6 terrific reasons to take your time in Quito

Quito has attracted drama, excitement, extraordinary beauty and a tantalising touch of danger since the dawn of human history. The little city, high up on a plateau that stretches along the eastern flanks of the Pichincha volcano, in the valley of Ecuador’s Guayllabamba River, does not lend itself to rushing. The air is thin (it is the world’s highest constitutional capital) and even the Spanish is spoken slowly… and yet, many travelers hurry through Quito, in search of another prize.

When the UNESCO World Heritage Program declared its first two official sites in 1978 the honors went to the Galapagos Islands, and Quito. Most people could tell you why the Galapagos is designated UNESCO 1bis, but do you know why Quito is UNESCO 2?

Here are 6 of my favorite reasons:

It is a geographical bucket list

There are no less than four active stratovolcanoes within 50 km from the city. You can also visit the false equator (originally mapped by French cartographers) at Mitad del Mundo, 25 km north of Quito—or the real equator if you travel another 175 km. The summit of Chimborazo will also deliver you onto the equatorial bulge where the earth’s surface is the furthest from its center. Quito’s weather is eternally spring-like with warm days and cool nights.

The incredibly well-preserved historic center

In spite of an earthquake in 1917 it remains the best preserved and least altered historic center in Latin America.

Construction of the current Santuario de Guápulo (the third church in this location) began in 1490 and was completed in 1696. The carvings are beautiful, and the sacristy has been turned into a museum.

You can also see 160 years’ worth of gold leaf, gilded plaster and wood carvings in Iglesia de La Compania de Jesus. Spanish Baroque meets Moorish, Churrigueresque and Neoclassical architecture and the church contains beautiful art.

Iglesia de San Francisco took only 150 years to build and might seem austere from outside but inside you will find the city’s beloved Virgin of Quito dating from 1734 with over 3,500 other works of colonial art and a Franciscan library.

The relatively young Basilica del Voto Nacional was started in 1892 and is a celebration of Ecuadorian jungle animals. To date it has 24 chapels, a clock and bell tower and still there is no end to the construction in sight!

Carefully curated museums 

The Casa del Alabadao houses eight galleries and over 5000 archaeological pieces, with 500 on display. It explores the cultural aspects of ancient Ecuadorian cultures and their relationship with their environment.

At the Fundación Guayasamín and Capilla del Hombre the painter Oswaldo Guayasamín has dedicated a beautiful, purpose-built art museum and workshop to the history of human suffering and the struggle against oppression of the peoples of Latin America.

Travelers can also visit the beautifully preserved former homes of Venezuelan independence leader Antonio José de Sucre and Quiteña philanthropist María Augusta Urrutía.

You can get high

At the very top of the Basilica del Voto Nacional’s 380-foot tower, up steep stairs and three hand-railed ladders you are rewarded with sweeping views of the city.

El Panecillo (The little Bread Loaf) also affords a vista that includes all of Quito and its surrounding volcanoes.

Then there is the cable car that departs from the base of the active strato volcano to just over 4000 meters within 10 minutes. If you are fit and have suitable clothing, you can summit Volcán Pichincha after another 700 feet of climbing.

The dreamy day trips

Take the two-hour Tren de la Libertad (Liberty Train) that runs from the ‘White City’ of Ibarra and then climbs and drops 600 m through the Andes, through seven tunnels dug from the mountains over 100 years ago, to the thriving Afro-Ecuadorian Salinas.

A short drive from Quito will also deliver you into the Andean cloud forest where you can head out on a walk to encounter a collection of incredible creatures.

The food, on and off the street

Whether you choose to dine in restaurants or enjoy the delicious street food, Quito is a foodie find. Don’t leave without investigating Llapingachos, Green Mango and Salt, Empanadas de Viento, Tigrillo, Salchipapas, Chochos, Chifles, y Tostadas, Helado… and if you are feeling brave, do try some Canelazo.

Salud!

Leora Rothschild is the Owner at Rothschild Safaris. Rothschild Safaris specializes in bespoke, luxury travel in Africa and select wildlife-based destinations around the world.

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