Quito was already an old city when the Spanish arrived in the early 1500s—and even when the Inca arrived prior to then, searching for the place where the sun rose at the same time every day. For centuries, it had been an ancient meeting point for any number of the various ethnic groups that populated the country back then, a virtual melting pot of hill tribes and low forest dwellers. It’s no surprise, then that Quito represents one of the most cultural and diverse cities in the Andes.
Quito’s municipal planning is based on centuries of sprawl—random and meandering. As such, it takes about an hour and a half to drive from one end of the city to another. However, the construction of a subway system recently began with optimistic opening projections slated for 2019.
Roughly the size of the greater LA area, around 30 miles long and 15 miles wide, Quito is massive. The city sits at the seat of the Pichincha volcano, which last erupted in 1999 (luckily, the ash from that explosion blew away from the city).
Quito today is broken up into the Old Town and the New Town, the former being the cultural and political center of the city, and the latter being the financial center. The Old Town is where the Spanish first began building up their series of monuments and basilicas, and now the area is known for its long, cobblestoned streets, museums, architecture and markets.
In 1978, Quito was named as UNESCO’s first World Heritage City, beating out any number of better-known Andean metropoles, let alone world icons like Rome and Paris. Its perfect blending of the old and new, and its dedication to preserving such a balance going into the future, means that Quito truly represents a chance to visit an ever-evolving city that maintains an authentic air.
Being on the equator, Quito boasts predictable weather, 12 hours of daily sunshine and temperatures between 50 and 80 degrees year round. There is a “wet” season from October through May, but rain during that time is fairly predictable as moist air comes in through the Andes, precipitating in the early afternoon with short, but intense, showers.
A few airlines, such as LATAM or TAME, run non-stop flights from New York and other major cities into Quito. More likely, however, is a connecting option that leads through either Miami, Panama City or Bogotá. The best options are overnight flights to Quito so that visitors arrive into the city very early on the official first day of their travels.
As beautiful as it is, Quito does not require long stays, especially since it is most often used as a jumping-off point for the Galapagos or the Amazon, which are both usually much higher priorities for limited time away. 1 or 2 nights is sufficient to see the city, sample the cuisine and move on away from the hub.
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