Quito Ecuador: In The Andes, On The Equator & Truly Scenic, Historic, Artsy
Reprinted from Lea Lane’s article in Forbes: http://www.forbes.com/sites/lealane/2015/08/05/quito-ecuador-in-the-andes-on-the-equator-truly-scenic-historic-artsy/2/
Why is Quito, a city that 20 years ago was a pretty-much overlooked South American destination, on so many bucket lists right now? High in the Andes, and built on the foundations of an ancient Inca city, Quito is renowned for Spanish-colonial buildings dating back more than 500 years; not surprisingly, it’s the first UNESCO World Heritage Site capital city, and is now recognized as “Best Leading Destination in South America” by the World Travel Awards (2013 & 2014).
Beyond architecture, here are my 10 off-the-top reasons to visit Quito, and there are at least 10 times more:
1. Stand in the Middle of the World
Quito offers quirky surprises; it’s the capital city located closest to the sun, at 9,350 feet above sea level. (Keep this in mind if you have altitude problems, and bring sunscreen.) It’s also the only place in the world where you can put one foot in the Northern Hemisphere and the other one in the Southern Hemisphere … at the same time! You can feel the pure energy of the center of the world while you walk the Equatorial line, an imaginary line drawn by the Geodesic French Mission in the 18th century.
2. The Dynamic Centro Historico
The Centro Historico merges the daily life of traders, religious people and public servants with visitors from all over. The Quito historic center is considered the biggest and best conserved in Latin America. Among the most recognized sites: Palacio Carondelet; La Compañía de Jesús, a Baroque-style cathedral; La Plaza Grande; the religious complex of San Francisco; and La Ronda, a street with diverse workshops and traditional trade.
3. Quito’s Yummy Cuisine
Popular dishes include mestizos (a mix of pre-Columbian and Spanish), Andean and Iberian: locro de papas, seco de chivo, fritada, empanadas, envuelto (wraps: corn dough wrapped in leaves and cooked in steam), aji sauce, fruit juice and paila ice cream. Enjoy this menu in high-end restaurants and typical market.
4. Lots of Artisans and Workshops
During the Spanish-colonial period, Quito was an important cultural and artistic center. Today, artisans preserve their trade: traditional hairdressers, tailors, hat crafters, herbalists, among artists like Oswaldo Viteri, Oswaldo Guayasamín, Luigi Stonornaiolo or Eduardo Kingman. Each have workshops, with the owners available to talk about their work and their lives.
5. Museums, Theaters, Cultural Centers
The City Museum, “El Alabado” House Museum (with an extraordinary collection of pre-Columbian art), the Sucre Museum, Contemporary Art Center and the House of Music are must-sees. And for the kids, Yaku Park Water Museum, the Interactive and Science Museum and the Train Museum will keep them busy.
6. Local Nightlife
In the Mariscal, La Floresta, Guapulo or La Carolina neighborhoods, you’ll find restaurants, coffee shops, and bars and nightclubs with local entertainment typical of Equador.
7. A “Tough” Train Tour
From the popular Chimbacalle neighborhood to the south of the city, climb aboard on what was described as “the toughest railroad of the world” from the beginning of the 20thcentury, when Ecuador connected the coast and the Andes with this impressive work of engineering. Today visit the station, its museum — and take a ride.
8. Shopping for Crafts
Shopping malls include “El Quicentro Shopping” or mall “El Jardín” with local and international brands. In La Floresta or La Mariscal neighborhoods you’ll find stores and galleries with contemporary design; in the Centro Historico, specialized art craft stores that include El Quinde. On weekends at El Ejido park, sculptures and more; at La Mariscal, galleries and antiques shops.
9. Paramo and the Cloud Forest
Just an hour from downtown, at Los Andes Paramo, enjoy hot springs, horseback riding, hiking, and agritourism. In the north-western zone, the cloud forest offers birdwatching, with more than 500 species. Spot the quinde or hummingbirds, and perhaps the Andean bear, a unique South America species.
10. Hub to Other Special Places
Quito alone is a special destination, but because of its strategic location and well developed tourist infrastructure, it’s also the departure point for Ecuador’s main tourist destinations. You can depart from here to the Pacific Coast with beaches, fisherman´s towns and great gastronomy; to Los Andes with the path of volcanoes that amused Alexander Von Humboldt; to the Amazonia with its extraordinary vegetation and ancestral towns. And off course, to the Galapagos Islands.
Just be sure to leave enough time to savor Quito.