QUITO (Reuters) - Peppered with parks and crafts markets, Quito’s status as a UNESCO world heritage site and its sweeping Andean panoramas have made this highland city an up-and-coming tourist destination.
The main attractions of Quito, which caters for all tastes, are its colonial centre, magnificent churches, cobblestone streets and quaint squares.
Visitors can enjoy cycling on the growing network of paths, or a stroll in the massive La Carolina park or the Parque Metropolitano, a eucalyptus forest overlooking the city.
Quito is also an ideal destination for craft hunters, art lovers and those eager to discover the distinctive flavours of Andean cuisine.
6 p.m. - Board a cable car to climb to 13,500 feet (4,115 meters) for a bird’s eye view of this bowl-shaped city. Looming above is the summit of the Pichincha volcano, which belched ash as recently as 1999.
7 p.m. - Soak in colonial-era ambience with a drink outdoors at Tianguez, at the foot of twin-towered San Francisco monastery, whose facade recalls Spain’s Escorial.
8 p.m. - Dine at El Ventanal, which offers spectacular views of Quito’s colonial centre and an international menu that includes grilled octopus and fish carpaccio, as well as some local dishes including quinoa salad.
9:30 p.m. - Head to La Ronda, a cobblestoned, narrow walkway, festooned with red geraniums in vases fastened to wrought-iron balconies where you can party into the night or listen to live Ecuadorean music.
Enjoy a canelazo, a local beverage stirred in knee-high ceramic pots resting on fire-lit grills. Brewed from sugarcane-derived liquor, it is flavoured with cinnamon, lime and oranges.
8 a.m. - Head to Otavalo, one of the best known indigenous markets in Latin America, where you can buy hand-woven alpaca blankets and ponchos, or the typical fedora hats that indigenous peoples wear in the Andean highlands.
9:30 a.m. - Stop at the Cafe de la Vaca and order from its wide breakfast menu, which features fresh juices and eggs stewed with vegetables in a clay pot. The restaurant’s facilities include a souvenir shop and artificial lake and a playground.
1 p.m. - After you are done shopping in the market enjoy lunch in Hacienda Pinsaqui, a former colonial textile factory built in 1790. The beef steak is delicious and the trout fished in nearby lakes is also a good option. Take a walk in the fairytale gardens, which feature a mix of tropical and Andean plants, ponds, wooden benches and great mountain views. Or stay indoors and enjoy the warmth of the fireplaces.
2:30 p.m. - Buy some leather crafts in Cotacachi, only 10 minutes by road from Otavalo, where you will find a wide selection of jackets, bags and hats. Try the typical bizcochos, a type of breadsticks, with hot chocolate, or head to Cuicocha, a crater lake nearby, for the crisp air of the Andes and some outstanding views.
4 p.m. - With weekend traffic light and the newly revamped road, you can zip back by road to central Quito within 1.5 hours.
5:30 p.m. - Visit La Compania. Some guidebooks describe it as one of Latin America’s most beautiful churches. Walls gleam with gold leafed carvings under a windowed blue pastel dome. A vaulted nave is crisscrossed by countless Arabesque geometric shapes.
7 p.m. - Have a drink at the La Naranjilla Mecanica, an offbeat bistro with an art gallery and a designer shop. Enjoy the music while sipping your choice of drink from the cocktail menu.
9 p.m. - Check out El Pobre Diablo, a concert club which often showcases jazz bands and live Latin American music. The restaurant offers typical Ecuadorean dishes including fish with coconut sauce, the trademark dish of the Esmeraldas coastal region, or a earthy goat stew.
9 a.m. - Start the day with some exercise. Avenues from north to south are closed to traffic on Sunday morning and are taken over by hundreds of cyclists and joggers, offering a perfect opportunity to mingle with health conscious locals and to take in the fresh air of this high-altitude city.
11 a.m. - Make a stop at any of the local craft markets in La Mariscal, the outdoor stalls in El Ejido park, Santa Clara, or the newly built Mercado Artesanal Quitus, where you will find a wide array of handicrafts and souvenirs. There are also some interesting crafts shops in Avenida Amazonas and around the Plaza Foch
12:30 p.m. - The equator runs about 10 miles (16 kms)north of Quito. A 100-foot high (30-metre) monument claims to sit on the equator. Topped by a globe, it is the hub of a mini theme park called “Middle of the World.”
The 1736-1744 equatorial mission by French scientists is documented in a nearby pavilion. Its finding upheld Sir Isaac Newton’s assertion that the globe slightly bulged at its middle.
1 p.m. - Over 100 yards (meters) away, the Inti Nan museum also claims to straddle 0 0’ 0‘’ latitude. On separate sides of the line, it shows whirlpools drain in opposite directions. In nearby Catequilla the equator runs through pre-Inca ruins, according to Google Earth and GPS readings. Non-profit research group Quitsato (www.quitsato.org) can arrange a visit.
2:30 p.m. - Abutting the Parque Metropolitano, Quito’s largest park is the Chapel of Man, a domed art temple housing monumental work by the late Oswaldo Guyasamin, Ecuador’s most famous artist. His paintings deal with hunger, inequality and war and the plight of Latin American people in the second half of the 20th century
4 p.m. - Wrap up your visit with a coffee and a light snack at Guapulo, a bohemian neighbourhood in the western part of town. At sunset there are some breathtaking views of the Los Chillos valley, in the outskirts of Quito.
Editing by Patricia Reaney