When National Geographic Traveller named Quito a must-see place in 2013, every intrepid traveller put this ancient city on their bucket list. Since then, the capital of Ecuador – a country best known for being home to the Galápagos Islands – has become South America’s hottest destination.
Located on the equator at 9,350 feet above sea level, Quito sweeps across the Andean valley and is bordered by mountainous volcanos. This magnificent landscape took my breath away (figuratively and literally), so take things easy while your body adjusts to the high altitude.
The heart of Quito beats along the cobblestoned streets of its Spanish colonial historical centre – the world’s first UNESCO World Heritage Site. Here, the aromas of local delicacies permeated the air and Ecuadorian women sold homegrown fruit and colorful scarves.
Quito is filled with many inspiring sites that captivated me at every turn. Among my favourite was the impressive 16th century Plaza de la Independencia. This bustling main square with fountains and gardens was flanked by whitewashed buildings that house the Archbishop’s Palace, the Cathedral, City Hall and the President’s Palace, where I unsuccessfully tried to distract the palace guards.
A few steps away, I arrived at La Compañía de Jesús Church with its green tiled domes. This magnificent church carved out of Andean stone took 150 years to complete. The beauty of its baroque façade is matched only by its spectacular interior. Pictures are forbidden, but on this particular day I was bestowed the task of photographing its elaborate interior of wooden carvings gilded in 23-carat gold. WOW is an understatement!
One of my favourite things to do in a new city is sit in an open-air café and people watch, and that is exactly what I did in Plaza San Francisco with its mountainous backdrop of Volcán Pichincha. This sweeping plaza is home to the famed twin bell towers of the Monastery of San Francisco, Quito’s first church.
Every traveller wants to capture that picture-perfect panoramic view. At El Panchilo Viewpoint, where the imposing sculpture of the Virgin of Quito stands guard over the residents, I was captivated by the breathtaking views!
Thanks to its location, eternal spring-like weather and rich volcanic soil, Ecuador grows some of the world’s best roses. Something I was happy to discover while touring the Hacienda La Compañía de Jesus in Cayambe, a lovely century old rose plantation complete with a chapel dating back to the XVII century that once belonged to the Jesuit order.
Other exciting excursions included a train ride with Tren Ecuador. On this particular journey, I passed by the Cotopaxi volcano and other glorious landscapes before enjoying a folkloric presentation at the Machachi train station.
One of my favourite experiences in Quito was gazing into the base of the Pululahua Crater, the world’s only populated crater with a thriving network of small farms, pastures and houses. It was one of the most magnificent views ever!
With its exciting traditions, fascinating historical sites and breathtaking landscapes, it’s easy to see why Quito is taking travellers to new heights! For more information on excursions, special events, programs and offers, visit www.quito.com.ec/en