In recent years, San Francisco de Quito, the capital of Ecuador, has become one of the most important cities in all of Latin America in terms of tourism.
This city is one of the most beautiful and complete cities I have ever seen. Even being a small capital, (compared to the rest of the capitals in South America) it has the largest and best-preserved Historic Centre on the continent.
I guess it is one of the reasons why it was declared the First Cultural Heritage of Humanity by Unesco back in 1978.
Quito is located in the Guayllabamba basin on the eastern slopes of the active Pichincha volcano, in the western part of the Andes. Its average altitude is 2850 meters above sea level, making it the highest capital in the world! Yes, that’s right. Popular and general culture make you instantly think about La Paz, but La Paz is not the capital of Bolivia, Sucre is.
There is so much history in this amazing city that goes way back to times before Christianity. In pre-Inca times the importance of Quito was based more on its strategic location than on its political status. It was the hub of routes between the main towns in the area and therefore was the axis of intense commercial exchange.
The Aya Uma (Head of the Devil) or Devil Huma, the main character of the Andean festival of Inti Raymi, has an important spiritual meaning for the indigenous communities that congregate in sacred places to thank Pachamama for the harvests.
You can still see some of the vestiges of past cultures while walking around the historical centre. You still find several centuries-old trades such as hatters, tailors, and herbalists who guard and preserve ancestral knowledge and share it in their workshops. The emblematic La Ronda street, located in the Historical Center, is an ideal place to meet artisans, and experience traditions and games of past times.
The republican city as we know it now was founded by Diego de Almagro on August 28, 1534, however, each year its major festivals are commemorated on December 6, the date on which Sebastián de Benalcázar brought the founding act to its current location.
But you might still think what makes Quito so striking when all its defining characteristics are shared by other cities?
Well, the city does have the aforementioned attributes (like some others), but the fact of being simultaneously Equatorial, Andean, Pacific, and Mediterranean it’s what gives Quito the singularity of being unique in the world.
Thanks to its physical beauty, its traditions, its corners of mysticism and its current legends, Quito has an interesting and varied offer of entertainment for all tastes and all ages.
You can find countless options for restaurants, cafes, bars and clubs all around. And if you are looking for cultural proposals, you can just check out the wide spectrum of more than 120 places classified as museums and cultural centres. But Quito’s beauty is not only based on its architecture, history and culture behind it; but also on the nature surrounding it.
“La Carita de Dios” (The Face of God) is a nickname given by the locals because of the beauty of the country expressed in the city. You can understand the nickname when you appreciate the city from different angles, where the landscapes will take your breath away.
Like when you visit the Cable Car early in the morning and admire the city with the volcanoes that watch over it from the Cruz Loma; or when you climb El Panecillo, a strategic place to observe Quito from north to south; or when you go to Cerro Itchimbía in the afternoon and the city becomes a magical space that allows you to watch the sun go down behind the mountains while the historic centre lights up at your feet.
Due to its perfect location, you can also escape the city and discover the surroundings. Just a few kilometres away from Quito, you can find several nature reserves and conservation areas that surround the city. Yunguilla, the Maquipucuna Protected Forest, El Pahuma Reserve, and Cayambe-Coca National Park, are some of the options to enjoy the beauty and richness of the fauna and flora.
Quito is also the closest capital to the sun, and the only place where you can experience the energy of the centre of the world while you walk the equator at the point of Latitude 0°0’0” This privileged geographical location gives Quito a waste of kindness that is evident in the climate and natural wealth.
The flavours of Quito cuisine are one of the best-kept secrets in the city. Traditional mestizo dishes that mix the pre-Columbian and the colonial, have a strong influence on both Andean and Iberian.
Pernil sandwiches, Seco de Chivo (goat usually accompanied with rice, avocado and fried plantain), Hornado (baked pork), Fritada (fried pork), Locro de papas (potato soup with more than 2,000 years of history. It is usually accompanied by toast and avocados), the typical “Almuerzos” (local lunches)… The wide variety of chocolates made with one of the best cacaos in the world, and of course, high-altitude coffee, are just some of the classic dishes and beverages that this city has to offer.
Of course, you can not forget to enjoy fresh fruits throughout the year: some unique ones that you can find in local markets, like the tree tomato, the naranjilla, the taxo, and much more.
If the city hasn’t surprised you enough, in Quito you will also find one of the oldest breweries on the American continent, and the most surprising thing is, that it is located in a convent… yes, in the convent of San Francisco.
Quito is an absolutely fascinating place… its culture, its nature, and its history are just three of the best reasons to visit it. Although if you analyze the city and its surroundings in detail, you will realize that Quito is so much more. It is an ideal destination to go to alone, accompanied or with family.
You will be amazed by the elegance of the imposing convents, and you will get lost in the architectural details of the heritage houses on each corner.
The objective of my words is no other than to inspire you to get to know this amazing city. For those who dream of setting foot in each hemisphere, living the city through its people, enjoying the colonial architecture and making a complete visit touring the surrounding natural environment, its indigenous culture, and its friendly people, Quito should definitely be your next travel destination!