Quito: journey to the center of the Earth

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The capital of Ecuador has volcanoes, museums, a charming historic center and great restaurants. On your next trip, explore our four-day itinerary in the city

 

Squeezed in between two mountain ranges, Quito sprawls throughout a long and narrow valley. You’d be wrong to assume the cliché of high temperatures close to the equator is true – at an altitude of 9,190 feet [2,800 m], the weather forecast is never capable of predicting what the next day will be like in the capital, and at night, the cold mountain winds blow through the city. Quito has squeaky clean streets, heavy traffic and blue sky and is surrounded by volcanoes.

 

Day 1

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9 a.m. Cable car

Any wrong turn in Quito will lead you to one of the many overlooks, but you’ll find the most amazing view atop the 13,450-foot [4,100 m] tall Pichincha Volcano. Arrive early to the cable car and embark on the first gondola to avoid the crowds and too many clouds. Up top, you’ll feel closer to the sky than the ground. 

Av. La Gasca y Occidental

 

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1 p.m. Olga Fisch

After lunch, head to this store/museum, where a Jewish Hungarian woman who was an expert in Ecuadorian popular art used to live. The place has lovely décor items and an exhibition of typical costumes and pre-Columbian art.

Av. Colon E10-53 y Caamano

 

4 p.m. Republica del Cacao

On the sidewalk you can smell the inebriant aroma of chocolate coming from this store. Republica del Cacao is an ode to the bean that has been used in the Ecuadorian Amazon for thousands of years. Customers can participate in a free tasting session/class to decide what kind they want to purchase.

Reina Victoria y Joaquin Pinto / Morales OE1 – 166 y Guayaquil

 

Day 2

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8 a.m. Historic center

La Ronda, the city's oldest street, is still lined with balconies where young ladies used to watch passersby. Atop the hill stands the luxurious Iglesia de la Compañía (Garcia Moreno y Sucre), where gold covers the inside of the church up to the ceiling, in a combination of baroque and mudéjar, also found in Muslim mosques. Head on down García Moreno until you reach the Plaza de la Independencia, where the Carondelet Palace (government headquarters), city hall, the Metropolitan Cathedral and the Plaza Grande Hotel are located.

 

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1 p.m. Restaurant Casa Gangotena

Located inside the hotel of the same name, the restaurant is decorated with lilies and pastel colors, and most of the ingredients used by chef Andrés Dávila – who says he’s learned several recipes from diners’ grandmothers – come from neighboring suppliers. His proposal is to create a truly Ecuadorian haute cuisine. The menu has such dishes as corvina with volcanic manioc, peanut sauce with green bananas and arugula pesto. 

Bolivar Oe6-41 y Cuenca

 

3 p.m. Centro de Arte Contemporáneo

Built in 1900 to serve as a hospital for tuberculosis patients, the building was later turned into a barracks during a popular uprising, then used as a shelter for immigrants until it was converted into a museum in 2008. Featuring excellent curatorship, the temporary exhibits there depict the paths that art is taking in Ecuador.

Montevideo y Luis Dávila

 

6 p.m. Parque Itchimbia

Check the clouds’ movement during the day and, if the sun's path across the horizon is clear, hurry to Parque Itchimbia to see the sunset. The Crystal Palace, a German iron structure from the 19th century, is located atop the hill. There you can watch the city light up at night – pay special attention to Basílica del Voto Nacional.

Iquique y Jose Maria Aguirre

 

Day 3

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10 a.m. Cotopaxi

To get to the foot of the volcano, travelers need to take the mythic Pan-American Highway, which connects Colombia to Ushuaia, Argentina. The highway stretches along a corridor between two parts of the Andes. Cotopaxi has been active since 2015, which basically consists of steaming top, ash emissions and sulfur smell, but the last time it erupted was in 1877 – still, climbing it is prohibited until it calms down. But that's okay – merely standing in front and viewing its 19,350-foot [5,897 m] height is sublime. On the dry vegetation, sit on a rock and admire the view. 

 

2 p.m. Laguna Limpiopungo

The endless clicking of cameras makes the runway over the lagoon seem like a fashion show. Here, the attention isn't on what happens above it, but rather on the artistic composition with the volcano topping off the scenery. The fauna includes everything from ducks to pumas and the giant, endangered Andean condor. 

 

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2 p.m. Hacienda La Cienega

On the way back to Quito, a quick detour leads to a lovely mansion. The thick walls and stone columns give away the Hacienda La Cienega's age: it was built in 1705 out of volcanic cement, and is now a hotel. You don't need to spend the night there to take a stroll around the inner gardens and see the chapel. A sample of Quito's colonial past.

Panamericana E-35 km 326, Lasso Cotopaxi

 

7 p.m. Restaurant Zazu

Chef Darwin Almeida's inspiration comes from popular heritage, but, to achieve excellence, he grows an organic garden and purchases fish from producers from the Galapagos Islands. Customers love his recipes, including the Cazuela de Langostines (made with langoustines and peanut sauce) and the dessert, a colada morada ice cream, made with the traditional beverage, prepared with liquid nitrogen. 

Mariano Aguilera 331 y La Pradera

 

Day 4

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9 a.m. Mercado Central

In this old building, with high ceilings and tile flooring, vendors scream and the fruits and flowers provide delicious aromas. A cup of morocho, a corn juice, will hold off your hunger for a long time. Also, try the mortiño, a typical fruit that has medicinal properties and looks like a shrunken blueberry.

Av Pichincha

 

12 p.m. Mitad del Mundo

Sorry to disappoint you, but the monument that marks the middle point of the world is not in the right place. But it’s not in the wrong place either. How’s it possible? The latitude 0° 0’ 0’’ is not a fixed line, but a 3.1-mile [5 km] wide strip. The line that separates the Northern and Southern hemispheres moves during the year according to the revolution of the Earth. A tower topped with a metallic globe was erected in honor of the French Geodesic Mission of 1736 there. They proved that the world was round and marked its midpoint there.

Manuel Cordova Galarza

 

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2 p.m. Museo Intiñan

Neighboring the monument, this private museum proposes such games as walking on a line with your eyes closed and trying to balance an egg over a nail. The task is easier in Ecuador due to the centrifugal force, which weakens the gravitational pull in the region and results in an instant diet – an average of 2.2 pounds [1 kg] of body mass disappears. The highlights in the museum are the sundials and the dials for agricultural purposes, which show how ancestral peoples counted time.

Manuel Cordova Galarza

 

6 p.m. La Floresta

Some of the best bars and restaurants in Quito are concentrated in this tree-lined residential neighborhood. Taking inspiration from Madrid, La Platea (Av. La Coruña E13121 y Francisco Salazar) is a hip plaza filled with food trucks. Nearby, you can end the night at the brewpub Santa Rosa (Andalucía N24-234 y Cordero), or head to BPM to listen to some electronic music (Diego de Almagro y Republica).

 

LATAM has direct flights to Quito departing from Guayaquil, Lima, Miami and 2 other destinations.