Welcome to Quito, the city of eternal spring, bridge to Ecuador’s past, and your gateway city. Even if you are not much of a city person, this World Heritage Site has a certain charm to it. Nestled within the Avenue of the Volcanoes, the breathtaking backdrop blends with colonial architecture to create a truly unique surrounding. At 9,319 feet, Quito is Latin America’s second-highest capital, after La Paz in Bolivia, and the main hub for Ecuador’s tourism traffic. Visit Quito not only because it’s your gateway city, but because it is well worth spending a couple of days here. While running errands or searching among the hundreds of adventure-travel outfitters, spend some time enjoying the city’s delights.
Located along a narrow stretch of land in the northern Andean Sierras, Quito is the main hub between the coastal lowlands in the west, the mountains, and the upper Amazon Basin in the east. From here, it is possible to fly or drive to virtually anywhere on the mainland. The Andes Mountain Range geographically divides the country in two from north to south, and the Pan-American Highway, which passes through Quito, stretches along this line. Daily flights leave for just about every major city, including Guayaquil, Loja and Cuenca, to the Galápagos Islands and to Coca and Lago Agrio, deep in the jungle.
You might expect any place near the equator to be scorching hot. Quito, however, is surprisingly pleasant, with a year-round springlike climate. This is due primarily to its high altitude. The days are usually warm, with afternoon sprinkles or showers, and nights are cool enough to require a sweater.
Quito is laid out through the central Sierra Valley in a north-south direction and is nearly 22 miles long and 2½ miles wide. Pichincha Volcano forms the western edge of town and, to the east, a deep gorge and the Machángara River borders Quito. Beautiful colonial architecture still exists throughout “Old Town” Quito, a bustling center of activity, where most of the working class live. Modern Quito, or the “New City,” lies to the north of the old town. This part of the city is the center for commerce, shopping, embassies, and nightlife, as well as for all travel-related businesses. The airport and more affluent residential sections are also here.
A Brief History of Quito
Dating back to pre-Inca times, Quito is named after the peaceful Quitu people of the Sierras. With the arrival of the Spanish, Quito, which was at that time under the control of the Incas, was destroyed. The Spanish rebuilt it in 1534 and claimed it as seat of the royal crown, the Real Audencia de Quito. During the ensuing period of colonial rule, haciendas, which often sat on estates that stretched for hundreds of miles, were built throughout the countryside, and the indigenous people were forced to practice Catholicism and to serve the Spanish crown through forced labor, in the land they had previously owned. It wasn’t until the early 1800s that Ecuador regained its independence, with the definitive battle fought along the foothills of Pichincha Volcano, just outside of Quito.
The capital now boasts more than 1.2 million inhabitants, second only to Guayaquil. Quito is a major colonial city and continues to exude an air of European aristocracy.
Historically, there has been a major rift between Quito and her coastal counterpart, Guayaquil. “Money is made in Guayaquil and spent in Quito,” goes the saying that typifies this division. While Guayaquil represents international trade and the export economy, Quito is a center of administration, the Catholic Church and colonial history. The city also symbolizes the continuing friction between Ecuador and Peru, dating back to when the Inca empire was split between Atahualpa and his brother, Huascar, in Cuzco.
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