Quito Travel Guide: Stop in Ecuador’s capital for colonial monasteries, skyscrapers, and upscale cuisine. The Galapagos, known to travelers as the gateway to far-flung adventures in Quito, a sky-high capital with its head in a cloud forest, guarantees a long look. Founded in 1534, when the Spanish settled an ancient Inca city in a narrow Andean valley, Quito sits on the slopes of the Pichincha volcano.
The second highest capital in the world, at 9,350 feet, it is also the oldest capital in South America, with a wealth of colonial architecture, from the gold interior of the Baroque Compagnia de Jes Church to the colossal Monastery of San Francisco. And it is the first city (along with Krakow) to be designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1978.
Like the iconic Virgen del Panecillo statue, which spreads its wings from above the historic Old Town to one of the surrounding hills, the city continues to rise. Architect Moshe Safdie’s dire, terraced corner towers and ambitious public works on La Carolina Park – Quito’s first subway line set to open early next year – are creating a new cityscape.
Quito Travel Guide
Ecuadorian cuisine includes traditional Latin fare, such as ceviche (served with crunchy Tostado de maize, similar to corn nuts), patacones (fried plantain slices), and the beloved loco de papa, with cheese and avocado. Decorated Potato Soup. Try classic cuisine at the 160-year-old, family-run Heladeria San Agustin, on Plaza Grande in the city center.
French-trained Ecuadorian chef Wilson Alpala re-imagines local ingredients at Riley & Châteaux restaurant Zazu. Their menu includes bich (fish soup), made with shrimp confit and crispy cassava, as well as mixto ceviche (of course).
Terra Ecuador, slated to reopen in July, offers contemporary takes on the classic fare (gooseberry gazpacho, plantain gnocchi) in the culturally vibrant La Floresta district, home of the city’s first organic market.
Try more than 20 different artisanal cervezas, such as the Bandolero Cocoa Stout or the Camino Cream Ale, at Bandidos del Paramo, a local craft brewery and gastropub with a beer garden.
Café Velez, which evolved from one of Quito’s first coffee roasters, serves Ecuadorian, single-origin, high-altitude coffees in its La Floresta outpost. Visitors can also purchase its beans, as well as chocolate made from the Ecuadorian Ariba Nacional Fino de Aroma cacao bean.
Traditional artisan storefronts line every street in Quito’s Old Town. Hatmaker César Anchal Sombreia carries on his family’s tradition at Benalcázar, producing everything from berets to cowboy hats to the country’s world-famous “Panama” hat (the misnomer came from straw hats exported to workers in Panama). . Gonzalo Gallardo hand-paints, creates sculptures, and restores religious figures in the Restoraciones Carrion.
Quito also has a new generation of makers, spreading to La Floresta. There, fashion designer Mane Silva upcycles clothing inspired by indigenous textiles, and potter Natalia Espinosa creates whimsical ceramics in her workshop, Perro de Loza.
Back in the Old Town, browse Ecuador’s rich artistic heritage at the Casa del Albado Museum, where a collection of nearly 5,000 pre-Columbian artifacts and a gift shop are housed in a sixteenth-century building.
The Casa Gangotena faces the San Francisco plaza, in front of the monastery and below the Virgen del Panecillo. The Italian Palazzo, rebuilt in the 1920s and overhauled again in 2011, is now a boutique hotel with 31 rooms and suites that lets guests stay inside the UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Extend the immersion and become a vesino, or neighbor, with an in-room balancing treatment from a local limpidora (herbal healer), a visit to the monasteries of the San Francisco Monastery and bell tower with a Franciscan monk, or a walking tour of the Old Town.
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