48 Hours in Quito
Ecuador’s high-altitude capital boasts a stunning World Heritage old town and a restaurant scene as diverse as its residents. Be sure to stroll the cobbled streets, ride a cable car (one of the highest in the world!), and experience a vibrant traditional market. At night, grab your partner and head down the emblematic La Ronda, stopping to sip a cocktail and feel the beat of live salsa.
Palacio Hidalgo, Quito 170401, Ecuador
UNESCO got it right when it declared Quito’s historical center the world’s first Cultural Heritage site. Hidden among the baroque churches, cobbled streets, and colorful markets lies a square of endless entertainment. If you find yourself in Plaza Grande on Sunday, then cancel your plans for the rest of the day. From morning to night, this square, no bigger than two soccer pitches, chimes with traditional music, vendors peddling their wares, theatrical performances, and religious preachers. On stone benches, gray-bearded men strum the hypnotic sounds of pasillo music. Sprawling up one side of the Catedral de Quito’s steps, hundreds of locals watch a group re-enact Ecuador’s fight for independence. Up the other side, howls of laughter bellow against the 16th-century white walls as a face-painted comedian delivers his routine. Then, as the clouds above the Presidential Palace turn a deep red later in the day, suited men divulge the secrets of the Bible in front of studious locals.
Noruega E1049 y, Av. 6 de Diciembre, Quito 170505, Ecuador
What La Ronda lacks in size, it makes up in style and beauty. This street, so short you could hold your breath and run its length, bustles with bars, artisanal craft shops and ice-cream parlours. Stroll down its cobbled-stone path, restored in 2006, breathing in the scent of rich chocolate from Chez Tiff Artesanal and sweet passion fruit soaps from Api Real. Squeeze up the winding staircase to the iconic La Heladeria Dulce Placer and choose from 180 varieties of ice cream - a light yet sharp mojito maybe? Or why not a bizarre salt and pepper or corn flavor. As night descends, La Ronda throbs with loved-up couples clinking cocktails, sharing ice-cream cones and dancing salsa in Azucar El Portal de la Salsa.
García Moreno, Quito 170405, Ecuador
Few experiences provide cultural intoxication like exploring a city’s past. And, good news, Quito’s oozes fascination. The best place to travel through the pre-Columbian era, Spanish conquest and eventual independence is a visit to the marvellous Museo de la Ciudad. Lurking a few blocks from Plaza San Francisco, this over 400-year-old hospital, the city’s oldest building, was converted into a museum in the 1970s and today enthrals visitors with reconstructed indigenous houses, graphic art work, clear and concise videos and English-speaking guides. For just $3, visitors stroll around the typical Spanish colonial building which has a permanent exhibit on the first floor and temporary one on the ground. Note that like many museums in Quito, it closes on Mondays.
The most iconic views of Quito feature the snow-covered peak of Cotopaxi in the background. Though a hike to its crater is on many visitors’ wish list, its recent spurt of activity may deem it too unsafe for the next few months. But there’s no need to panic. To glimpse the tallest active volcano in the world, head to El Panecillo. Located on its own volcanic terrain, this 656-foot hill towers above the old town and offers the perfect view of Cotopaxi. El Panecillo is also home to the city’s winged virgin. El Virgen de Quito (Quito’s Madonna) stands on a globe, which is covered by a snake with what looks like a crocodile’s face. This multi-piece aluminium structure was erected in 1976 and is one of the city’s most popular tourist spots. It’s advisable to take a taxi to El Panecillo at sunrise or sunset for the best shot. Nowadays, police presence is all day, but locals strongly warn against walking to the hill.
For spectacular views of sprawling Quito, take a ride in the TelefériQo. This aerial lift, one of the highest in the world, takes you up the east side of Pichincha volcano, but don’t worry, its active caldera is on the western side of the mountain! You’ll rise over 3,200 feet in 10 minutes. In addition to hiking trails and lookout points, there are shops and cafés at the top. On a clear day, you can see 13 volcanoes. The most challenging hike from the top is the Volcano Route, going to the summit of the Rucu Pichincha volcano. Be warned the weather can change quickly, so wrap up warm and, ideally, go with a guide. Whether you’re hiking or just snapping pics, consider going in the morning to avoid the crowds.