Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Top 5 Reasons to Visit Quito, Ecuador by Guest Blogger, Mark Chesnut

Mark Chesnut
Editor of LatinFlyer.com

The mountains around Quito, Ecuador, make for dramatic scenery.
It’s not the largest city in Ecuador (Guayaquil holds that title), but Quito is the nation’s capital, and undoubtedly the most popular destination with international travelers. It’s no wonder that this beautiful, fascinating destination made it onto LatinFlyer’s list of 6 Hot Cities in Latin America for 2014 (and the brand-new Mariscal Sucre International Airport might make it even easier to find more flights from more destinations). 

From the historic center to the funky nightlife and fantastic side trips, this high-altitude metropolis packs in a lot of possibilities. During my most recent visit (which was far too short and interspersed with jaunts to the historic city of Cuenca as well as a lovely cloud forest reserve), I came up with these top 5 reasons to visit Quito, Ecuador:

1. The Historic Center: Quito’s historic city center is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, dotted with impressive examples of colonial-era architecture. Strolling around here is like visiting an open-air museum. Don’t miss Plaza San Francisco, which is dominated by the 16th-century Iglesia de San Francisco, and the nearby Compañía de Jesús, a supremely baroque Jesuit church built between 1605 and 1765, with one of the most stunning interiors of any religious site in South America. You can stop for lunch at the lovely courtyard at Patio Andaluz, a historic hotel, or check in for the night at Casa Gangotena, a luxury hotel set in a historic building overlooking Plaza San Francisco.

Historic churches are part of the dramatic skyline in Quito
2. The Museums: Quito is dotted with cultural institutions both large and small, showcasing everything from ancient history to modern art. Among the most interesting museums is Fundación Guayasamín, which displays the dramatic work and art collections of Oswaldo Guayasamín, one of the nation’s best-known artists. You can learn about Ecuador’s cultural and natural history at the Museo Nacional de Banco Central del Ecuador (National Museum of the Central Bank of Ecuador), while the Museo Mindalae, housed in an eye-catching structure, highlights the nation’s rich heritage of arts and crafts.

3. The Photo Opportunities: With all the historic architecture and dramatic landscapes, your camera won’t get much of a rest in Quito. For the best views of the city overall, head up to the Virgen del Panecillo, which is something like Quito’s version of Rio de Janeiro‘s Christ the Redeemer. The 148-foot Virgen de Quito statue (an enlarged recreation of a virgin statue that sits in San Francisco church) looks over the hillside, which offers a good overview of the city. For additional great views, head to El Ventanal, an elegant hill-top restaurant with floor-to-ceiling windows that provide stunning panoramic vistas of the city.

Compania de Jesus is an ornate Jesuit Church in Quito, Ecuador
4. Modern Quito: Ecuador’s capital may be historic, but that doesn’t mean it doesn’t have a lively, modern side. The newer part of the city is a great place to refuel, have fun and enjoy the nightlife while taking breaks from the historic and natural exploration. The neighborhood called Mariscal is square one for nightlife. Here, you can stroll along Plaza Foch, a small town square where you’ll find Q, a lively restaurant and bar that’s part of the Nü House Hotel, while La Naranjilla Mecánica (The Clockwork Orange) is a bar that hosts exhibits of original contemporary artwork, and gay clubs like Matrioshka and Bohemio cater to LGBT travelers and locals. To be close to Quito’s creative nightlife while still enjoying lots of amenities and good proximity to the historic center, choose a hotel such as the Hilton Colon Quito (which is where I stayed during my last visit; read my full review here).

5. The Side Trips: Quito has lots to offer, but you should definitely allow enough time for side trips to the many interesting attractions and activities outside the city. The Mitad del Mundo (Middle of the Earth) — where the equator crosses our planet — is a touristy place that’s fun for a quick photo, since you can supposedly plant one foot in both the northern and southern hemispheres, simultaneously. The crafts market at Otavalo is another must-see for many first-time visitors to Ecuador, while the historic haciendas offer unique accommodations on elegant former estates, as well as activities like horseback riding and bird watching amid dramatically beautiful scenery. Bird watching is also a big draw at Bellavista Cloud Forest Reserve & Lodge, where I stayed during my most recent visit. Plus, of course, the historic city of Cuenca is just a quick plane ride away.

Guest Blogger Mark Chesnut is the Editor of LatinFlyer.com - his goal is to inspire and encourage more rewarding travel to and within Latin America. Mark invites you to follow him on Facebook, Twitter or follow the LatinFlyer Magazine Photostream on Flickr.

Images: Mark Chesnut

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