Don’t let its equatorial location fool you: Quito sits so high in the snowcapped Andes (9,350 feet above sea level) that the weather’s generally cool and pleasant year round. The Ecuadoran capital has plenty to delight visitors, from a spruced-up historic center, one of the largest in Latin America, to innovative restaurants and museums. And after a short drive you can find yourself zip lining through a cloud forest, shopping for artisanal crafts or, yes, testing your footing on the equator itself.
Head straight for Old Town’s cobblestoned streets, grand plazas and gilded churches, notably La Compañía de Jesús. It’s one of Quito’s most charming neighborhoods, restored over about 10 years and equally popular with residents as with tourists. Join the locals for a stroll along La Ronda, which is lined with boutiques and cafés, and, perhaps, for a round of canelazo, a cinnamon-spiked warm rum cocktail. Sample more authentic flavors at nearby Casa Gangotena, an art deco mansion that’s been converted into a hotel with a fantastic restaurant. The tasting menu includes red snapper ceviche, llama spring rolls and prawns with green plantains. While chef Andrés Dávila is a native quiteño, Peruvians are behind some of the city’s most exciting cooking. Take Alexander Lau, a Peruvian of Chinese-Italian heritage who opened hot spot Lua in 2013. As for the art scene, it runs the gamut from the pre-Columbian, in a 17th-century home at Casa del Alabado, to emerging artists on view at No Lugar and the Centro de Arte Contemporáneo. Still, for many visitors the most indelible image may be the panorama of the capital and its surrounding volcanoes from the Teleférico cable car.
The area around Quito offers a variety of sights that can be seen in time to get you back to the capital for dinner. Otavalo’s centuries-old textile market draws shoppers with its stacks of colorful alpaca blankets, scarves and belts. Metropolitan Touring offers private trips with a guide, a driver, lunch at Hacienda Pinsaqui and a stop at Peguche, where villagers practice traditional weaving in their homes. Birders will want to flock to Mindo Cloud Forest, a mist-shrouded 35,000-acre wonderland with 400-plus documented species—look out for the toucans and the golden-headed quetzals—as well as a butterfly center and waterfalls. Mindo Canopy Adventure can hook you up for an adrenaline-pumping zip-line ride. Then there are the bragging rights (and goofy photo ops) that come with straddling the equator. In fact, you can walk the line at two sites: the GPS-approved Museo de Sitio Intiñan and, misguidedly several hundred feet to the south, the Ciudad Mitad del Mundo, which predates the Intiñan. Both have no shortage of exhibits and balancing tricks that play up the effect of zero latitude.
Casa del Alabado: Calle Cuenca N1-41; 011-593-2-228-0940
Casa Gangotena: Bolivar Oe6-41 y Cuenca; 011-593-2-400-8000; casagangotena.com
Centro de Arte Contemporáneo: Calles Luis Dávila y Venezuela; 011-593-2-398-8800; centrodeartecontemporaneo.gob.ec
Ciudad Mitad del Mundo: Pichincha; 011-539-2-239-4803; quito.com.ec
La Compañía de Jesús: García Moreno y Sucre; 011-593-2-258-4175; fundacioniglesiadelacompania.org.ec
Lua: Pontevedra N24-422 y Francisco Salazar; 011-593-2-511-2570; luarestaurante.com
Metropolitan Touring: metropolitan-touring.com
Mindo Canopy Adventure: t1000289.ferozo.com
Mindo Cloud Forest: mindocloudforest.org
Museo de Sitio Intiñan: museointinan.com.ec
No Lugar Arte Contemporáneo: Gabriel García Moreno N9-87 y Oriente; nolugar.org
NOTE: Information may have changed since publication. Please confirm key details before planning your trip.