Quito a Capital city with a dramatic setting

Nestled in a central valley more than 9,000 feet up in the Andes, flanked by active volcanoes such as Pichincha, Quito is one of the world’s highest capital cities, and few can be more dramatically situated. It boasts a bustling modern downtown area, La Mariscal, beautiful natural parks, and the Mitad Del Mundo monument and park, marking the Equator, but it’s the Old City that attracts most attention, and which helped make it one of UNESCO’s first two World Cultural Heritage sites.

A collision of styles

Quito is the largest and best preserved historic city centre in the Americas, and its churches in particular need to be seen to be believed. The interiors of the 16th century San Francisco church, and 17th century La Compania de Jesus, El Sagrario and Santo Domingo churches combine Spanish baroque architecture with influences from the Moorish soldiers who helped colonise the country, and from Ecuador’s indigenous peoples.

The result is fabulously intricate stucco, moulding and carving, all covered in gold leaf that bears witness to the immense mineral wealth the Spanish found here. A statue of Saint Francis in the first of those churches, portraying him as a rather fierce bearded man leading a jaguar, rather than the gentle bird-tamer of European churches, is typical of this remarkable collision of styles.

Stand in two hemispheres

The Old City is compact and easy to explore on foot, with plenty of cafés, bars and shops in its narrow streets. Once you’ve discovered the its history, you’ll want to see the Mitad del Mundo, just to be able to stand in two hemispheres, and the TeleferiQo, a cable car system that takes you to 13,500 feet up Pichincha. This is a must for the amazing views – take it easy, though, as the extra altitude can take some getting used to.

Hummingbirds

While day tours in search of wildlife are easily available, taking in nearby locations such as Cotopaxi to see Andean condors, and the Tandayapa Valley for hummingbirds, Andean cock-of-the-rock and spectacled bears, you can find plenty of wildlife within the city itself. Even a brief visit to La Carolina or Parque Metropolitano Guanguiltagua – getting on for twice the size of New York’s Central Park – can bring memorable encounters with hummingbirds, the tiny jewels among Ecuador’s many avian riches.

So, although Quito is a wonderful stopover on the way to Galapagos or the Amazon, it also boasts many unique attractions itself.

Every Travelsphere holiday offers exceptional value for money. Included in the price are return scheduled flights/rail travel and internal flights, where applicable, overseas transfers and transportation, carefully chosen hotels, many meals and excursions and the services of a Travelsphere Tour Manager or Local Guide.