Although second to Guayaquil in population and economic clout, QUITO is the political and cultural hub of a highly centralized country, where power is wielded by an elite class of politicians, bankers and company directors, often from old, moneyed families. Far more conspicuous than these sharp-suited executives, though, are the city's eye-catching indígenas, who make up a large part of its population. Whereas most other Latin American capitals have been stamped with the faceless imprint of imported US culture, Quito is still a place where Quichua-speaking women queue for buses in traditional clothing with metres of beads strung tightly around their necks, and where it's not uncommon to see children carried on their mothers' backs in securely wrapped blankets, as they are in the rural sierra. All this makes for a somewhat exotic introduction to the country, though the proliferation of ragged shoeshine boys and desperate hawkers selling miracle products is a sobering reminder of the levels of poverty in the city, and its considerable social inequalities.
The key to orientation in Quito is to see the city as a long, narrow strip. At the southern end is the old town, focused on three large squares: the Plaza de la Independencia (also known as the Plaza Grande), Plaza San Francisco and Plaza Santo Domingo. The street grid around these squares comprises a small, compact urban core dominated to the south by the hill of El Panecillo (the Little Bread Roll), crowned by a large statue of the Virgen de Quito. Fanning north from old Quito towards the new town is a transitional stretch around Parque La Alameda, while the new town proper begins a few blocks further north at Parque El Ejido. Known by Quiteños simply as El Norte, the new town stretches all the way north to the airport, but the only parts you're likely to visit are the central areas of La Mariscal, just north of Parque El Ejido, where most accommodation and tourist facilities are located, the business district further north, around Parque La Carolina.
Quito is located on a horizontal strip of land running north to south between beautiful mountains. The splendor of the city's natural setting, combined with its attractive squares, parks and monuments as well as the warmth of its people, makes it a unique and unforgettable place. Founded in 1534 with a mere 204 inhabitants, Quito is now the bustling capital of Ecuador, with nearly two million people. For 360 years, its boundaries were marked by the Cerro del Panecillo in the south, Plaza de San Blas in the north, Volcán Pichincha in the west, and Plaza de la Marín in the east. Today the city is much larger, and has been growing since the early 20th Century. In 1980, La Mariscal tourist area was developed between Patria, Colón, Amazonas and 6 de Diciembre Avenues. In 1978, Quito was declared a World Heritage site due to its extraordinary historic center. Quito offers marvelous views anywhere you stand. The majestic snow-capped mountains that surround it—Pichincha, Cotopaxi, Ilinza and others—stand proud like stony guardians of time. The bells from the old churches resound throughout the city center, awakening the suburbs in the north, south and nearby valleys.
The Middle of the World
We start this trip 25 kilometers to the north, at zero latitude, where the exact position of the equator is marked by the La Mitad del Mundo (Middle of the World) monument. Here you can visit, among other interesting places, the Ethnographic Museum and see a miniature model of colonial Quito. You can also buy handicrafts in one of many artisans' stalls here. Nearby you will find the Proyecto Arqueológico Rumicucho , a site with archaeological evidence of the Inca, the ancient inhabitants of this territory.
In the north is modern Quito. If you enter through Avenida de la Prensa, you will find the first stop, the Aeropuerto Internacional Mariscal Sucre. Take Amazonas Avenue, which has some large shopping centers. One such is Mall El Jardín , located right in front of Parque La Carolina , the largest recreational park inside the city. In this part of the city you will find fine restaurants such as Rincón la Ronda , which serves typical Ecuadorian food. Due to the rapid growth of the northern zone, the new city is called Distrito Metropolitano de Quito. It is a very touristic, commercial area, where some of the most important hotels are to be found, including the J.W. Marriot , one of the largest in Ecuador. Also here is the city's most important stadium, the Estadio Olímpico Atahualpa , and most of the larger movie theaters such as Cinemark 7 . The main roads in the north are Amazonas, de los Shyris, Naciones Unidas, González Suárez, 6 de Diciembre, 10 de Agosto, Eloy Alfaro, and La Occidental.
This area is the best for nightlife. Its main streets are: Juan León Mera, Calama, Reina Victoria, Cordero, 9 de Octubre, 12 de Octubre, a section of Amazonas, Colón and Patria. The area starts in Avenida Orellana and goes through to Avenida Patria. There are bars such as Papillón , ice cream parlors like Baskin Robins, as well as restaurants like el Maple. There are hostels, including the Palm Garten and more costly places to spend the night, such as the Swiss Hotel and the Hilton Colón . You will also find cyber-cafes and discos such as Zulu.
