Last updated: 02:00 PM ET, Thu October 29 2015

Why Quito Is One of South America’s Hottest Destinations

Destination & Tourism | Janeen Christoff | October 29, 2015

Why Quito Is One of South America’s Hottest Destinations

PHOTO: Quito, Ecuador, at night. (Photo courtesy of Thinkstock)

Fresh off a win at the World Travel Awards for Leading South American Destination, Quito is enjoying its moment in the sun for a third year in a row – it has been honored with this distinction three years running. Why is Quito so popular? Well, it’s in the center of the world, for one, but it also offers a diverse array of activities to visitors that just might be unparalleled anywhere in the world.

The area enjoys a mild climate; it’s known for its eco-friendliness; it’s a jumping-off point to the Andes, the Amazon, the Galapagos Islands and many of South America’s most popular attractions. Quito is also a destination with a rich culinary history; it is steeped in tradition and is home to several natural wonders. It is easy to get a sense of what Ecuador – and South America – is all about just by visiting this microcosm of Latin American culture.

Here are five reasons why Quito is a standout destination for travelers headed to South America:

It’s in the middle of the world

Literally, its latitude is zero. One of Quito’s absolute must-sees is the Middle of the World Monument. The equator is one of Ecuador’s main attractions and is approximately 8 miles from the center of Quito. One of the must-dos at the equator is to take a picture with one foot in the Northern Hemisphere and one in the south. 

There are also cultural experiences to be had within the park. From Catequilla viewpoint, visitors can see a pre-Colombian temple used to worship the moon. There is also a planetarium and the Ethnographic Museum, which showcases the customs and traditions of Quito’s indigenous people.

It is home to one of the world’s most famous markets

The Otavalo Market is one of the key drivers of tourism to the town and, for most visitors coming to Quito, a stop in Otavalo is almost certainly on the itinerary. It is attractive to visitors for both its spectacular shopping and its cultural significance. It gives a unique perspective to the traditions of the Andes and the culture of Ecuador. The main market is in Poncho Plaza and market stalls encompass many of the surrounding blocks. Shoppers should be on the lookout for colorful textiles and intricate tapestries, something that the country is known for.

While the market is not located in Quito – it’s actually about two hours away – day trips are plentiful. Visitors can also consider staying overnight in Otavalo to get a jump on the best shopping opportunities.

It offers outdoor adventure in the rainforest

Mashpi-Guaycuyacu-Saguangal water system and Archaeological Pachijal is another day trip worth taking from Quito. The protected area is approximately 64 miles from the city of Quito and covers about 124 square miles. It’s an ideal location for hiking, birdwatching, mountain biking and wildlife observation. Visitors can see speckled bears, cougars, squirrels, toucans, armadillos, butterflies and orchids among other things, and there are ample facilities for picnicking as well as playgrounds, gazebos and pergolas.

It’s a cultural center in Ecuador

Plaza Grande or Independence Square is the heart of the city and the center of Old Town. It has been Quito’s meeting point since the 16th century and is the best place to experience the daily life of local residents. It is also flanked by some of the city’s most important cultural and historical attractions, including the cathedral, the Presidential Palace, the Archbishop’s Palace and the Municipal Palace. The Bolivar Theatre, Plaza Chica and the patrimonial house of Perez Pallares are also nearby.

It’s a bohemian and cultural hub

La Ronda is at the heart of Quito’s bohemian culture and represents its artistic side. It is Quito’s oldest street and known for food, crafts, outdoor entertainment and nightlife. You can see artisans working with silver, tin and straw as well as creating wonderful works out of chocolate, honey, wood and textiles. Food is also a central feature of this area, with the smells of handmade empanadas and freshly baked bread tantalizing the senses.

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