Snow-capped volcanoes of Equador.
Mitad del Mundo: the middle of the world.
Quito is the geographical, political and historical centre of Ecuador. It sits in a fertile Andean valley flanked by mountains and snow-capped volcanoes.
Quito is the geographical, political and historical centre of Ecuador. It is just 22 kilometres from the equator. At an altitude of 2850m it is the second-highest capital in the world after La Paz, Bolivia.
Quito sits in a fertile Andean valley flanked by mountains and snow-capped volcanoes. The over-active Pichincha volcano erupted in 1999, showering the entire valley in ash so thick it looked like snow and caused the airport to be closed for three days.
In the 13th century Quito was the prosperous site of the kingdom of Quitus and became the northern capital of the Inca empire, but there are no Inca remains.
Quito is the gateway to some fantastic adventure activities. But many people suffer from altitude sickness when they arrive, so take it easy for the first few days.
Quito's old city is a World Heritage site which is strictly controlled. Its architecture has hardly changed since colonial days. The narrow cobblestone streets remain and buildings still have charming inner courtyards. The plazas are busy meeting places during the day and fill with visitors in the evenings. Plaza Santo Domingo is the site of Jose de Sucre's independence declaration.
New Quito is the social and commercial part of the capital, filled with students, business people and lots of tourists. It's a popular base for tourists travelling to the Andes, the jungle and Galapagos Islands. It is in new Quito that you will find museums, galleries and the Avenida Amazonas with its pavement cafes, boutiques and banks. Nightlife is enormous here. Bars, restaurants and nightclubs cater for the city’s residents and visitors.
Saquisili Market is considered the most important Indian market in Ecuador. Thursdays are when this quiet little place explodes. People come from all over, arriving on foot or donkey, wearing hats and ponchos in the style of their region, tempting tourists to buy. For sale are animals, flowers, vegetables, pottery, beads, tinware and weavings. The goods are irresistible and you should feel free to bargain.
Fifty kilometres south-east of Quito, along the Avenue of the Volcanoes, is Cotopaxi National Park, dominated by snow-capped Cotopaxi Volcano. This 6000m monster has erupted 50 times since 1738. Steam emission and several small earthquakes were recorded in 1975-76.
Most visitors go there to scale the icy volcano. Other highlights are the flower-filled highland plain surrounding the peak and a wonderful variety of wildlife, including the Andean condor, fox, spectacled bear, wild horses and white-tailed deer. In 1975 it was discovered that there were fewer than 10,000 llamas left and steps are being taken to nurture, preserve and increase the numbers.
Those keen to do the climb need ice-climbing gear. It is a good idea to go with a guide who is familiar with the peculiarities of the ascent and is certificated by the Ecuadorian Association of Mountain Guides. Climbs begin at 4800m. To ensure hard-packed snow you should depart at midnight.
The ascent takes six or seven hours, but the descent should take no more than three. It’s a good idea to tackle some of the smaller surrounding peaks before attempting the big one.
For something a little less adventurous, but certainly very popular, you can visit Mitad del Mundo, the middle of the world. Just 15-20 kilometres north of Quito is latitude 000, the equator. A monument was erected there in 1979 to celebrate Ecuadorian culture and history. Gravity has a weaker pull along the equator, so you will weigh four kilograms less.
There are plenty of places to stay in Quito. One of the oldest haciendas, La Cienega, is a colonial manor built in 1850. It is surrounded by 14 hectares of beautiful gardens and farmland and was the ancestral home of the de Maenza and Lasso families. The stone building has cobbled patios, Moorish fountains and superb paintings and furnishings. Four dining rooms are individually decorated and give splendid views of Cotopaxi.