You are in front of the popular Alameda Park , constructed in 1596. La Plaza de San Blas is practically the entrance to the city center. Then you get to the Plaza del Teatro and take busy Guayaquil Street towards the Plaza Grande. Near this square you'll will find the Palacio de Gobierno —the president's house, also known as Palacio de Carondelet— El Palacio Municipal , the Cathedral , and La Iglesia de San Francisco , among other buildings which constitute the treasures of Old Quito.
The border of this area is Calle 24 de Mayo, which leads up to the Cerro del Panecillo , an attractive observatory on a hill. Now head south over the San Diego bridges. An old cemetery of the same name is located here, where the famous dictator Velasco Ibarra is buried. The Maldonado Avenue is the main artery of the southern district. In front of the trolley-bus station you will find Mack's , a nightclub with various dance floors, which plays all sorts of music.
The Nearby Valleys
If you wish to enjoy Quito's valleys, close to the city you will find San Rafael, with a pleasant climate and recreation centers. You can catch the bus that goes to this area on Avenida 12 de Octubre, in the central-north area close to the Swiss Hotel . Other important valleys are Tumbaco, in the northeastern area, where you will find fruit from the region, and Cumbayá, where you will find the amusement center Via Ventura. In the north, in Guayllabamba, you will find the zoo . You can take north-bound buses on Avenida 12 de Octubre.
Quito, besides its tourist attractions, has a wide variety of establishments for enjoying food and drinks.
We start in the north of the city, by the monument Mitad del Mundo , one of the most interesting tourist sites. Surrounded by mountains, you will find the restaurant Equinoccio , with an appetizing selection of typical Ecuadorian food such as mote (cooked white corn) with chicharrón (pork crackling), accompanied by chicha (a delicious beverage of fermented corn). Also on the north side, within the limits of the city in the Plaza de Toros Quito neighborhood, you will find places such as the Mayflower, serving chaulafan and many other typical Chinese dishes, and Rosa Mejicano , a little taste of Mexico with its fajitas, tacos, enchiladas and more. The Swiss restaurant Raclette with its classic fondues, is located in front of La Carolina , on Avenida Eloy Alfaro. To the south of the Parque La Carolina , next to the Mall El Jardín , you will find various chain offerings. If you wish to enjoy an excellent view of the city, go up to the highest part of the residential Avenida González Suárez neighborhood, where, in front of Hotel Quito Best Western, you will find Barlovento , one of the most exclusive restaurant-bars of the city. Make a stop here to savor their delicious meat specialties. Further south, along Diego de Almagro Street is Rincón la Ronda , with three pleasant dining areas and a menu that includes such typical dishes as fritada (fried pork meat with plantains and corn), and chugchucara (combination of pork meat, roasted corn, pork skin, and boiled white corn).
The central-north area of Quito has the most variety of restaurants. Crepes & Waffles , for example, serves excellent sweet and savory pancakes, as well as salads, ice creams and juices. Nearby is La Bodeguita de Cuba , which offers traditional Cuban dishes such as ropa vieja (a kind of meat stew, the name means "old clothes") and drinks like the mojito (rum and mint). Mamá Clorinda has Ecuadorian specialties such as locro de papas (a delicious soup made with milk, cheese and potatoes) and menestra (stewed beans or lentils) with steak. For vegetarians, El Maple has colorful and appetizing dishes in an airy, plant-filled setting. You can try meatless meals like la sorpresa china (the Chinese surprise!) or spaghetti with oyster mushrooms accompanied by fresh natural juices and salads. If you like Mexican food, try "El coyote", the house specialty at the Guarida del Coyote , made with rice, beans, steak, guacamole and cheese. Wash it down with a yardas, a giant glass of beer. Pizzeria El Hornero has home-made pizza and lasagna. On one of the busiest corners of the central north area is where you will find the Magic Bean , a North American-style restaurant with a coffee-house and hostel. Their exotic breaded eggplants are delicious. Excellent seafood is served at Marenostrum , close to Avenida Colón, and well-prepared French cuisine at the Rincón de Francia . For an intimate dinner for two, head to Palladinos , on the top floor of a large building on Avenida Patria. Here you can get an excellent lobster with cheese sauce.
The Historic Center of Quito, the first UNESCO World Heritage Site, is a gorgeous and popular tourist destination within the city. Because of this, it is inevitable that the Historic Center contains many quality eateries to enjoy. The Marques de Jerez serves up Ecuadorian and Spanish specialties, tapas style, with cozy ambiance. Mea Culpa is one of the finest restaurants in the city with amazing views of this historic old city. Cafe Mosaico serves up Greek cuisine in a comfortable, upscale atmosphere. The cafe also features a free WiFi connection and a telescope for stargazing at night. Another great restaurant is located on the second floor of the Teatro Sucre , the Theatrum Restaurant & Wine Bar offers diners delicious Mediterranean cuisine in another of Quito's finest restaurants. El Rincón de Cantuña specializes in Spanish and international cuisine at the Hotel Patio Andaluz .
