Surrounded by the glowering, snow-covered volcanoes of Ecuador’s Andean highlands, Quito is one of the world’s highest capitals, filling the Guayllabamba River valley at nearly 10,000 feet above sea level. Quiteños have adapted to the altitude, but for newcomers the elevation takes some getting used to. A good start is aimlessly wandering the narrow cobbled streets and admiring the beautifully restored colonial and independence-era plazas, churches, theaters and museums of the Centro Histórico -- the largest historical district in the New World -- and then savoring popular local specialties like tallarin (noodles mixed with chicken or beef) and ceviche (fresh, lime-marinated seafood) at the city’s abundant restaurants or terrace cafés.
Nestled at the foot of snow-capped Pichincha, a 9,220-foot high volcano, Ecuador's capital, with its year-round, spring-like climate, rich history and old colonial town, is one of Latin America's most beautiful cities.
Named for the peaceful Quitu Indians, Quito was an important Inca city until the Spanish conquistadors razed it in the late 15th century. Sebastian de Benalcazar founded the present capital on the ruins of the Inca city in 1534, building churches, convents and palaces in the exuberant style of the Latin American baroque.
Quito's old town is so fabulous that in 1978, UNESCO named it a World Cultural Heritage Site.
Must-see places include the 16th-century Monastery of San Francisco and the historic alley of La Ronda - the most romantic slice of colonial Quito.
Home to two universities and numerous concert halls, theaters and museums, Quito boasts a lively cultural and arts scene. Teatro Nacional Sucre, the oldest of Quito's cultural hotspots, hosts concerts by the National Symphony and the spectacular Ballet Folklorico.
To the south of Quito stretches the lush Avenue of the Volcanoes, flanked by two parallel mountain ranges containing nine of Ecuador's 10 highest peaks and some of the country's most spectacular scenery.
The classic excursion from Quito is a short hop north for Otavelo's famous textile market at Poncho Plaza. A maze of colors and textures, the market dates from pre-Inca times.