Dramatically located at an altitude of 2.850 metres and surrounded by the imposing mountainous terrain of the Andes, Quito the capital of Ecuador is considered to be one of the cities with the highest altitude in the world.  Known in the past as San Francisco del Quito, this capital city features an extraordinary historical city centre boasting an interesting fusion of European and indigenous art which has not been altered by time. This city is also surrounded by wild nature waiting for to be explored.

One of the first things visitors witness during their stay in Ecuador’s capital is its historic centre. Declared an UNESCO World Heritage Site and also regarded as one of the largest unaltered historic cities in the Americas, it is definitely not to be missed. Take a stroll down the picturesque streets and experience the buzz of the lively local markets and admire the great abundance of restored churches, monasteries, mansions and museums.

While you are wandering through the streets of Quito, look upwards and you will most likely see the statue of Virgin Mary. This statue of Virgin Mary which bears wings and resembles an angel is perched at the top of a hill overlooking the city. The aluminium statue stands at 40 metres tall and is visible from almost all parts of the Quito.

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Very closely located to the historic city centre is Palacio de Gobierno, which is another sight worth visiting during your stay in Quito. This building is of great historical importance and has been involved in great moments of the county’s history, including the time when General Jose de San Martin declared the independence from Peru in 1821. Erected in 1535 and having gone through many transformations, it took its latest form in 1937 and has since served as the President’s residence. Located in the north side of the Plaza Mayor of Lima, the building exhibits neo-colonial and neo-baroque features which can be both appreciated by architects and art lovers. Visitors also have the opportunity to watch the ceremonial changing of the presidential guard which takes place every noon.

Museo Nacional del Banco is an impressive museum which invites visitors to discover the rich culture of the city and its evolution during the centuries. There is a wide range of artifacts, archaeological findings exhibited in various rooms.  First of all, visitors must see the collection of the work of arts originating from the pre-Colombian and Inca era and ending with contemporary art. The works of art are placed in chronological order, giving visitors the opportunity to experience how art trends evolved over the years. Other rooms such as the Golden Court and the Colonial Art Gallery feature gold items used for religious purposes by the local tribes, with exhibits dating from 1534 to 1820.

One of the oldest buildings of Quito and a beautiful sample of colonial architecture is the Inglesia de San Francisco. Built by a Franciscan missionary, this church was the first one built in the Americas and is one of the most impressive buildings in Quito. Inglesia de San Francisco hosts the famous 18th century sculpture of Virgin de Quito, which is the emblem of the city and enjoys great popularity among the locals. Visitors will also have the chance to admire the impressive, gold plated interior of the church, as well as the excellent featuring library.

Even though located about 26 km away from the city centre, the Middle of the World or Mitad del Mundo is a sight worth considering for a day trip. The Middle of the world is a massive trapezoidal monument made of concrete and iron, which has been constructed to honour the French scientists who calculated the equatorial line of the Earth. A spot at the top of the building offers an opportunity to marvel at the rural surroundings. Last but not least, this monument also features an Ethnography museum where visitors can learn about various ethnic groups and their activities as well as a Planetarium.

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Finally, if you want to complete the Quito experience and make the most out of the trip, you should not miss the opportunity to try delicious local dishes. Ecuadorian cuisine is diverse and mostly influenced by the three main geographical regions of the county, the Sierra, the Amazon and the Pacific coast. Some potential options could be Ceviche, a mix of seafood and shellfish usually marinated in lime juice, Llapingachos, pastries made of potato and served with pork, egg and avocado, and finally  Locro soup, a soup made of potato, avocado and cheese. Make sure you finish your culinary adventure with a glass of Aguardiente, a popular national drink made of sugar cane.

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Quito is a surprise for the visitor; even though mysteriously located in the mountains, it has a wide range of diverse cultural sights and places to be discovered. This city is an extraordinary example of how western and indigenous aspects of culture have merged and coexist harmoniously. It is an off-the-beaten-track destination not to be missed!

Georgina Trimis

Featured Images by Scipio. Embedded images courtesy of A_E_P Benjamin Jakabek and Chris Ford via Flickr 

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