Quito spreads along the floor of a high Andean valley in a roughly north–south direction. The Centro Histórico (historical center) holds nearly all of Quito’s famous colonial architecture; locals call it El Centro, and English-speakers the ‘Old Town.’
North of the Old Town is modern Quito, with major businesses and services. Most hotels and restaurants are found here, especially in the Mariscal Sucre (aka the Mariscal), which is packed with guesthouses and bars.
Those seeking a bit more adventure can spend the day rock-climbing, hiking and cycling – all within city limits.
Local mountain-biking companies rent bikes and offer excellent tours, including one-day rides through the páramo (high-altitude Andean grasslands) of Parque Nacional Cotopaxi as well as downhill descents, trips incorporating a stop at Papallacta hot springs, and two-day trips to Cotopaxi and Chimborazo and to Cotopaxi and Quilotoa. Single-day trips cost about $60. Compare prices and trips before committing to a particular operator.
Free Wheeling in Quito
Every Sunday, the entire length of Avenida Amazonas and most of the Old Town closes to cars (from 9am to 2pm) as thousands of cyclists take to the street for the weekly ciclopaseo. The entire ride (some 30km), which you can cycle part or all of, stretches past the old airport, through the Old Town and into the southern reaches of Quito. It’s a marvelous way to experience the city. Bikes can be hired along the way for $3 an hour.
Another good place for cyclists to check out is the bicycle-loving cafe La Cleta.
Cumandá Parque Urbano
Old Town's old bus terminal has been converted into Cumandá Parque Urbano, a sparkling, covered sports complex with a volleyball court, a soccer pitch, a climbing wall, yoga studios and several small swimming pools. Those not interested in getting their heart rate up can take in the art exhibitions, film screenings, live music and other cultural events that are now held here.
Ecuador is a great place to study Spanish, with homestays, organized activities and volunteer opportunities typically on offer.
Quito is also a good spot to hone (or learn) those salsa moves.
Quito is one of the easiest places in Ecuador to arrange a guided tour, be it a Galápagos cruise, mountain-climbing, Amazon lodge, biking tour or white-water rafting. Itineraries ranging from one day to several weeks can be customized for small groups. Many agencies offer standard tours to nearby places such as Mitad del Mundo, Pululahua and further afield to Otavalo, Mindo, Cotopaxi and Baños. Be sure to stop by on weekdays (many offices close on weekends), and for longer trips try to meet your guides in advance.
Most travelers tend to stay near the Mariscal, which is packed with guesthouses and hostels. The quieter neighborhood of La Floresta is a pleasant alternative and it begins only a few blocks away. There's a good range of accommodations in the Old Town (including the city's best top-end hotels), which offer easy access to its museums, churches and other sights. A lack of nightlife is the downside.
Where to Stay
Several hostels are in the Old Town neighborhood of San Blas, an ordinary, working-class area that you'll need to taxi to and from at night.
International chains, including Marriott, Best Western, Swissôtel and Hilton, are well represented throughout the city.
Monastery of Quito Hotel Project
Keep an eye out for the Monastery of Quito hotel project (www.monasterioquito.com), which involves a historically sensitive repurposing of a small part of the Society of Jesus of Quito (Compañía de Jesús), plus a new museum; it promises to be one of the most interesting upscale hotels in the Old Town.
Practical Tip: Airport Accommodations
Following the opening of the sleek new Wyndham Quito Airport there's talk of several other international chain hotels setting up properties at the airport. Alternatively, a cozy and lovely place located only 10km away is the family-run Posada Mirolindo. Worth considering for those with early flights to the Galápagos or the Amazon.
Jungle Lodge Bookings
Ecuador’s culinary capital is a great place to explore the classic dishes from the Andes and beyond. The city's rich and varied restaurant scene also offers a fine selection of international fare. All budgets and tastes are catered for, and you’ll find everything from modern sushi restaurants to Italian trattorias. Many restaurants close on Sunday.
What to Eat
The Old Town is where you'll find Quito's most traditional eateries, some of which have been perfecting family recipes for generations. Seco de chivo (braised goat stew) is an Ecuadorian classic typically served with yellow rice and patacones (plantain fritters). Potatoes, of course, originated in the Andes and are put to imaginative use in dishes like llapingachos (fried potato-and-cheese pancakes), often served under grilled steak or fried eggs. A few places also serve cuy asado (roasted guinea pig), an indigenous specialty dating back to Inca times.
Head to the new town's Mariscal for the broadest choices and densest concentration of ethnic and international eateries. For more high-end dining and the city's best restaurants, look to La Floresta, La Pradera and neighboring areas. Off the tourist radar but worth exploring is Benalcázar, an upscale neighborhood of high-rise condominiums, offices, cool cafes and restaurants. It's bounded by Parque La Carolina on the east and Avenida 6 de Diciembre on the west. Take the Ecovia to either Eloy Afaro or Benalcázar.
Drinking & Nightlife
Most of the farra (nightlife) in Quito is concentrated in and around the Mariscal. A weekend night wandering La Ronda, a cobblestone lane lined with bars and restaurants in the Old Town, shouldn't be missed. For more relaxed, low-key hangouts, head to one of the sophisticated spots in La Floresta, Guápulo or Benalcázar. A spate of microbreweries have opened recently in the city.
Mariscal bars, for better or worse, are generally raucous. Plaza Foch is the neighborhood's epicenter, where the line between ‘bar’ and ‘dance club’ is blurry. Bars with dancing often charge admission, which usually includes a drink. Monday to Wednesday nights tend to draw an older crowd, while university-aged Ecuadorians swarm into the area on Friday and Saturday nights.
Hitting the dance floor of one of Quito’s salsatecas (nightclubs where dancing to salsa music is the main attraction) is a must. If you don’t know how to salsa, try a few classes first.
Carry ID when going out at night in case you're carded.
Drinking & Nightlife
Quito's theaters stage a variety of dramas, dance performances and concerts, so check ahead to see what's on. Look out too for performances by local musicians playing everything from salsa and merengue to rock, jazz and blues. Several bars and restaurants in the Old Town and the Mariscal have regular live music nights.
Most Quito cinemas show popular English-language films with Spanish subtitles.
Estadio Olimpico Atahualpa
Located in the northern part of the city near the shopping mall Quicentro, Estadio Olimpico Atahualpa is the city's main soccer stadium and seats 37,750. Ecuador's national team, Deportivo Quito (www.deportivoquito.com) and El Nacional (www.elnacional.ec) play here. Take an Ecovia bus to the Estadio stop.
There are some excellent crafts stores in the Mariscal. If buying from street stalls, you should bargain; in the fancier stores, prices are normally fixed. Note that souvenirs are a little cheaper outside Quito, if you have the time and inclination to search them out.
Centros comerciales (shopping malls) are similar to their North American counterparts, and sell international brands.