Ecuador’s capital, Quito, lies 5 kilometers from Mariscal Sucre International Airport, nestled in the Andes. The mountain city built on Inca ruins after the 1533 Spanish conquest is now a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Quito displays a fascinating dual personality: Old City resonates with the charm of its colonial past, while New City boasts skyscrapers, eclectic art and trendy restaurants.
You might appreciate the contrasts best by starting in Old City. San Francisco Church is a top attraction in Quito, a baroque marvel from 1535, incorporating Moorish, Christian and indigenous designs.
A 2-minute walk takes you to Church of the Society of Jesus, completed in 1650. The interior of this Jesuit church is covered in gold leaf, a rich backdrop for more than 40 paintings and nearly 60 sculptures. From here it is a short walk to Independence Plaza, the most celebrated square in the capital city. A monument to independence pays tribute to heroes of 1889. The immaculate garden landscape is surrounded by palaces of Moorish architecture.
One of the leisurely things to do in Quito is shop unique, artful venues. A 10-minute taxi ride east of the square, you can browse Olga Fisch Folklore. Olga Fisch died in 1990, but her mission lives on, elevating the region’s folk art. Her colonial home holds a specialty shop with handcrafted pottery, clothing and tapestries, rife with indigenous influence. An upstairs museum displays artifacts from ancient regional cultures.
After another 10-minute cab ride northeast, you can admire a top attraction in Quito, Basilica of the National Vote, which has been under construction for over a hundred years. President Garcia Moreno ordered the work before his assassination in 1875. The elaborate neo-gothic structure amuses with gargoyles in the form of iguanas and tortoises. Upon climbing the main tower stairs, you can enjoy a panorama of both Old City and New City, with snowy peaks in the distance.
If taking in stunning views tops your list of things to do in Quito, you can taxi to the west edge of town, then ride the Telefériqo up the side of Pichincha Volcano. The tram lifts passengers 2.5 kilometers toward endless vistas of the city and Andean countryside. Those who suffer few effects from altitude might opt to hike three hours to the summit. Or, the journey may remind you that Quito is the most elevated capital in the world, and your body needs time to adjust.
In New City, Guayasamín Foundation Museum is another top attraction in Quito, named for painter and sculptor Oswaldo Guayasamín, who died in 1999. The museum houses an archaeological section, a modern art gallery, and a colonial art collection that includes 80 crucifixes made by early Quito artisans.
Round out your visit with bangers and mash at lively Finn McCool’s, the only Irish pub in the city, whose owners hail from England, Ireland and Canada. For upscale fusion fare, visit Zazu, north of town, to taste grilled octopus and serrano ham. Your study in Quito’s contrasts will be complete.