At an altitude of 2804m above sea level, Quito, the capital of Ecuador, is one of the highest cities in the world. It’s also one of the most appealing cities in the South American continent. Founded in 1534 by Sebastian de Benalcazar, Quito has some of the best preserved colonial buildings and churches in Latin America, some of which are more than 500 years old, in its Old Town. But, this part of Quito which has been declared a World Heritage Site by UNESCO is only one side of this fascinating city. Its New Town, just a couple of miles north of the Old Town, resembles any modern capital with its gleaming skyscrapers and newly constructed mansions. Visitors can enjoy the unique experience of walking around centuries old courtyards and mansions in the Old Town and then make a trip to the several modern museums that showcase the citys history, in the central part of town. It’s a city that offers a delightfully close look at the past while, at the same time, offering all the conveniences and comforts of a 21st century metropolis. Most of Quitos attractions lie in the Old Town and the New town. A large part of the colonial architecture including the churches, buildings and mansions are located in the Old Town while the best hotels, restaurants, bars, clubs, shopping spaces and travel agencies are in the New Town. Besides being the entry point of choice for those on their way to the Galapagos Islands, Quito is also just a couple of hours from the glaciers of the Pichincha volcano, and a variety of crafts markets just outside the city.
All international flights into Quito land at the Aeropuerto Internacional Mariscal Sucre which is about 5 miles from the heart of the city. Once inside the airport terminal, book a pre paid taxi for the ride to your hotel. The yellow taxis are easy to find and a trip to the New Town costs about $6.
Taxis are the preferred mode of getting around within the city and are very easy to find. They are extremely affordable too; a ride within the main city costs just about a couple of dollars with an extra couple of dollars charged for longer distances. The citys electric trolley lines also service the New Town and the Old Town and cost about 25 cents for a short ride. Tickets are only tendered against exact change and change machines are conveniently located at all trolley stations. Quito has an extensive network of buses, but the routes tend to be complicated. If you don’t want to navigate your way through a convoluted maze of roads, stick to the yellow taxes-they are the best way to see the sights.
Where to Stay
Located on a quiet street in the New Town, the Hostal Fuente de Piedre I is a simply furnished, yet comfortable little hotel that’s close to all the main tourist spots and shopping areas of the city. The in house restaurant is extremely affordable and a three course meal will only cost you about $3.
The Hostal Jardin del Sol is a small and inexpensive hotel that’s located to some popular bars and restaurants in the New Town. Guests can enjoy free Internet access at the computer room as well as a pick up service from the airport.
For a hotel with a lovely old world English feel, head to the Hostal La Rabida, a small and cozy home that has beautiful antique details in its interiors. There is a comfy living room on the premises with a fireplace.
Guests at the Hostal Santa Barbara can enjoy many of the Gothic architectural details left over at this 75 year old mansion-parquet flooring, dark furniture and dramatic stone fireplaces. Some of the rooms are massive and include a kitchen with a built in refrigerator.
The Hotel Vieja Cuba was formerly a colonial house that has recently been renovated with stunning results. Rooms are small but very comfortable and the restaurant downstairs dishes up Cuban flavors daily. There is also a bar and a massage service
The Dann Carlton is a boutique hotel in a nice neighborhood. Not all rooms are airconditioned and you will have to book one in advance. Guests get up to an hour of free Internet access everyday.
The Mansion del Angel offers excellent personalized service and beautifully decorated rooms. Breakfast is served daily on the rooftop terrace and includes a selection of home baked breads.
What to See
Iglesia de San Francisco
This was the first church built in Quito and construction began just a month after the Spanish arrived in 1535. It is built over an ancient Inca temple which is why the church seems higher than other buildings in the neighborhood. The interiors have a mixture of Catholic as well as indigenous symbols, especially symbols of the sun which were meant to attract and convert the indigenous cultures to Christianity. Almost a hundred years had passed before the construction of this church could be completed.
Casa Museo Maria Augusta Urrutia
Located between Sucre and Bolivar in the Old Town, this colonial building is the prefect place to envision 19th century life in a Spanish style home. The house formerly belonged to Dona Maria Augusta Urrutia and many notable world personalities including the Pope have visited here. The interiors include exquisite hand painted wall paper, Belgian tiles and a breathtaking collection of antique furniture. Regardless of the age of the house, it is quite contemporary and has modern appliances in addition to a cold storage room, an authentic wood burning stove from the period as well as the oldest grain masher in the country. Guided tours in English are available.
A $1 taxi ride from the heart of the New Town will get you to the Fundacion Guayasamain which houses a large collection of the artworks of the legendary Equadorean artist, Oswaldo Guayasamin. The museum is spread across three sections.
El Museo Arquelogico displays a collection of pre Colombian art including jugs with masterfully carved faces and tribal chiefs. The Museo de Art Moderno showcases the artists modern works, including incredibly impactful works from 1964 to 1985 which depict Guayasamins outrage against violent atrocities in South America. His fascinating collection of colonial art, including more than eighty crucifixes is on display at the Museo de Arte Colonia. There is a patio on the premises with stunning views and a cozy little café.