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As a convenient gateway to the Galapagos Islands and the Amazon jungle, tourists are well versed in the fact that Ecuador is a land rich in natural wonders. However, the country is more than its landscapes and animal wildlife. If you can tear yourself away from the flora and fauna you'll find cities brimming with fascinating culture, intriguing architecture and a superb restaurant scene to rival the best that the continent has to offer.
One of these urban centres is Quito, the highest altitude capital city in the world. Nestled 2,850 metres above sea level in the mountains of northern of Ecuador, the city is home to an array of stunning historical attractions that offer a three-dimensional snapshot of the traditional Ecuadorian way of life. You'll want to spend at least a couple days here absorbing all that the city has to offer. Here's our suggested itinerary of how to spend two days in Quito.
Quito is famous the world over for its beautifully preserved historical heart, known by most simply as "old town," which was one of the first sites to ever be declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site way back in 1978. The area is crisscrossed with a warren of narrow alleys that are just begging to be explored - from bustling plazas to time-worn churches, who knows where they may lead. Spend your first morning in the city wandering the streets and be sure to pay a visit to Iglesia de La Compania de Jesus, or Church of the Society of Jesus. This awe-inspiring building dates back to the 16th century and is today regarded as one of the best examples of Spanish baroque architecture in all of South America.
In the afternoon, take a quick 30 minute drive north of Quito and you'll find yourself in Mitad Del Mundo and torn between two worlds - or hemispheres, as the case may be. This patch of land is a popular attraction as it rests right on the equator, allowing you to set one foot in the northern hemisphere and one in the southern. There are a number of little science experiments that show the effects of being on the equator - we're not sure how legitimate these displays are, but they're interesting and fun nonetheless.
It's time to refuel in style after a hard day of holidaying. When it comes to dining options in Quito you're spoilt for choice, but our favourite place for dinner has got to be Urko. This classy restaurant uses fresh local ingredients to create traditional Ecuadorian cuisine with a modern, edgy twist. The dishes come beautifully presented and are simply delicious.
Set your alarm clock early - you're going to the markets. Situated a couple of hours from the centre of Quito, the Otavalo markets is one of the largest and most famous bazaars in all of South America. They run seven days a week, but Saturday is undoubtedly the busiest, with hordes of vendors selling everything from arts and crafts to animals, textiles and fresh produce. Revel in the chaos and do your best to not get lost.
After the market madness, it's time to unwind back in Quito with a trip into the mind of Oswaldo Guayasamín, one of the country's most celebrated artists. At the Fundación Guayasamín Museum you'll discover a superb collection of the artist's paintings and sculptures, which are famous for the powerful sense of emotion they express.
Leave Quito on a high note with a visit to Calle La Ronda, a narrow street in the city's old town. By day, this sleepy lane is unremarkable, but at night La Ronda really comes to life, with a plethora of restaurants offering a variety of local and international food. After dinner, grab a cocktail at one of the nearby hole-in-the-wall bars and get your feet tapping to the live music that fills the street every night of the week.
Uncover the Old Town charm of Quito.
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