Quito, Ecuador

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This article originally appeared in Delta Air Lines’ 2012 Caribbean, Mexico and Latin America Travel Guide. It has been extracted from its original format. To read the full travel guide, visit the digital edition.

There’s an idyllic quality about Quito. Nearly two miles high and almost directly on the equator, the Andean capital stretches along the foothills beneath the Pinchincha Volcano and in its dozens of superb colonial churches—La Compania and the San Francisco Cathedralare standouts—where all that glitters is undoubtedly pure gold. This rich treasury of religious art and architecture was recognized in 1978 when UNESCO proclaimed Quito the first city on its World Heritage sites list. And nowadays, all eyes are on Quito’s Old Town, considered the largest, least altered, and—following a $220 million-dollar restoration—the best preserved in the Americas. Nowadays there’s a handful of new, deluxe boutique hotels occupying historic mansions, including the just opened 33-room Casa Gangotena, while the restaurant scene is deliciously interesting, too, with such entries as Theatrum, overlooking Teatro Sucre. In the new town, you’ll find the arts very modern at Fundacion Guayasamin and nearby Capilla del Hombre, part of the artistic legacy of world-renowned artist Oswaldo Guyasamin. Of course, any day, except Mondays, is a good time to visit the Museo Nacional del Banco Central, the city’s granddaddy of all museums, but leave time to enjoy the eye-catching Mindalae Museum, dedicated to traditional arts and crafts. Shopping for Ecuador’s fine crafts is part of the fun of being in Quito and guests staying at the Hilton Colon have just to walk out the door and into Ejido Park, where artists display their paintings at the Sunday art market.

Day excursions take visitors by car or train to Cotopaxi National Park for a day of hiking, horseback riding and volcano climbing; to the Equatorial Monument located right on Latitude O; to the cloud forest of El Mindo for superb birdwatching; and to the many colorful Indian markets along the Pan American Highway. The most famous market of all is Otavalo, where plaza after plaza overflows with excellent weavings of these highland peoples.

Facts

  • Best time to go:
    May to December is the cool dry season in Quito
  • Fun fact:
    Visitors to La Mitad del Mundo (the Middle of the World monument), north of Quito and precisely on the equator, have a memorable photo op: straddle the line marker, and you have one foot in each hemisphere
  • Getting there:
    Delta flies from Atlanta to Quito
  • Entry documents:
    Valid passport
  • Currency:
    U.S. dollar
  • Must-try local food:
    Smoothies, blended with milk or water and juices from the maracuya (passion fruit), naranjilla (a cross between a tomato and an orange), guanabana (soursop—a sweet white fruit), papaya and mango; on more solid ground: llapingachos, potato and cheese patties
  • Best buys:
    Fine handicrafts, ranging from woven ponchos, rugs and wall hangings to hand-knit, ceramics, and straw goods, including the fine and original Panama hat
  • Information please: Ecuador Ministry of Tourism—ecuador.travel