Often sitting under an almost unrealistically blue sky, flanked by soaring volcanoes and home to a heady mix of developing-world modernism and lively history, Quito is part UNESCO World Heritage Site; part gentle, winding back streets drenched in quirky local characters, and part rural houses where you'll still find farm animals hanging out in the living room.
It’s certainly a quirky and vibrant place, with Ecuadorian flare oozing from every corner. The Old Town is still teeming with Spanish influences, based around a striking old plaza and home to the old Cathedral in South America. You’ll find a district of colonial homes, each with their own traditional balconies, and many opening up during the day as souvenir stalls or tiny, intricate teahouses.
Market day means strolling amongst a city of umbrellas, shopping for leather and panama hats (which, oddly enough, are from Ecuador), perhaps following it up with a swift ride into the hills on the mammoth aerial tramway, arriving at Cruz Loma with a perfect, clear-blue view of the city.
There’s an excellent zoo, too, though it seems a shame to choose it over the eye-catching environs. Just south of Quito is the towering Cotopaxi Volcano, a popular and substantial hiking destination amongst a national park that’s been nicknamed ‘Volcano Alley’. Them there are the Haciendas, which vary from the old and rustic to luxurious near-hotels. These grassy homes are perfect for horse riding, hiking, swimming, and relaxing in amongst the wildlife, soaking up an extremely authentic experience of Ecuador. It can be wild and enticing, but is often just relaxing and educational.
There’s something a bit special about Ecuador’s capital that makes it a worthy addition to any South American itinerary, and for all the lush sights, you’re ahead of most if you can put your finger on quite what produces such a magical vibe.
Situated northwest of Quito, Mindo is a hidden paradise 1,300 m (4,300 ft.) above sea level. Over the past few years, it has become a favorite place for birdwatching and the observin…