Quito Ecuador

If you're picturing Quito as a typical modern capital and cultural hub with glass structures, government buildings, business executives, and tourists using the area as a base for countryside adventures, you're partly on track.

Quito has another flavor -- the visible presence of indegenas. You'll encounter Quichua-speaking women shopping in their traditional clothes with dozens of beads around their necks and children carried on their mother's backs in tightly wrapped blankets, as they are in remote rural areas. In contrast, you'll find a so-called Gringo area, where the tourists often hang out.

Many Quitenos reside in the the city's New Town, housing most of the tourists and business people. Others live in the colonial Old Town, with narrow streets, cobblestoned inner courtyards, and many plazas where residents conduct daily activities. In brief, you'll find an area that looks the way it did when Ecuador was a Spanish colony, and one with a huge cultural center depicting Ecuadorean art from the 16th century to the present.

You'll find that the New Town shines in its own way with gleaming buildings and massive museums such as The Fundacion Guayasamin, a sprawling complex high on a hill. The museum features the magnificent work of Oswaldo Guayasamin, whose images capture the political oppression, racism, poverty, and class division found in much of South America. While at this huge museum, you can relax in the spacious gardens and enjoy the gorgeous patio views.

Trying to take in the city's dazzling array of churches, monasteries, and convents will leave you dizzy, so single out the highlights such as the Basilica del Voto Nacional. It's perched on a small hill in Old Town, but visible from many parts of the city and close to New Town. A large, modern concrete structure, the Neo-Gothic church built in 1892 sports pinnacles, spires, parapets, buttresses, and arches. The gargoyles don't represent mythical creatures but are carved with images of real Ecuadorian fauna like monkeys and jaguars. A cafe offers magnificent city views.

Quito's year-long spring-like climate, with little variation (50-77 degrees farenheit) and glorious morning skies are a big part of the city's magic. You won't want to bypass it.

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