Quito has a magical blend of the old and new infused with South American style. Set in the heart of the Andes, Quito is the second highest city in the world, flanked by epic mountains and active volcanoes. With such a unique setting, just to make things that bit more interesting (not that it really needs it), the equatorial line aka middle of the world runs right through it – allowing one foot to be in the Northern Hemisphere and the other in the Southern. Hailed as one of the first UNESCO protected World Heritage Sites, visually Quito is in a league of its own. There’s also an abundance of things to do when you’re visiting the capital… whether it be hiking, museum drifting or the best place to get some shut-eye – we’ve got it covered.
Old to the New
The UNESCO protected city of Quito is built of two main hubs and 33 suburbs, but our first stop is the impressive historical centre known as ‘Old Town’. The home of colonial splendour, traditional and brightly coloured architecture seeps around every corner. Despite recent restorations, Old Town thankfully has managed to retain its indigenous character. With odd shops selling every commodity imaginable, women cooking peanuts in their doorway, and men in old sailor suits selling ice-cream – it’s not something you see every day, and Quito really is a treat for the senses.
The second stop for enthralled travellers is Mariscal Sucre, better known as ‘New Town’. It’s bursting with hidden cafes, numerous delicatessens, and stylish bars. So after a busy day exploring the historical side of the city, spend the evening sipping cocktails and soaking up the pulsating Ecuadorian atmosphere. Its nickname ‘Gringolandia’ may well translate to Gringo-land but Quiteños (locals to you and me) love it here too.
Sunrise at Cotopaxi
For any adventurous traveller a hike to the summit of Cotopaxi is an absolute must. Grab your boots and ice-axe, it’s time to take two days out and climb a whopping 5,897 metres. With such a height, the landscape of the Cotopaxi National Park quickly changes and as part of the infamous Pacific Ring of Fire – a chain of volcanoes that circle around the Pacific plate – Cotopaxi is one of Ecuador’s most active volcanoes… although thankfully it hasn’t erupted since 1940.
About 4000m up is the refugio, where we suggest you take a pit stop. The ascent to the top kicks off at around midnight meaning you’ll arrive at the summit just in time for sunrise. The surrounding scenery is truly spectacular meaning that the aches of reaching the top will be quickly forgotten. It’s one of our top South American highlights. Sir Ranulph Fiennes would be so proud.
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Casa del Alabado
Translated Casa del Alabado means ‘House of Praise’ and that’s exactly what this museum does – it praises pre-Columbian art and is devoted to displaying and explaining the 2000 year old pieces. Located in downtown Quito its simple to get to. On approach the façade of Casa del Alabado is as stunning and interesting as the art collection itself. Our tip – maximise your experience by hiring a guide to show you around, they are extremely knowledgeable and will allow you to make the most of your visit.
Mashpi Lodge in the Cloud Forest
We are always intrigued to try new living experiences, and nothing provides this more than a stay at Mashpi Lodge. A scenic two and a half hour drive north from Quito’s centre and you will arrive in the Cloud Forest, home to a profusion of native plant species – hundreds (and many newly-discovered) orchid species are all waiting to be admired. And for any birdwatcher out there, now is the time to grab your binoculars as a staggering 500 species grace the skies and inhabit the canopies. Along with our winged friends, monkeys and even pumas call the reserve home.
Staying amongst the wildlife we always hope for some intrepid activities and Mashpi doesn’t disappoint. Try out their Sky Bike, a fully functioning tandem bike that soars high in the sky providing you a real bird’s-eye-view.
Pop your head on a pillow
Quito has an abundance of places to check-in to so you’re never low on luxury or unique hotels to rest your head in. Casa Gangotena overlooks Plaza San Francisco and is a stone’s throw from the hustle and bustle of the Old Town. On the doorstep of La Compañia, Museum of the City and the Presidential Palace, the 31 roomed historical mansion is grand on every scale. Art deco styled furniture, beds fit for a king and each room with palatial windows offering bucket loads of fresh Andian air. The restaurant is an experience for the senses too serving Ecuadorian cooking at it’s very best.
Café Cultura is our favourite shabby chic bolthole. It’s completely charming and every room is different – and we mean different. Ranging from a tree growing through your room, to wraparound windows. Located in the heart of New Town it’s easy to navigate your way around the city and most people return to stay at Café Cultura, in the anticipation of what room they might get on their next visit.