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Great Heights: Your Guide to Quito, Ecuador

Elevate your vacation with a stop in this sprawling, lively capital city with breathtaking views and amazing food

The mountainous terrain and sprawling city of Quito, Ecuador

The air is thinner up here in the Andes, 2,800 metres above sea level, and the mountainous terrain that hugs the sprawling city of Quito is spectacular.

Central Quito is made up of colonial Old Town and a more modern centre, La Mariscal. Plan to stay somewhere in the middle so that you’re within walking distance of both. Parque El Ejido is a great reference point. Bicycle paths weave through the park and huge wooden play structures are scattered everywhere. On weekends, merchants and artisans sell colourful handmade crafts.

One of your first stops should be La Basílica del Voto Nacional, not for its neo-Gothic architecture, which is beautiful, but for the view. After climbing the many steps, you’ll reach the first amazing lookout. This is only the beginning. Behind is a narrow wooden pathway that leads to a ladder up to another tower and from there—for the brave—a metal staircase that takes you to the very top.

The narrow streets of Old Town, lined with bright Spanish colonial buildings, are steep; locals on bikes shoot down the cobblestoned roads fearlessly and those going up huff and puff with firm dedication. In the many plazas of this UNESCO World Heritage site, people gather for performers, tourists lounge on patios and locals sell sweets, fruits and art.

Make your way to Parque La Carolina, a huge green space where you can paddleboat under bridges and willow trees. Hidden in the middle, you’ll find the Botanical Gardens, full of endemic tropical flora, carnivorous plants and an impressive collection of orchids. The intricacy, colours and spectrum of these delicate flowers will amaze you.

Plan to spend your evening in La Mariscal. Plaza Foch, a tourist magnet, is alive with people, patios and nightclubs. Along the surrounding streets, you’ll find restaurants and bars, bohemian cafés and boutiques selling the country’s world-renowned chocolate and coffees. For traditional Ecuadorian cuisine—fried yuccas, fresh ceviches and beef and seafood platters—try Achiote. Start with soup—Ecuadorians love their soup. Opt for the traditional sancocho quiteño, made with corn, plantains and beef, or go for the guinea pig, an Andean delicacy.

Once you’ve acclimatized to the altitude, ride the Teleférico, a gondola that takes you up to the looming Volcán Pichincha. After a slow and steady climb, you’re let off in another world above the clouds, and you finally grasp the expansive reach of this city. Breathtaking.