Looking for a new and magical vacation spot to pass your long awaited holiday? Tired of the same old Greek islands and overpriced beaches of the Cote D’Azur? Having recently returned from my two-month teaching course in South America, there is one place I would recommend above all others – Ecuador’s historic capital – Quito. With a latitude of 0-0’-00””, it is one of the only places in the world where you can walk the fine equatorial line dividing North and South.
Located 2,800 meters above sea level, Quito is one of the highest official capitals in the world and the first to be protected under the UNESCO World Heritage site in 1978. The city boasts numerous architectural gems that cannot be missed for anyone itching for a new experience of culture, history, art and cuisine. The San Francisco Square, a part of the grand Historic District, is one of the biggest squares in Quito and lives and breathes an aura of the nation’s culture, religion and traditions. Made of volcanic rock, the square was once the area’s main market place, where traders from the sea, the jungle and the Andean fields came to sell their products. Today, one can stroll through the streets and observe the wonders of the San Francisco religious complex, and the La Casa del Alabado, a museum filled with pre-Columbian art and archaeological works of historical culture, before popping into one of the local “colaciones” to get a taste for Quito’s traditional sweets made of honey and peanuts.
While the city itself has much to offer in terms of culture and art, if you’re looking for a real challenge and adventure, you won’t be disappointed with the 4,784 meter hike to the Pichincha Volcano, which offers breathtaking views of the city from above and gives one an unmatched sense of self-accomplishment. Although beware, this trek is not for the weak-hearted and trekking at high altitudes is a slower process than at sea level. For those looking for a more laidback excursion, the Quito Teleférico, one of the highest aerial lifts in the world, takes you from 2,900 meters to 4,100 meters in 10 minutes, and allows you to enjoy the similarly beautiful views atop the Teleférico.
But Quito isn’t all history and high altitude hikes. Ecuador’s capital is a prime destination for food junkies such as myself, and the city offers a real taste of the country’s culinary diversity and fabulous tastes, which have been kept a secret for much too long. Quito’s colonial streets can be characterized by aisles of local produce – colorful spices, fresh fruits and beef delicacies, while its local restaurants provide spicy dishes and variations from all corners of the world thanks to its diverse ecosystem, a reason why the culinary traditions of Ecuador will soon rival the worldwide successes of other Latin American cuisines, including neighboring Peru. I personally recommend Casa Gangotena, located on historic Plaza de San Francisco, where they serve mouth watering mini tortillas with a variety of local hot sauces.
For those of us looking for late night entertainment and causal salsa dancing, Quito’s nightlife is everything a traveller can hope for. From the vibrant live music bar, El Pobre Diablo, to the Bungalow 6 festive dancing crowd, to Blues, where DJ’s spin electronic, rock and jazz beats till the early hours of the morning, one will continue to be awed by Quito’s after hours options and cocktail mixes. Following a night of debauchery, try out Mashpi ecolodge, a hidden glass luxury cocoon in the middle of the forest, the beauty of the landscape will blow any hangover away.
Overall, Quito remains for me one of Latin America’s hidden gems and a must visit on any travellers list. Whether you’re a history fanatic, an adrenaline junkie or simply looking for a new place to explore and fall in love with, Quito is your prime destination and soon to become a regional hub in South America.
Quito has already begun to leave its mark on the international sphere, with The National Geographic, Lonely Planet and trip advisor.com naming it as a top tourist destination in 2012 and 2013. Quito is also on the short list to become one of the New 7 Wonders cities in an international competition, promising to boost the already vibrant tourism industry and win the hearts and minds of travellers worldwide. Quito offers its own new, magnificent and cultural twist of old traditions and 21st century life, leaving any visitor bound to return for more.