Quito is one of South America’s most interesting and beautiful capital cities as well as being the second highest in the world at 2800m, after La Paz in Bolivia. It is one of the first places to have been declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1978. Once you have adapted to the altitude it’ll be time to visit these 5 highlights.
1. Quito’s Old Town
Quito’s Old Town is one of the best preserved colonial centres in South America and can easily be explored on foot in one day. The city is laid out like a traditional Spanish city with the main plaza at the centre. The Old Town is home to some of Quito’s architectural highlights including the wonderfully ornate La Compania church as well as the Basilica, which offers spectacular views of the city once you have climbed the rickety stairs. You will also find the Presidential Palace and Government buildings here.
2. Mitad del Mundo
A trip to the equator, although rather touristy, is worth it just so you can take a photo of one foot in the northern hemisphere and one foot in the southern. There is also a museum attached which has games to show exactly where you are. This trip can be done in a morning or afternoon and is approximately 22km from the centre of town.
3. The TelefériQo
If you aren’t scared of heights then you should definitely take a ride on this very impressive cable car, which goes from Quito up to the dormant volcano of Pichincha. Given the altitude when you get there, this is one ride that really can be described as breath-taking. A tip though – it’s best to go in the morning as by the time the afternoon comes, the clouds may well obscure the Andean views.
4. La Ronda
La Ronda is a traditional cobbled street which is lovely to visit in the daytime. There are a few well preserved colonial houses which are well worth a visit. Some of them are now museums as well as galleries, cafes and artisan shops. However, it is also worth a visit during the evening as that is when it really comes to life – musicians perform in many of the bars and cafes as well as on the streets. If it’s a chilly evening, it’s a great place to have the Andean equivalent of a hot toddy – a canezalo, cinnamon and a sugarcane spirit deliciously fused.
5. La Capilla del Hombre
This is the secular chapel (‘The Chapel of Man’) created by Oswaldo Guayasamín, Ecuador’s best-known contemporary artist. Unfortunately he died in 2002 and never saw it completed. It is a powerful monument to mankind through the ages and also has many of his own works, which focus on the social injustice found across Latin America. It is best visited with a guide who will help you to get the most out of the experience.
Then outside Quito take a trip to the market at Otavalo
If you are looking for a full day trip out of Quito then Otavalo should be the place to go. Approximately 2 hours from the city it has one of the largest indigenous markets in South America. You can buy handicrafts, textiles and all sorts of souvenirs to take home including ponchos and Panama hats. Make sure you haggle though!
And finally make sure you visit the historic haciendas of Ecuador, among some of the finest in South America. A stay at one of these welcoming haciendas allows the guest to really experience the best of Ecuadorian hospitality, as well as learning a lot about the history, traditions and culture of the country. Some are very rustic while others are more luxurious, there are haciendas to suit all requirements. They are the perfect place to relax after enjoying the sights of the city.
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