A UNESCO World Heritage site, Quito is also the capital city of Ecuador. It sits at an elevation of more than 9,000 feet, making it the highest official capital city in the world. What that means for travelers is there will be a huge adjustment to the elevation gain upon arrival. Visitors should take the first day or two to do easy walking activities and not exert themselves, making sure to also drink plenty of fluids. Once you adjust to the elevation, you’re in for a real treat. Quito offers some of the most stunning examples of gothic architecture, lively central plazas, and a colorful culture. Explore this beautiful capital city and take a step back in time as you walk through 17-century streets and buildings.
Your first stop in Quito should be at the Plaza de la Independencia, or the Plaza Grande, located in the heart of Old Town Quito. This centrally-located square features a monument dedicated to the heroes of Ecuador’s fight for independence from Spanish control. It’s also home to the Metropolitan Cathedral and the Carondelet Palace. In addition, the Archbishop’s Palace is located in the plaza; it was built in 1700 and has been the seat of religious authority and resident of the Bishop since then. It’s also one of the oldest buildings in the city. In that plaza, you’ll find many cafes and restaurants with small, outdoor seating areas so you can sit and look out into the hub of the city while sipping on an espresso or warm canelazo, a traditional Ecuadorian alcoholic beverage made with aguardiente (alcohol), cinnamon, sugar, and juice. Definitely try one while you’re in Quito!
The architecture in Quito is some of the most beautiful in the country. Head to the Basilica and pay the $1 entrance fee to experience, arguably, the oldest gothic church in North and South America. Its lookout tower offers a breathtaking view of the city below, just hang onto your belongings because it can get really windy atop the building! La Iglesia de la Compania de Jesus is another must-visit while in Quito. Its intricately ornate interior contributes to its intrigue, as you’ll immediately notice the gold leaf, gilded plaster and wood carvings. This church is one of the most significant works of Spanish Baroque architecture and is considered one of the most stunning sights in all of Ecuador.
Otavalo is perhaps one of the more frequently-visited towns from Quito, and for good reason. Just an hour and 45-minute drive from Quito, this place comes to life on the weekends, as it holds a massive outdoor market that takes up nearly 1/3 of the town. Take a bus here and you can find anything you need, including clothing, tapestry, jewelry and other hand-made crafts. Be weary of paying high prices for goods that are not handcrafted, as many are manufactured in nearby towns and even outside of the country. Bargaining with the seller is recommended to get the fairest price. When you’re all shopped out, consider heading to Laguna de Cuicocha, a 2-mile wide lake at the foot of the Cotacachi Volcano. Visitors can hike the trail that wraps around the lake, or trek part of it if time is a constraint. If you’re a sports fan and your team is playing while in Otavalo, head to The Red Pub for a few drinks while you catch the game. For authentic Ecuadorian food, check out Mi Otavalito.
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The best way to get to Quito from out of the country is to fly into Mariscal Sucre International Airport, just 11 miles east of Quito. From there, grab a taxi and head to your accommodations. Once you’re settled into the city, take taxis or the public bus system, which goes to many points of interest. For your day trip, you can schedule a bus tour or hop on a bus at the Terminal Terrestre de Carcelen, although you will need to take a taxi from Quito to this bus station.
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