Where to go

Quito

A captivating capital at dizzying heights...

Quito's Plaza Grande
Quito's Plaza Grande

At 2,820 metres above sea-level, Quito is the second highest capital city in the world, and the only one to be directly threatened by an active volcano! The narrow city runs along the slopes of Volcan Pichincha, which last spewed an ash-cloud as recently as 1999. Yet Quito has always been the cultural and political centre of Ecuador, dating back to the Inca rulers of the 15th century. Despite some of this heritage being lost during fierce battles with the Spanish conquistadors (Inca emperor Rumiñahui burned the city down days before their impending capitulation); the Spanish lavished Quito with churches, monasteries, plazas and cathedrals. To this day, it remains one of the finest examples of Spanish architecture in all of Latin America.

Quito runs from north-to-south, along the Guayllabamba river basin. In the heart of the city lies the picturesque centro historico or Old Town – now a UNESCO world heritage site. The Old Town is certainly a major highlight of Quito, with its stunning range of bright, colonial buildings, cobbled streets and quirky museums. There are a number of superb hotels in the area too. The Old Town can easily be explored on foot in a day, so this is a great place to base yourself while in Quito.

Be sure to take in the three main squares of Plaza de la Independencia (aka Plaza Grande), Plaza Santo Domingo and Plaza San Francisco; being sure to visit the spectacular La Compañia church. A convenient and apt marker for your bearings is the Virgin of el Panecillo – a 41-metre aluminium statue of the Virgin Mary, atop the hill of the same name, which can be seen from nearly every angle in town. She pips Rio’s Christ the Redeemer by 3 metres!

Alternatively, for those who prefer a more contemporary environment, about a mile north there is the New Town district, which locals refer to as La Mariscal. The New Town is packed with cafes, bars, restaurants, shops and clubs; and so is always a hive of activity. What el Mariscal has in abundance is the one thing missing from the Old Town – green space.

The New Town is based around three parks: Parque El Ejido, Parque del Arbolito and Parque La Alameda (which homes the excellent Astronomical Observatory and museum). A further couple of miles north is Parque La Carolina – Quito’s equivalent to Central Park (although about one-fifth the size) – that hosts numerous recreational sports, paddleboats and the Botanical gardens and Vivarium.

Below are our recommended excursions outside of Quito:

TeleferiQo Cable-car

This cable-car was opened in 2005 and, on a clear day, provides stunning views of Quito and the nearby volcanic summits of Antisana, Cayambe and Cotapaxi. It starts at 2,950m, with the 6-person cars serenely whisking passengers 2 ½ kms up the slopes of Volcan Pichincha. Eight minutes later, it terminates in the significantly thinner air, at Cruz Loma’s 4,053m peak. Whilst it can be busy and ‘touristy’ on weekends, we still feel the views justify it. But try to go early!

Mitad del Mundo

(‘Middle of the Earth’) complex, about an hour north of Quito. The site boasts a range of attractions; such as a chocolate and beer tasting, a planetarium and numerous cultural attractions. However, the main draw is the equatorial monument, where it is possible to stand with one foot in each hemisphere of the world!

Recommended for: 

When to go to Quito:

  • YJan
  • YFeb
  • MMar
  • MApr
  • YMay
  • YJun
  • YJul
  • YAug
  • YSep
  • YOct
  • YNov
  • YDec
  •   = Yes   = No   = Maybe

    At a glance...Quito

  • Population: 2.5 million
  • Location: North Ecuador, in the Andean foothills
  • Recommended time: 2 or 3 nights
  • Time to visit: Year round. Wettest in March & April.
  • Go here for: Culture & History, food, city-life
  • Further reading...

    Our top five hotel recommendations for Quito:

    1. Casa Gangotena - Plaza view room

      Casa Gangotena

      This lavish hotel have prime location on Plaza de San Francisco, overlooking the bustling square and imposing Baroque church of the same name. Whilst most the original colonial mansion was destroyed in a fire in 1914, the property was gloriously rebuilt over the next decade by Quito’s esteemed... More...

      Our rating:
      5
      User rating:
      5
      Price:
      5
    2. Hotel Carlota - Lobby

      Hotel Carlota

      Where does one start in describing this superlative, boutique hotel in Quito’s Old Town? The property was built in 1905 by a French architect as a private house. The owner’s grandmother purchased the home in 1966 and in 2016 he converted the building into a 12-bedroom hotel that he and his wife... More...

      Our rating:
      4
      User rating:
      4
      Price:
      4
    3. Hotel Mama Cuchara - Front

      Hotel Mama Cuchara

      A member of the select Art Hotels Ecuador group (with hotels also in Otavalo and Cuenca), this Colonial-era property is awash with an impressive private collection of native art. Most of the pieces – from paintings and sculptures to jewellery and ceramics – are available for purchase, allowing... More...

      Our rating:
      4
      User rating:
      4
      Price:
      4
    4. Hotel Patio Andaluz - Front

      Hotel Patio Andaluz

      An excellent option for anyone seeking a more affordable stay in a colonial property in the heart of the Old Town. The lavish, 5-star Plaza Grande Hotel, that sits on the main square, is only 100 metres down the road – so you can get the great location for significantly less. The classic 17th... More...

      Our rating:
      3
      User rating:
      4
      Price:
      3
    5. Hotel Plaza Grande - Exterior

      Hotel Plaza Grande

      This majestic, opulent hotel surely wins the ‘best location’ accolade, sitting, as it does, on one corner of Quito’s main square – Plaza de la Independencia (also known as Plaza Grande). Sharing the square is the Presidential palace, Metropolitan Cathedral, Archbishop’s palace and City Hall; very... More...

      Our rating:
      5
      User rating:
      5
      Price:
      5

    Our recommended top travel itineraries for The Galapagos Islands:

    Oops. New travel itineraries for this destination are coming soon. Please call us in the UK on +44 1525 306 555 or in the USA on +1-888-848-3195 to have us create a custom itinerary for you. Or visit our luxury travel itineraries page to explore what's currently available.