The beauty of Ecuador wastes no time in declaring itself, immersing you shortly after leaving the Mariscal Sucre International Airport. You pass through a landscape of low mountains and deep gorges on the 50-minute drive to downtown Quito. And the sight of Ecuador’s centuries-old capital, perched on the slopes of the Andes at an elevation of 9,350 feet, is nothing short of captivating. The spires of churches, the colonial-era palaces and the (admittedly less attractive) façades of modern buildings stand out against a backdrop of rich greenery and dramatic mountain peaks — a memorable view we never get tired of. Plus, Quito’s high altitude and equatorial latitude assure a pleasantly mild climate.
Plan on spending at least four days exploring this exciting capital, which offers excellent opportunities to shop for local handicrafts and an innovative dining scene, where chefs are employing native Andean ingredients in contemporary riffs on traditional dishes. Also consider allowing time to visit Casa Museo Guayasamín, the hillside mansion and studio of Oswaldo Guayasamín, whom many consider Ecuador’s greatest painter.
Before our Galápagos cruise, we spent a few days exploring Quito’s historic center, designated a UNESCO World Heritage site in 1978, comparing a hotel we already recommend with another highly rated property nearby.