Discover the old world charm of Ecuador’s lofty capital. Its buzzy plazas, high-energy volcanic biking trails and street stalls selling alpaca textiles make for an unforgettable experience.
Surrounded by snow-dusted Andean volcanoes, the Ecuadorean capital of Quito is shoehorned into a web of high valleys, a few miles south of the equator. Founded by the Quitus, the pre-Colombian indigenous inhabitants of Ecuador, the city was remodelled by the conquistadores from the 1530s onwards, and offers a fascinating blend of Spanish, indigenous Quitus and Incan influences.
For years the capital was overlooked by international travellers en route to the Galápagos archipelago, Ecuador’s Darwinian wildlife mecca. Today, however, the city’s well-restored Centro Historico (Old Town) is a magnet for tourists and locals drawn to the churches, restaurants, museums and galleries populating this picturesque and culture-laden neighbourhood.
There’s hardly a street or alley without a view of green-flanked slopes or soaring volcanic peaks. Although divided into three main parts — the old city, the modern city, and the southern-northern districts — it’s the Old Town where the lion’s share of the capital’s charms lie.
Despite the fact UNESCO named Quito a World Heritage City in 1978, the Old Town sat in a sad state of decline for many years, until a group of enlightened politicians and businessmen stepped in, spending hundreds of millions of dollars on restoration, gentrification and improved security, thus breathing new life into its historical treasures.
“A decade ago I wouldn’t have brought my foreign clients here at this time,” says local tour guide Analia Arrata, as she stands on an Old Town street corner at 11pm. “It was dilapidated, dirty and often dangerous. These days I’m proud to show off Old Quito. Quiteños say it’s like el rostro de Dios — the face of God. We joked that it was a pretty ugly face before, but now the city’s back to her beautiful best.”
The rest of the article features recommendations for the following: See & Do, Buy, Like a Local, Eat, After hours, Sleep. Read all on National Geographic Traveller.
How to do it:
A 12-day trip with Journey Latin America visiting Ecuador’s highlights and staying three nights in colonial Quito starts from £3,198 per person, including international flights, transfers, B&B and excursions. If this takes your fancy give us a ring
By Daniel Allen
. Published in National Geographic Traveller on 6th September 2014