Outside the city, in the nearby valleys, are located a number of restaurants. Equinoccio , located in the nearby Middle of the World, resembles an old colonial house and serves up the best of local cuisine as well as international dishes. Cafe de la Vaca specializes in breakfast, but serves up delicious food all day long, and on weekends local artisans display and sell their goods. Chez Jerôme serves up classic and classy French cuisine, decor and atmosphere while Sake Restaurant offers up exotic Japanese meals.
If Quito, the enchanting capital of Ecuador, is your destination, you will need to travel well-equipped and with a good dose of energy and enthusiasm to visit most of the attractive places this little city has to offer. This metropolis is a combination of legend, culture and modern development that can only be appreciated while actively touring the city.
Plaza San Blas
When Quito was declared a World Cultural Heritage site by UNESCO in 1978, the houses, monuments, buildings and churches of this beautiful capital became a legend and tradition for all visitors. Visiting the colonial quarter is a must. It is easily reached from any point of the city. If you are in the city, use the trolley bus. You will need to get off at Banco Central Station and continue your trip on foot. You will first encounter Plaza San Blas and continue your tour down Calle Guayaquil, the axis crossing the historic quarter. This is a narrow road running from north to south, surrounded by old two- and three-story houses painted in white tones with brightly-colored front doors and balconies. As you make your way along, you will cross several streets, among them Calle de la Soledad, also called Esmeraldas, that will lead you to the popular neighborhood of El Tejar. Shortly afterwards you will reach an important and interesting place, the Plaza del Teatro , where you will find the Teatro Sucre , a beautiful old theater steeped in history. Nearby , past the San Agustin church, you will find the Cueva del Oso , an elegant restaurant of long-standing tradition in Quito that offers many local and international dishes. Stand at the corner of Calle Venezuela and you will see on your left, the Plaza de la Independencia , with the Palacio de Gobierno just in front of you. This is a good place to stop for a while, relax and enjoy the very heart of Quito's historic quarter. On the ground floor of Palacio de Carondelet, the government building, and the Iglesia de la Catedral , there are restaurants and food stalls offering good sandwiches, chilled fruit juices and souvenirs.
The Middle of the World
Quito is often referred to as "the middle of the world", due to its proximity to the equator. If you are just passing by or plan to stay a while in Quito, you should take a thorough tour of the town, very easy to do, thanks to public transport. A trip by bus down the length of Avenida America to the central-north area will take you forty minutes through a landscape of houses, buildings and parks. Once you arrive, you will see an impressive monument with a globe at the top. There is no fee to enter the Mitad del Mundo monument or city, although entrance to the Museo Etnografico costs eighty cents. Before doing this, however, take a moment to stand on the equator and thrill at the thought of being exactly at the middle of the world. Inside the city are several crafts stores selling silver jewelry, typical clothing, leather slippers, bright necklaces, T-shirts, key rings, and many other articles with Mitad del Mundo motifs. After walking, taking pictures, and buying souvenirs, you will not be able to resist the aroma of the typical food prepared here. Restaurante Equinoccio offers countless options for your palate. A fritada (white corn or 'mote', pork, and plantain), guatita (cow's stomach, potatoes and peanuts), or the appetizing yahuarlocro (lamb soup) and other delicacies of the sierra await you. As well, this is a honey-producing area and many jars of it are on sale here. You can also find delicious nougat and specially prepared sweets. The archaeological ruins of Rumicucho , are just ten minutes from here. At the entrance you will receive historical information about this project, and professional staff will explain in detail the meaning and symbolism of the passages and stone compartments.
Convento del Carmen Alto
Across the Plaza de la Independencia is Calle Garcia Moreno, also known as Calle de las Siete Cruces, an attractive road with seven stone crosses in front of the Hospice , as well as in front of the Carmen Alto , La Compañía de Jesús, the Sagrario, the Cathedral , the Concepción and Santa Barbara churches. Walking down this road will take you to the Manuela Sáenz and María Augusta Urrutia museums, places created to promote an interest in Ecuadorian culture. At this point you will need to have to take Calle Sucre and then return to Guayaquil Avenue to stop at Plaza de Santo Domingo where you will find the convent and museum of the same name. These together house a gallery of works by artists predominantly of the Quito school. For a bite to eat after all this touring, try El Criollo for some traditional local cuisine.
Guided Tours: The Metropolitan Tourist Police Office (+593 2 2586 591) Calimatours (+593 2 2394 796/ http://www.calimaecuador.com/index.html) Cotopaxi Tours (http://www.cotopaxitours.com) Gray Line (593 2 290 7577/ http://www.grayline.com/Grayline/destinations/latinamerica/ecuador.go)