Located in the province of Pichincha, the city of Quito, from where it is but a short travel to the other towns, makes for an excellent base to explore the country. Proudly the first city in the world to be declared a World Heritage Site in 1978, this city, with its mountains, wonderful spring-like climate and several snow-capped volcanoes standing majestically in the distance, is undoubtedly one of South America’s most beautiful capitals.
Quito once served as the northern half of the Inca empire before it was deliberately destroyed by Inca General Rumiñahui, its rubble built up not soon after the Spanish successfully conquered the country in 1543. It is generally considered to be divided into three parts or districts.
The mainly industrial South is where you will find the most inhabitants as the primary residential area of the working class.
Although not geographically the real “center” of the city, Centro Histórico or the Old City (downtown) is the sector from which Quito originated. You will find colonial houses, 87 churches, plazas, government buildings, and convents and monasteries—all extraordinary examples of the Baroque School of Quito, a fusion of European and indigenous art; the breathtaking La Compañía, “Quito’s Sistine Chapel,” a pure example of the school and perhaps the richest church in South America with its seven-tons-of-gold interior—in addition to the museums, theaters, restaurants, cafés, shops and art galleries. Founded on the ruins of the once thriving Inca city, Quito’s extraordinary colonial center is the largest in South America.
The North is where you will find Quito’s most modern flourishes. High-rises, affluent residential areas, a financial district and shopping centers plus its own share of museums and art galleries, in addition to a sophisticated culinary and vibrant nightlife scene. The highly-touristic La Mariscal boasts a wealth of hotels, internet cafés, and shops while Avenida Amazonas is the place to shop for high-quality souvenirs. For outdoor lovers, there are several parks to be visited such as Parque Metropolitano, South America’s largest urban park, which is a great place to mountain bike, enjoy a picnic or walk, or admire the various sculptures on display, as well as an opportunity for a beautiful view of Cotopaxi, one of the highest active volcanoes in the world.