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Encircled by jagged mountains and sprawled along a narrow valley, Quito is a mish-mash of old and new, traditional and modern, existing in beautifully chaotic harmony as the second highest capital city on earth and a UNESCO World Heritage site. Bustling avenues extend along most of the city, connecting the quaint historic center with the trendy Plaza Mariscal Foch where most tourists hang out. Steep winding alleys are a paradise for wandering foodies as street stalls and hole-in-the-wall restaurants offer the very best of national cuisine.
Read on for our insider’s guide to the best that Quito has to offer!
For an interesting day out head north of Quito to the official equator, where a tourist park gives visitors the chance to conduct wacky scientific experiments along the equator line painted on the ground, learn about the area’s history, buy gifts, and enjoy delicious local food. At 0˚ 0’ 0’’ latitude you can stand with one foot in the northern hemisphere and the other in the southern hemisphere at the same time! On weekends the park is filled will all kinds of lively traditional cultural events, and droves of local artisans sell colorful hand-made souvenirs, stylish indigenous garments, and mouthwatering farm style ice-cream in all flavors imaginable. If you’re feeling really adventurous, try an ancient Inca soul cleaning ceremony and transport yourself back to pre-Columbian Ecuador. Taxis and buses in Quito shuttle between the city’s tourist areas and the Mitad del Mundo park, and guided tours are easily available from most hotels and hostels.
Quito has an impressive and extensive history which permeates every area of the city in its architecture, art, food, and urban spaces. Tourists can enjoy world class museums such as the National Museum, or the Abya Yala museum that provide unique insights into the region’s pre-Hispanic past. Architecture lovers must visit the Basilica, the biggest gothic cathedral on the continent. Climb to the roof and look down over the haunting gargoyles and towering arches, but don’t forget to take in the amazing panoramic view of the historic center. For more picture-perfect views, head to the Virgen del Panecillo monument that towers over the northern end of the city, a popular spot for photographers looking for a unique snap of the surrounding mountain range draped in mist.
South American food always hits the spot, and Quito’s local dishes are no exception! From hearty meat dishes to sweet orange and cinnamon drinks dating back hundreds of years, the extremely inexpensive restaurants in Quito’s historic center are a great place to try something different. We highly recommend one of the many guided beer tours that hop from bar to bar, allowing you to take a look at how artisanal alcohol is brewed using age-old techniques passed down through generations. If you’re wanting to satisfy your sweet tooth, take a guided tour around the center’s hot chocolate cafés.
Quito seems to become almost unrecognizable at night, with the cobble-stone streets of La Ronda neighborhood filling to the brim with meandering tourists and locals, popping in and out of tiny shops selling everything from artisanal gifts, to craft beer, to traditional candy. Enjoy a relaxing glass of wine on a nearby roof-terrace as the sun sets over the rocky horizon, and don’t forget to take your camera! Plaza Foch is where the partygoers gather, the perfect place to try your hand at salsa dancing and mix with the young local crowd. Nightclubs here stay open until the early hours, with every possible style of music on blast. If you’re feeling a bit delicate the next day, local restaurants serve up massive Ecuadorian breakfasts that’ll have you back on your feet in no time, ready for another day exploring the city!