Built on a carpet of ancient Incan ruins, Ecuador's bustling capital was the first city to be declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Broad Ecuadorean smiles, racy salsa music and big bowls of hearty stews and soups warmly counter Quito's thin air, snowy mountainous backdrop and rumbling Pichincha volcano. In historic Old Town, superbly preserved baroque churches and monasteries exemplify the fusion of Spanish, Italian, Moorish, Flemish and indigenous influences. Modern Quito is alive in the city's sleek, contemporary art museums and thrillingly modern Telefériqo cable car experience.
Things to Do
Quito's Telefériqo cable car scales the side of Pichincha Volcano and gives sightseers a breathtaking perspective of the capital city sprawled at the foot of snow-covered peaks. Stand beside the giant winged Virgin statue on the Panecillo hill to drink in more panoramic views before admiring the Old Town's intricately decorated baroque churches back on the ground. Moorish ceiling designs and Incan sun symbols abound in the Iglesia de San Francisco and the Jesuit La Compañía de Jesús.
Strikingly colorful pottery, rugs and eye-catching Incanesque jewelry made by indigenous artisans from across Ecuador are sold in independent boutiques, many of which support local groups. The spacious New Town branch of Olga Fisch is a good bet. Large crafts markets, such as Mercado Artesanal La Mariscal, are fun, hectic and convenient, but you'll need to adopt a shrewd eye to spot poor-quality goods. A durable Homero Ortega Panama hat and a toasty-warm hand-woven alpaca sweater are both a must.
Nightlife and Entertainment
Locals and tourists alike throng to the Andean and folkloric dance performances in Quito's many theaters and cultural centers. Opera, ballet and music grace the white-pillared Teatro Nacional Sucre and the Teatro Bolívar, and the Ecuador National Symphony Orchestra hops between different venues every week. Shake your hips to salsa or infectious reggaeton music in the jam-packed bars and clubs of the La Mariscal neighborhood, where a night of dancing can last until daybreak.
Restaurants and Dining
Sample the warming (some say soporific) Ecuadorean home cooking, where lamb stew, creamy cheese and potato soup and avocado- and corn-heavy plates of grilled chicken and fried pork ensure contented, sleepy smiles. Otherwise, you'll have no trouble finding pasta, pizza, and other international flavors. Dine out in elegant courtyard restaurants and converted colonial houses in the Old Town or more casually in the New Town's international eateries. North of New Town, many upmarket favorites serve everything from French to Japanese.