There are so many things to do in Quito that it can be hard to know where to begin. As Journey Latin America's Product Manager for the Andean regions, I've been visiting the city for decades and have seen it grow and develop into the dynamic and confident capital that it is today, while of course its charming colonial appeal has remained magnificently preserved. The city is a stopping off point for trips to the Galápagos, but stay awhile and you will discover it has so, so much more to offer!
Begin by orientating yourself with a walking tour of the colonial centre, including the Plaza de la Independencia, bordered by the Cathedral and the Archbishop and Government Palaces. Just a block to the west is the 17th century church of La Compañia de Jesus, an Aladdin's cave of intricately carved gold so ornate it all but overwhelms the senses, and a few paces onwards again you'll find one of the first great religious buildings in the New World, the 16th century plaza and monastery of San Francisco. Don't miss a peek into the Casa Del Alabado (just off Plaza San Francisco), home to a great new museum of pre-Columbian art.
Next, wander northeast to the Basilica del Voto Nacional, most famous for its very quirky gargoyles. The traditional monstrous decorations on this gothic building have been replaced by representations of Ecuador's native fauna, from giant tortoises to anteaters! Once you've finished giggling, sip a warming canelazo on the sanctuary terrace. You'll probably be hungry now too, so look out for the traditional soup called 'locros de guallabamba' in a traditional café and soak up Quito's blend of indigenous and Spanish influences.
To end your sightseeing tour with some amazing views, jump in a taxi and wind your way up to the Virgin of Quito, which enjoys a wonderful vantage point overlooking the cobbled streets and tiled roofs of the historic centre.
For dinner, visit the fantastic Rumiloma, which is located at the foot of Pichincha, an active volcano! It's a 15-minute drive from the centre, passing through areas not usually seen by tourists. Getting to the restaurant is all part of the experience, with very steep, unpaved roads to negotiate for the last two kilometres, and then just when you think the surprises are over you'll discover a cuisine you would have never imagined to find in Ecuador. I recommend the degustation menu, although any of the gourmet options on offer is bound to be a treat.
If you are lucky enough to be in Quito on a Saturday, look out for the free cultural events that are organised in the city each weekend. On the other hand, if you're there mid-week, you may be able to catch the weekly multicultural dance showcase at the Casa de la Cultura Ecuatoriana, performed by the Ballet Folclórico Nacional Jacchigua each Wednesday.
Unless you are going to be visiting the Amazon or Ecuadorian cloud-forest later in your trip, make the most of your time in mainland Ecuador by visiting the Yanacocha Reserve, a well-preserved area of wilderness within easy reach of the city. It is a bird-watcher's paradise, plus if you're very lucky you may see spectacled bears or even a puma. Alternatively, return to Pichincha for a quick hike (or a scenic cable car ride if that sounds too strenuous!).
Quito's big geographic claim to fame is its proximity to the Equator (or 'Ecuador' in Spanish, of course!), so while in the area a visit to the 'Mitad del Mundo', or 'Middle of the World', is a must. The monument lies a short distance from the city – it's about a 25 minute taxi journey, or you can arrange an organised tour. Admittedly it is the photograph that every tourist will take home with them from Quito, but there is something strangely thrilling about standing with one foot in the southern hemisphere and the other in the northern hemisphere. The nearby restaurant El Crater would make an excellent lunch break and offers magnificent vistas from inside the Pululahua volcano crater.
Back in the city, take a tip from Journey Latin America clients and dine in the popular Theatrum, a great restaurant in the refined surroundings of a former theatre, or wander the upmarket neighbourhood of Floresta until one of its excellent restaurants takes your fancy.