ronda, a favorite of local business people; museums and art galleries such as the Museo de Sitio la Florida with its archaeological finds and the Capilla del Hombre and its collection of Latin American artworks; along with nightlife options.
Public transportation in Quito includes the Metrobus system, El Trole (the Trolley, also called Trolebús), which is preferred by locals, and Ecovia, a bus system you'll recognize by its red buses. The flat fare for El Trole and most buses is $0.25.
Taxis are plentiful and relatively cheap, making them a great way to get around town. The minimum fare is $1.45 until 7 pm and $1.75 later in the evenings. Most fares within the city run $5 or less. It's best to use the official taxis, which are yellow, and you'll want to make sure the meter is turned on. If you do find yourself in a taxi without a meter, be sure to negotiate your price in advance.
A car isn't really necessary within the city, since most attractions and tourist locales are situated quite close together, but a rental will make it easier to explore the area around Quito. A compact rental costs about $25.
The Calle de la Ronda is a historic cobbled street in the Old Town where you can shop in local boutiques and art galleries. For fair trade crafts and artisan work, try the shops at the Plaza de San Francisco and Plaza Grande. Modern shopping malls are located throughout the city, with a concentration in the north part of town.
Supermaxi is the city's main supermarket chain. There are also many traditional Mercados or markets in town where you'll find inexpensive groceries and particularly produce, along with prepared meals. A quart of milk costs about $1.10 and a dozen eggs will set you back about $2.25.
Enjoy a classic South American steakhouse in a unique location at Café Dios No Muere. The restaurant is attached to a 400-year-old monastery in the Old Town, and main dishes start at just $5.50. Zazu is one of the city's fine dining establishments, offering fusion cuisine with an emphasis on fresh seafood and grilled meat dishes, which start at $18. For a casual vibe and traditional Ecuadoran dishes like llapingachos, a kind of potato pancake, you'll want to try Yaravi, where you can get empanadas for $1.50 each, and mains start at $9.