The capital of Ecuador lies sprawled amid foothills high in the snow-capped Andes Mountains. In fact, it's so high — 9,350 feet above sea level, to be exact — that it's the second tallest capital city in the world. It’s also located at 00°-00´-00˝ latitude, or smack dab on the equator (and you can stand with one foot in each hemisphere at the Middle of the World monument). It’s a heady city for sure, made even more intriguing by its well-preserved colonial Old Town and easy access to the natural beauty and indigenous culture for which the country is known.
What We Love
La Compania Church: This is — without a doubt — one of the most opulent churches you’ll ever set eyes on. The extravagantly gilded, carved wood interior of 17th-century Iglesia de la Compañía de Jesús glows with Baroque-meets-Moorish gold leaf splendor.
Ecuadorian Handicrafts: Ecuador is known for its indigenous crafted goods, especially colorful hats, sweaters, beaded jewelry, and alpaca blankets, which vary widely in quality and price. The most famous craft market is located in Otavalo (a two-hour drive from the city). However, you can also find some good-quality items at the Mariscal Artisans Market in Quito’s New Town.
Best Known For
Old Town: From its grand public squares, Plaza de San Francisco and Plaza de la Independencia, to its quaint cobblestone streets lined with an endless array of churches, chapels, convents, monasteries, palaces, mansions, and museums, this charming UNESCO World Heritage site is reason alone to visit Quito.
Pichincha Volcano: For an aerial view of Quito and several surrounding peaks, ride the teleferico (cable car) up the side of Pichincha Volcano to a dizzying height of 13,400 feet.
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Who It's Best For
Fans of Colonial Architecture: UNESCO declared Quito’s Old Town the “best preserved, least altered historic center in Latin America.”
Don't Say We Didn't Warn You
The Tide is High: Quito’s elevation of 9,350 feet can cause altitude sickness. Dizziness, headache, and upset stomach are just some of the symptoms. Don't overdo the alcohol or over-exert yourself.
Donna Heiderstadt is a New York-based contributor to ShermansCruise who has also written for Coastal Living and Islands.