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The capital city of Ecuador is the best-preserved city center in Latin America, which is how Old Town Quito earned its rank as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Quito is a scenic lens into the South American past, offering rich Quiteño culture and insight into the Ecuadorian way of life. Sitting more than 9,000 feet above sea level, surrounded by the Andes mountains, Quito is the highest-altitude capital in the world—and the closest to zero latitude. Here’s how you can spend a perfect day of sight-seeing in Quito, Ecuador.
8:30 a.m. Start your day at Quito’s most famous lookout: Cruz Loma, at 13,000 feet above sea level. You’ll take an aerial tram (teleférico) through the Andes to Cruz Loma. The cable car, called TelefériQo, opens at 8 a.m. Friday through Monday and at 9 a.m. on Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday. You can purchase tickets on site just before boarding the tram—tickets are no more than $10, though prices vary by patron age. The scenic ride to Cruz Loma takes about 15 minutes. Most tourists opt to just linger at the top enjoying the view, though the adventurous traveler can use Cruz Loma as a starting point for an Andes hike.
10 a.m. Take a relaxing breakfast at one of the city’s most delightful coffee shops. El Cafeto is nestled within San Agustin convent in Old Town. The coffee is excellent—try an Americano with cardamom. (Pro-tip for the non-coffee drinker: their hot chocolate is made with Ecuadorian cacao.) Grab a full Ecuadorian breakfast (it won’t cost you much more than $5) or a quick pastry while marveling at El Cafeto’s frescoed ceilings or enjoying their patio.
11:30 a.m. El Cafeto is just around the corner from Plaza Grande, or La Plaza de Independencia, Quito’s 16th-century main square. Four significant buildings line the plaza—the Archbishop’s Palace, Carondelet Palace, City Hall, and the Cathedral de Quito. You can enter the cathedral from 6 a.m. to 10 a.m. (Monday to Saturday) to see a collection of art from the Quito School. All are welcome to step into the Carondelet Palace, which showcases beautiful Spanish-Moorish architecture and a 1966 Guayasamín mural.
1 p.m. On the second floor of the National Theatre (Teatro Sucre) in Old Town Quito, you’ll find Theatrum Restaurant and Wine Bar. A popular dinner spot, they’re actually open for lunch from noon to 3 p.m., a perfect time to grab ceviche and a glass of wine. Theatrum Restaurant and Wine Bar boasts a cellar of more than 1,000 bottles and serves fresh fish and seafood complemented by local Andean vegetables. Try their ceviche and la fritada quiteña, a Quito-style slow-cooked pork.
3 p.m. Take an afternoon stroll on La Ronda, or Calle Morales, one of Quito’s oldest and most famous streets. It’s known as the birthplace for the artistic and bohemian culture of Quito, and though you’ll encounter fewer wandering troubadours these days, La Ronda is still the cultural heartbeat of Old Town. On your walk through La Ronda, take a mini art tour, stopping at their four best-known art galleries and design spaces. First, visit the studio dedicated to the late Gonzalo Endara Crow’s work—an Ecuadorian artist with worldwide recognition. Continuing the focus on notable Ecuadorian artists, next visit the Guayasamín Foundation, which celebrates Oswaldo Guayasamín’s life. Next, stop into Escuela Quiteña (the Quito School of Art) for a taste of Quito’s baroque colonial flair. Finally, seek out a Tigua folk art store; Tigua is a town high in the Andes known for its mountainscape paintings and unique handmade crafts.
5 p.m. Grab 100 percent Ecuadorian ice cream right on La Ronda. While, of course, the must-visit streets abroad—like Las Ramblas in Barcelona—often sell mediocre food at an upcharge, you can generally find delicious and hyper-local fare if you know where to look. One of the La Ronda gems is Dulce Placer—with a second-floor balcony, you’re set away from the crowds here. Dulce Placer serves 500 flavors of ice cream, all made entirely with natural ingredients sourced from Ecuador. (They also pull a good shot of espresso if you need a more caffeine-heavy pick-me-up.)
6 p.m. Pay a quick visit to the Virgin of Quito, or Virgen de El Panecillo, the tallest depiction of the Virgin Mary with wings. Including the base, the statue stands at 135 feet and is made of 7,400 aluminum blocks. When the statue was unveiled in 1975, it claimed quite a few superfluous titles: the tallest aluminum statue in the world, the tallest statue in Ecuador, and one of the tallest in South America (standing 10 feet taller than Brazil’s Christ the Redeemer).
8:00 p.m. Have dinner and watch the sunset over the city at Cafe Mosaico. With the “best view in Quito” and live music on Friday and Saturday nights starting at 8:30 p.m., Cafe Mosaico is the perfect dinner spot if you only have 24 hours in Quito. Their menu is primarily American, Mediterranean, and Ecuadorian—and no matter what time of day you go, you must try their coffee. From the restaurant’s Itchimbía hill vantage point, you can see Old Town and Virgen de El Panecillo.
Where to stay
Casa Gangotena is a boutique hotel in Old Town featuring neoclassical, Art Deco, and Art Nouveau accents, and an American Express Fine Hotels & Resorts property. The mansion originally belonged to the city’s high-society Gangotena family. Now transformed into a luxurious but authentically Ecuadorian-feeling hotel, the property is walking distance to Old Town’s best attractions and has a stunning third-floor terrace with views of the city and the Andes.