QUITO AND AROUND
Best for: culture, landscapes, markets, wildlife
DURATION: 7–10 days ROUTE: Quito • Otavalo • Mindo • Papallacta WHY GO? To binge on colonial architecture and daytime and nighttime culture; to straddle two hemispheres and to visit markets, cloud forest and hot springs. WHEN TO GO? All year; rainy season Oct to May Quito, one of UNESCO’S first ever World Heritage Sites, has a split personality. The Centro Histórico’s steep, narrow streets link colonial churches, museums, markets and grand houses, several of which have been converted into hotels. Calle La Ronda is typical: a maze of craft shops by day and buzzing with nightlife after dark. On the other hand, modern Quito, a bus or taxi ride away, is the business, hotel and entertainment quarter and stretches north almost to the Mitad del Mundo, a monument marking the equator.
Two hours north, Otavalo is home to Ecuador’s premier market. Every day the Plaza de Ponchos fills with stalls selling textiles and other crafts – Saturdays are normally busiest. It’s worth spending three or four days in the area to visit weavers’ villages, lakes and the northern highlands.
To the north-west of Quito lies the active Pichincha Volcano. From the city, the Telefériqo cable car takes you up to the 4,000m Cruz Loma viewpoint, while the western flanks are a bird-rich cloud forest. You can overnight in wildlifeoriented or community-based lodges, or stay a few days in the little town of Mindo, a playground for Quiteños at weekends but quiet the rest of the week.
East of Quito are the Papallacta thermal springs, with public pools and an exclusive spa and hotel. It makes a good day trip, but also a relaxing base for the start or end of your Ecuadorian journey.
Twilight zone Quito beds down for the night; (top) the bustling market at Saquisilí; (left) traditional cucuruchos take part in a Quito Holy Week procession