I never had compelling reasons to visit Quito, Ecuador.
The city was never on my radar, and it lacks any sort of identity, so I traveled to other places in South America knowing what to expect: gorgeous beaches in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil; food and nightlife in Bogota, Colombia; and cobblestone streets (and Evita!) in Buenos Aires, Argentina.
I knew most travelers stop in Quito on their way to other places, like Galapagos and Guyaquil, so I had assumed there wasn’t much to see. Also, after visiting top South American destinations, it’s hard to feel impressed with other cities that may pale in popularity, like Quito, Ecuador.
On my way to Galapagos, however, I decided to check Quito out for a few days, and shockingly, Ecuador’s capital proved to be among the most captivating, inspiring and breathtaking cities I’ve explored on the continent.
I wish I had stayed a full week.
Quito surprised me in many ways, and travelers seeking more than culture, great food, excellent hotels and ancient history should put Quito on their bucket list.
But if you’re going to trek out there, you better have good luggage! You’ll be moving around a lot, and the most durable, reliable and affordable we’ve used for years is Samonsite. Check out their new collection (all sorts of sizes and prices) on Amazon.
Here’s 6 reasons why Quito is truly unforgettable and well worth a trip.
1. Quito is situated between mountain peaks, so you have insane, sprawling views from literally anywhere you stand.
The entire city of Quito is built along curvaceous slopes and summits at 9,500 feet high above sea level. Because it’s all rolling hills here, you have dramatic, commanding views literally anywhere you stand, including the center of town framed by snow-capped mountains and volcanic peaks (remember, you’re up in the clouds, so there is very little pollution/smog, making the clarity unbelievable).
If you’re standing among the hilltops, you have the sprawling cityscape unfurled before you. Clusters of colorful houses perch along the hillside, making it very Instagram-friendly, and there are several lookout points for glorious views, like a cable car to 12,000 feet, rooftop bars and Panicello, the Virgin Mary statue (which you can climb) crowning a ridge.
The ubiquitous, scenic views made me obsessed with Quito, and I kept maxing out my memory card by taking hundreds of photos.
2. Quito is the only city in the world with free public WIFI at 10,000 feet.
In Quito, free WIFI is offered at the same low cruising altitude of a plane. There is free and public, citywide WIFI in all the major areas (plazas, hip neighborhoods, shopping areas, etc), which is quite rare anywhere else on the continent. Quito is that progressive!
What made free Wifi come in handy is that I could do all my social media, live feeds, Skype with friends and even check out online reviews for restaurants on the go without eating up data roaming plans.
I also used my GPS to get around in real time. Better than that? The WIFI was faster than any in-flight WIFI I’ve flown.
3. Quito is quite literally the midpoint of Earth (0 degrees latitude).
There are few places in the world you can stand with one foot in the Northern Hemisphere, your other foot in the Southern Hemisphere, and Quito is the only major city on this planet where this is possible.
Also, since you’re so close to the equator, you need sunglasses. Check out our favorite selection at Bloomingdales.
In the 1700s, scientists calculated the length of 0-degree latitude at the equator here and, for this reason, Ecuador (translation: Equator) got its name. To commemorate and identify the actual equator line, a monument was built where throngs of tourists visit but modern GPS accurately revealed the true line is just a few hundred feet away in a small outdoor museum park.
Here, you can engage in a series of activities right on the equator line, like balancing an egg vertically, watching leaves drain directly in a sink hole (compared to a sink off the equator line just steps away, where it swirls) and walk the equator line with eyes closed (the opposing hemispheric forces make you wobble). There’s a gift shop and a somewhat random exhibit showcasing Incan huts and actual shrunken heads, if you’re into that (I was), so you can take a whole afternoon for a visit.
4. The food is insanely fresh wherever you dine.
Thanks to the high altitude and year-round cool weather, fruits are always fresh and “in season” (some months are arguably better than others), and Ecuador in general is known to produce the most premium chocolates in the world thanks to the optimal conditions for harvesting cocoa beans, which originated here, not Mexico.
I ate locally produced dark chocolate every day—with no regrets! Locals are big on health in Quito, so I found most of the restaurants I dined at served farm-fresh and organic foods. It was definitely shocking.
Many traditional dishes comprised vegetables with rice, corn and potato, and Ecuadorians love local farm-raised beef and pork.
I died over the beef empanadas at Casona de la Ronda; the traditionally based coconut prawn stew (with sweet fried plantain) at Cafe Plaza Grande; and the handmade ice-cream with quirky flavors (like “quesadilla,” “beer” and local favorite “caca de perro,” which literally translates to “dog shit,” but with corn and sugar candy) at Dulce Placer in La Ronda.
Opened last summer, the newest buzzing restaurant, Quitu was a gastronomic treat with molecular-designed culinary creations reminiscent of Jose Andres, focusing on forward-thinking Ecuadorian food by a prolific chef.
5. Ancient Incan attractions abound—right in the city.
Even though Quito is cosmopolitan, there are several ancient attractions in the city, like La Florida, an archaeological museum dedicated to Quito tribes with outdoor chambers that feature actual tombs dating back to 640 AD!
While it’s not ancient, a popular tourist attraction is Compania de Jesus, a 17th-century church constructed from volcanic stone with interiors decorated completely out of real gold.
Just an hour outside the city, and my favorite attraction, is San Agustin de Callo Hacienda, a rustic, former Incan resting spot on the Tambo Incan Trail dating back 600 years (it’s now a retreat and restaurant).
The structures and “bones” of the place are still well preserved, and staff can walk you through, pointing out significant artifacts and original walls the Incans built. History buffs will adore this place, where you can live vicariously through an ancient Incan for a day.
6. Quito hotels are fascinating and far from cookie cutter.
Sure, you have your Marriotts and Sheratons, which I expected, but Quito is known more for their luxurious, independently owned boutique hotels. I stayed at Casa Gangotena, an intimate and stately, former 19th-century mansion-turned-boutique.
It’s right in the heart of the main plaza, with 31 elegant rooms (ie: hand-painted murals, marble bathrooms), a handsome, 1920s-designed bar and courtyard with fountain.
The hotel also had a beautiful rooftop deck with unbelievable views over the main plaza as well as the mountain landscape.
Nearby, Plaza Grande is in the heart of Plaza de la Independencia, the main square, dating back to the 15th century (!); it’s a true timewarp considering how well preserved it is. The Neo-Classical architecture is stunning, and the two restaurants here are among the best in the city.
The newest hotel, El Crater, is a design-driven, stylish boutique right on the rim of a volcanic crater with a destination spa, cozy rooms and spectacular views (are you surprised?), and it’s the closest hotel to the Equator Line park.
So if you’re looking for a cultural, exciting destination for your next trip, head to Quito!
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