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Destination Close-up: Quito Ecuador

Close-Up: Quito

Quito is a great place to start your trip with some of the best Spanish schools in South America, a great backpacking community, as well as plenty of places to escape the touristy crowd. It is easy to plan your whole trip from Quito - most of the hostels, travel agencies and tour operators are within a 5 block radius of each other in the Mariscal sector. Quitenos tend to be relaxed, friendly and eager to help or make friends.

Quito is set in a long, shallow valley at an elevation of almost 2 miles, or 2,800 meters above sea level. Surrounded by green Andes peaks, Quito has a spring-like atmosphere year round. Temperatures rise in the middle of the day and drop after sunset (6 p.m.) year-round. The sun is incredibly strong so be smart about sunscreen and head gear. Also, because of its altitude, allow yourself at least one day to relax and acclimate. Drink lots of bottled water and don't plan too much physical activity the first day or two.

Divided into different neighborhoods, most tourists spend their time in the Mariscal, or the area north of Parque el Ejido and south of Avenida Orellana. The Mariscal has the highest concentration of travel agencies, hostels, international restaurants and inexpensive bars; but, there are a couple of other neighborhoods that are worth devoting some time to, so be sure to branch out. The Centro Histrico, for example, hosts a diverse and rich colonial history with some beautiful plazas, churches, museums and pedestrian walkways.

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