Ecuador’s capital has a lot going for it: grand colonial churches, expansive plazas, mountain views and easy access to the equator that marks the middle of the world.
There is so much to see and do that I wished I had longer. One night is definitely not enough to do justice to the culture and architecture of this amazing city. A gateway to the Galapagos, yes, but also a destination in its own right.
Most visitors to Ecuador arrive in Quito and many leave after just one night. That’s a shame as Quito merits more time. The colonial old town has earned UNESCO World Heritage status, there are signs of pre-Columbian civilisations and plenty of restaurants and cafes where you can watch the world go by. The equator is just up the road marking the centre of the earth and in the other direction from the city you can bathe in the therapeutic hot springs of Papallacta.
- Quito old & new: Quito’s old town, widely regarded as one of the best-preserved in the Americas with its impressive colonial architecture, is the starting point of most tours. The religious buildings are impressive, not just their imposing edifices but the ornate interiors. Iglesia La Compania de Jesus is a rich blend of architectural styles and includes an intriguing depiction of the Inca sun god. In contrast, the new town is the essence of modern Quito. Its shops, restaurants, internet cafes and bars fizz with life. Take a taxi up to El Panecillo where the Virgin of Quito statue stands guard over the city and share her view over old and new towns.
- Life past & present: Lose yourself in history as you tour the city’s museums. Highlights include the Metropolitan Cultural Centre with its wide-ranging exhibitions and the Pre-Columbian Art Museum. View remains of the original Quitus settlement from 1,500BC at Rumipamba, after whom the city is named. Head back to the present with a stroll around the attractive San Marcos district, one of the city’s oldest and most bohemian. Narrow roads are lined with pastel-painted houses, family-run cafes, galleries and workshops and cafes, a pleasant contrast with the bustle of the city centre.
- Find the equator: It’s not often you can stand with one foot in each hemisphere, so seize the opportunity and travel the 15kms north to Mitad del Mundo where a gold line traces the equator’s course. The monument topped by a globe contains an ethnographic museum and a viewing platform. However a short walk from all this razzmatazz is the ‘real’ middle of the world as calculated by modern-day GPS. Whatever the truth the equator is here or hereabouts and it’s all good clean fun!
- Springs & spas: Two hours’ drive from Quito is Termas de Papallacta, a series of thermally heated springs and pools where you can bathe and enjoy therapeutic relaxation. There are hot and cold pools and swapping between the two is said to be beneficial for numerous ailments, aches and pains. The spa provides a range of other health treatments such as hydromassage, saunas, body wraps and aromatherapy. Come on a day visit from Quito or stay overnight at the on-site hotel to enjoy the therapies to the full.