Colonial Quito: Captivating Capital City in the High Andes

Known officially as San Francisco del Quito (pop. 14.5mil), the Ecuadorian capital is located in the Andes mountains at an elevation of 2,850m above sea level. The name Quito originally comes from the pre-Columbian indigenous Quitu people who lived in the region from approximately 2000BCE, followed by the Cara and Inka cultures until the Spanish conquest of 1524.

Quito is situated in a valley overlooked by Pichincha volcano and Puengasi Ridge, the summit of which can be reached by cable-car for stunning panoramic views of the city below. Today the city is comprised of 3 main sections: the southern residential suburbs, the colonial center and the modern northern section. The latter is the commercial and economic hub of the country featuring glass-and-steel skyscrapers, luxury hotels, wide avenues and an excellent restaurant and bar scene.

Quito colonial center is one of the largest in Latin America, spanning 320Ha and in 1978 was the first region to be awarded UNESCO World Heritage status.

The city is home to the finest examples of the Baroque School of Quito architecture including the Jesuit Church of La Compañía. The interior of the church is spectacularly decorated with extensive gold leaf in a combination of indigenous, Spanish, Flemish and Moorish designs. The culmination is an extravagant altar featuring statues of the sainted founders of several monastic orders and the Holy Trinity.

The Plaza Principal, or Main Square, is flanked by the City Hall, Cathedral, Archbishop’s Palace and Government Palace. On Saturdays it is the scene of a dramatic changing-of-the-guard ceremony often attended by the Ecuadorian president.

With so much to offer, Quito deserves at least one full-day of exploration to take in her many sights.