Spread across a spectacular Andean valley and flanked by volcanic peaks, Quito’s setting alone is enough to strike you speechless. The historical center – or ‘old town,’ as it’s called – is a maze of colonial splendor, an Unesco World Heritage Site since 1978. Quito is currently flush with pride after 2006 marked the final installment of a massive restoration project that spruced up buildings and churches, brought historic theaters back to life and made the old town’s formerly sketchy streets safe to explore once again.
Despite intensive restoration, the old town retains the vibrant working class and indigenous character that has always defined it. Walking its narrow streets is to wander into another world. Stray dogs saunter past indigenous women carrying impossible loads, past legless guitar strummers, blind accordion players, old men in sailor suits selling ice cream, past giant roast pigs peaking out of doorways and shops selling every odd commodity imaginable. The constant white noise of hollering vendors hangs in the air like chanting in a monastery, and the smells of cooking peanuts, car exhaust fumes, baking bread and who knows what else threaten sensory overload.
Only a 20-minute walk from the old town, Quito’s ‘new town’ is a different world entirely; a mixture of multistory hotels, high-rises and drab government complexes. For travelers, its heart is the colorful Mariscal Sucre, which has trendy cafés, international restaurants, travel agencies, cybercafés, bars and small hotels. The area definitely lives up to its nickname gringolandia (gringo land), but quiteños (people from Quito) dig it too, so it keeps its Ecuadorian flair.
Best places to stay in Quito
Best ways to see Quito
Way up in a 30-mile long valley of the Andes, Ecuador's capital is undergoing a complete make-over. Quito's Spanish-colonial center helped it become the first city declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site 35 years ago, and 'Plan Q' has continued to help preservation and rebirth.
Best places to eat in Quito
Quito destination guides
24 hours in Quito
The second-highest capital in the world (after La Paz, Bolivia), Quito is a lovely Andean city with an exquisite colonial centre packed with architectural treasures. Wandering the Unesco-listed centro histórico (aka old town') is pure sensory overload.
Amazing wildlife, both on land and underwater, is the drawcard of the remote Galapagos Islands. Tour Galapagos's outstanding natural beauty and interesting history by foot, boat and bike on this active adventure.
Peru & Ecuador Adventure
Discover the heart and soul of Andean South America on this adventure tour that takes you from the cobblestone streets of Quito to the dizzying altitude of La Paz. Discover the extraordinary history of the Inca as you trek through misty cloud forests along the Inca Trail to Machu Picchu.
Regional dishes and delicacies of Ecuador
Altitude and geography play a prominent role in Ecuadorian cooking, with cooks in the Andean highlands preparing quite different dishes from their counterparts along the coast.