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The city of Quito, Ecuador

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A capital city high in the Andes, Quito is dramatically situated, hemmed in by mountain peaks whose greenery is concealed by gray afternoon mist. Modern apartment buildings and modest concrete homes creep partway up their slopes and busy commercial thoroughfares lined with shops and choked with traffic turn into subdued neighborhoods on Sundays. Warm and relaxed, traditional Ecuadorian Sierra culture – overflowing market stands, shamanistic healers, fourth-generation hatmakers – mix with a vibrant and sophisticated culinary and nightlife scene.

The city’s crown jewel is its ‘Old Town,’ a Unesco World Heritage Site packed with colonial monuments and architectural treasures. No sterile museum mile, everyday life pulses along its handsomely restored blocks with 17th-century facades, picturesque plazas and magnificent art-filled churches. Travelers, and many locals too, head to the ‘gringolandia’ of the Mariscal, a compact area of guesthouses, travel agencies, ethnic eateries and teeming bars.

With a rich pre-Colombian history, Ecuador’s capital was founded on the ruins of an Incan city but offers everything a modern traveller might need. It remains the least-altered historic centre in Latin America and has been designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Quito’s important sites include baroque gems like San Francisco and Santo Domingo monasteries, as well as La Compañía church and college. This huge city sprawls across a breathtaking Andean valley surrounded by volcanic peaks.

For the fifth year in a row, International Living has chosen Ecuador as the #1 retirement destination in the world. And for good reason. You can read all about it here.

Why do we love Quito, Ecuador? The sweet-natured people… the extraordinary weather… the gorgeous scenery… the great restaurants, shopping, the first-class infrastructure and services… and, of course, the affordability…

On a clear summer day in Quito, in fact, you’ll see the snow-topped Antisana, Cotopaxi and Cayambe volcanoes looming over the city. (That’s the way it appears, but they’re actually some distance away.)

Of course, when we use the word “summer” it means something different here than it does back home. In Ecuador there are only two seasons: summer—or the dry season—and winter, our rainy season. It’s hard to decide which we like best…the crisp, sunny days of summer or the cool, fog-enshrouded evenings of “winter.” In either case, average temperatures hover around 75 degrees during the day and 45 or so at night…every day.

If you only have one day in Quito, spend it in Old Town, the first-ever locale in the world to be designated a UNESCO World Heritage site. Covering more than 800 acres, this is the largest historic center in the Americas, with an over-abundance of ancient thick-walled, tile-roofed colonial buildings, churches, museums, and more. We never get tired of exploring the gold-gilded La Compañia de Jesus Church and the neo-gothic Basilica del Voto Nacional adorned with animals native to Ecuador instead of gargoyles. We dare you to climb to the top of its bell tower…

Art lovers, go directly to the Bellavista neighborhood to the former home of famous Ecuadorian painter Oswaldo Guayasamín and one of the city’s most impressive art museums, the Capilla del Hombre, dedicated to the indigenous and exploited people of Latin America. Maybe it’s voyeuristic, but we always love snooping around in an artist’s studio and this one doesn’t disappoint. The museum itself, with its large-format murals, is hauntingly impressive.

Shoppers will love La Mariscal, also called “Gringolandia” because of the hordes of tourists and backpacker hotels here. Plaza Quinde, at the intersection of Calles Reina Victoria and Foch, is our favorite place to settle in with a cocktail at an outdoor cafe and do some serious people watching. This is also the place to satisfy your shopping lust. Take a few bucks (that’s all you’ll need) and poke into the handicraft shops lining Avenida Amazonas or head for the large artisan mercado at the corner of Reina Victoria and Jorge Washington Streets. You’ll find carved items, ponchos, sweaters, scarves, rugs, ceramics, gourds, textiles of all kinds, and my weakness…artisan chocolate.

We could go on and on… If you take away one thing from this, let it be: Quito isn’t a place to pass through enroute to somewhere else. It’s a fabulous, grows-on-you destination and well worth your time to discover its many Old- and New-World charms.

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