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Welcome to Quito


Quito has been described by many travellers as the most beautiful city in South America. With its elevation and location near the Equator, its climate is considered a "permanent spring." However be warned that sometimes many seasons can be enjoyed in the same day. Quito is a city of two halves. The Old Town, a UNESCO World Heritage site, is the colonial centre and is the heartbeat of the city. Stroll through its cobbled streets and admire the many churches, historical monuments and museums. To the north is the modern New Town where you will find most of the hotels, bars, restaurants and cafes. Take the cable car to enjoy the view of the whole city from the top of the highest mountain, or take a day trip to the town of Otavalo, famous for its market and a bewildering variety of goods ranging from antique pottery to wool sweaters and hand-woven tapestries.

Quito, the capital city, is the central hub of Ecuador, and the starting point for all other destinations in the country. In a beautiful setting at an altitude of 9,350ft (2,850m), nestled in the Andes Mountains and the snow-capped 15,728ft (4,794m) Pichincha volcano, the city of Quito is a vibrant amalgam of modern business executives and the traditional culture of the 'indígenas', or local Andean people.

A city rich in historical churches, monasteries and convents, containing a wealth of religious paintings and sculpture dating back to the 16th century, there are also a few museums worth visiting in Quito, like the Museo del Banco Central with its beautiful pre-Colombian artefacts, the ethno-historical Museo Mindalae, and the contemporary art museum Museo Guayasamin.

Quito is a beautiful city with natural settings to enjoy, like the tranquillity of the Botanical Gardens with their glassed orchid houses; and the magnificent views from the Pichincha Volcano, which can be accessed by hiking or via the Telerifico, the world's second-highest cable car.

Also a popular base for learning the Spanish language, Quito has over 60 language schools dotted about the city.

Information & Facts


The weather in Quito is consistent to that of a subtropical highland climate. The city has a fairly constant cool climate due to its elevation and proximity to the equator. The average temperature during the day is 66°F (19°C), which generally falls to an average of 50°F (10°C) at night. The average temperature annually is 64°F (15°C) There are only really two obvious seasons in the city: dry and wet. The dry season (summer) runs from June to September and the wet season (winter) is from October to May.

Getting Around

Getting around Quito is easy and very cheap. The long, narrow city is served by three types of buses. The 'populares', light blue in colour, cost only around 18 US cents a ride, but are generally very crowded. Pink "Interparroquial" buses carry passengers to the outer suburbs, and bright red 'selectivos' are the more luxurious option which cost around 25 US cents a ride and allow no standing passengers. Eco-friendly electric trolley buses, called 'troles', follow two north-south routes along the Av. 10 de Agosto and the Av. 6 de Diciembre. Taxis are plentiful and also inexpensive, costing only a US Dollar or two for an average ride in the city.


Spanish is the official language, but Quechua is the main language spoken among the indigenous people.


The US Dollar (USD) is the official currency in Ecuador. In 2000 the sucre was replaced by the dollar as the legal currency, but despite dollarization, the sucre will likely persist in rural areas for a while longer. It is recommended that travellers bring both US dollar notes and travellers cheques as other foreign currencies are difficult to exchange outside of Quito, Guayaquil and Cuenca. Small denominations in good condition are the easiest to exchange outside of the main cities. In the main centres most currencies can be exchanged at banks and exchange houses ( casas de cambio) at variable commission rates. ATMs are available in the cities, and major credit cards are accepted in tourist areas and large hotels although a commission of 6-8% is often charged.

Parque Nacional Cotopaxi is Ecuador's most visited National Park, with the highest active volcano in the world at its centre. Volcán Cotopaxi, at 19,350ft (5,900m) above sea level, offers excellent hiking and climbing opportunities along with a small museum, a llama herd and camping and picnicking facilities. There is also a good chance of spotting condors and deer. An overnight mountain hut on the snow line is available for those wishing to climb the volcano. The recommended months for climbing the volcano are December to April.

The Spanish founded the pretty colonial city of Cuenca in 1557. Despite being Ecuador's third largest city, it is quaint and colonial, and a favourite for photographers, with its cobblestone streets and 16th Century buildings in the old centre. It is a good place to spend a few days relaxing in the grand atmosphere. There are a number of museums and churches to see, and plazas, markets and cathedrals that can be visited during a leisurely ramble of the city. Nearby are the country's only major Inca ruins, the fortress of Ingapirca.

El Mitad del Mundo (The Middle of the World) is a purpose-built complex of museums and shops that was constructed to mark the equator, the line that gives the country its name. The 96-foot (30m) high Equator Monument is the focus of the square, topped by a brass sphere representing the world, from where a painted line stretches out on either side marking the equator that divides the world, and the complex, into northern and southern hemispheres. Also on the square is a set of weighing scales to illustrate the fact that one loses a bit of weight on the equator, being subject to a lesser force of gravitational attraction than usual. An anthropological museum has interesting displays of Ecuador's indigenous populations and their customs, and there is a scenic lookout at the top.

One of the few sights in the New City is the round-walled Casa de la Cultura. It houses a theatre, a cinema and two museums, the most impressive being the Museo del Banco Central. Ecuador's premiere museum, it contains an astonishing collection of religious art, Columbian ceramics and pre-Hispanic gold, and a huge archaeological repertoire. Of interest are the ceramics of the La Tolita society (600 BC to 400 AD), the Gigantes de Bahía, the Sala de Oro (an exhibiton filled with gold), and the Sala de Arte Colonial, packed with religious paintings and sculpture.

Ecuador is famous for its colourful, indigenous markets, and the best known of these is market day at Otavalo. It dates back to pre-Inca times, when jungle products were brought up from the lowlands to be traded for highland goods. Every Saturday is a wonderful sprawling mix of rich colour, smells and the sounds of energetic bargaining, an essential part of trade and an art in itself. Spread over three plazas and the surrounding streets, thousands of local otavaleñosin striking traditional dress sit among their wares, doing hard business with tourists and locals alike. The Plaza de los Ponchos is the main area for crafts like woollen blankets, bright ponchos and jerseys, colourful bags and woven tapestries. It is possible to buy almost anything from fresh fruit and rain sticks, to jewellery and dried lentils. First thing in the morning is the noisy animal market on the edge of town where llamas, pigs, horses and cows are bought and sold after furious haggling.

The square, also known as Plaza Grande, has always been the heart of the city, and as the hub of the old centre, it is the best place to sit and people-watch. Around the square are the Cathedral, the City Hall, the Government Palace and the Archbishop's Palace, the most notable municipal and religious buildings in the city. The cathedral, the oldest church in South America, is one of the city's most impressive historical and architectural sites. Both the Government Palace and the cathedral were scenes of shocking murders: in 1875 President García Moreno was murdered by machete, and in 1877, the Bishop of Quito was poisoned during a Good Friday Mass.

The Plaza San Francisco is a large cobbled square with the western side completely dominated by the enormous façade of the Iglesia de San Francisco and its belltower, and the Monastery of the same name. It is a peaceful place, without the shady benches full of people and the business of Plaza de la Independencia. Inside the church are chapels gilded in gold, splendid altars and many religious paintings and carvings produced by the Quito School. The Monastery holds some priceless examples of Spanish sculpture and art. It is the biggest religious compound in South America, with seven courtyards and buildings stretching behind the church, which only become evident once the visitor has ventured through the stone doorway of the main entrance.

Looking for something a bit different?  Check out our selection of cultural & adventure holidays or if you're looking to go it alone then see our selection of solo holidays.

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