It's hard to hit all of Quito's major attractions in 1 day, although if you are really pressed for time, you can pack in a lot of them, especially if you focus first on Old Town. I recommend getting an early start and visiting the Old Town highlights of the Iglesia de San Francisco, La Compañía de Jesús, and Casa Museo María Augusta Urrutia. During the midday break, when many attractions close for lunch and siesta, you could head up to El Panecillo for panoramic views of the city and lunch at PIM's. In the afternoon, head over to Fundación Guayasamín and the Capilla del Hombre. End your day with a sunset ride on El Telefériqo, with its sweeping view of the city. This is a pretty good and packed 1-day tour, although it leaves out the Museo Nacional del Banco Central, which takes several hours to tour properly.
Getting High in Quito -- One of the city's most popular attractions is El Telefériqo, with six-person cable cars that transport you up the side of Volcán Pichincha to 4,050m (13,287 ft.). The quick climb over 1,000m (3,281 ft.) takes all of 8 minutes. At the top, you have a magnificent view of the city and surrounding snow-covered peaks. The air is thin up here, but don't worry: The ambitious and very modern complex includes an oxygen bar to replenish the weary traveler, along with several viewing platforms. You'll also find souvenir stands and shops, and a couple of restaurants and fast-food outlets.
If crowds bother you, avoid visiting here on the weekends (and public holidays), when it's packed to the gills. That said, this attraction is enormously popular with Ecuadorean families, and it's a wonderful cultural experience just to be out among the locals. People wait patiently in line just to get a glimpse of their city from an elevated perspective. You can escape the crowds by taking one of the marked paths on a stroll through the shrubby highlands. If you have kids in tow, you might want to return to the base of the mountain where you'll find an amusement park, Vulqano Park, complete with roller coasters, all kinds of rides, arcades, and video games.
The cable car operates Monday to Thursday from 10am to 8pm and Friday through Sunday from 9am to 11pm. I strongly suggest you splurge for the Fast Pass ticket that will cut your wait time considerably. The cost for a regular ticket is $4 (£2.65) for adults and $3 (£2) for children; the Fast Pass ticket costs $7 (£4.65) for adults and $5 (£3.35) for children. Admission to Vulqano Park is free, and prices for the rides average around 75¢ to $1 (50p-65p).
To get here, take a 15-minute taxi ride from the center of Quito. Tell the driver to take you to El Telefériqo at Vulqano Park. The taxi ride should cost no more than $7 (£4.65). For more information, call tel. 02/3250-076.
In Old Town
It's worth taking a walk along the recently restored Calle La Ronda. Once the city's "red light" district and home to its poets, painters, and troubadours, it now has a series of art galleries and functioning workshops. Stop in and see how the traditional ornate devotional candles are made. Calle La Ronda is located at the southern end of Old Town, running parallel and beside Avenida Morales, bounded by Avenida Maldonado to the east and García Moreno to the west. A good way to visit Calle La Ronda is to begin at the new Museo de la Ciudad (tel. 02/2953-643; www.museociudadquito.gov.ec), on García Moreno E1-47 at the western end of the street. The museum is housed in a meticulously restored old building, with several permanent historical exhibits, as well as a beautiful chapel, excavated catacombs, and regularly changing traveling or temporary shows and exhibits. Admission is $2 (£1.35).
Tip: One of the best ways to tour Old Town is on a guided excursion led by a bilingual member of the Metropolitan Police Force (tel. 02/2570-786; Palacio Municipal, on Venezuela at the corner of Espejo). Tours leave daily from the Plaza Grande at 10am and 2pm, and cost $12 (£8) for adults, $6 (£4) for children and seniors, including attraction entrance fees. Tours last for 2 1/2 hours and take in many of the major sights, although a couple of different itineraries are offered, so check with them in advance. These folks also offer a night tour at 7pm, which costs $7 (£4.65).
The Quito School of Art -- The mid-16th-century Council of Trent mandate was clear: Art was to be used to convey Catholic doctrine and Christian themes to an illiterate, pagan populace. Early religious art that appeared throughout the Spanish colonies in South America carefully reflected traditional European themes and styles, as taught by Franciscan and Dominican monks to indigenous or mestizo artists.
After a century of standard, if uninspiring, copies of Christ on the cross and somber Virgins, a creative transition took place that the early Catholic fathers never envisioned. As the indigenous artists gained confidence and Catholicism became firmly rooted in the New World, religious paintings and sculptures became increasingly detailed and dramatic. In Quito, artists began incorporating more passionate elements into their works. Vivid crucifixes revealed Christ in excruciating detail -- flayed, bones exposed, with a face distorted in agony. It was an almost rebellious reflection of the suffering of a conquered people.
The Quito School of art matured into a distinctive original style known for its exquisite detail of expression -- statues had glass eyes, real hair, and rich fabrics overlaid with layers of gold leaf, for example.
By the time the colonial stranglehold weakened over an increasingly free-thinking Latin America, this graphic suffering and drama gave way to more native influences; Christ became swarthier, and llamas, cuyes (guinea pigs), parrots, and condors began to populate the landscapes in Catholic art.
Many of Quito's churches and museums display, or are examples themselves of, this idiosyncratic school: Visit the stunning, gold-draped Iglesia de la Compañía de Jesus, Iglesia de San Francisco, and Museo de Arte Colonial to see surviving examples. You might also want to visit the Escuela Taller (tel. 02/2373-890), Montufar 352 and Pereira, which is housed in an old maternity hospital in heart of colonial Old Town; it functions as a training center for young artists working in traditional arts of wood carving, painting, metal works, and intricate inlays.
Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.