Ecuador's capital city Quito is stunningly located in a narrow Andean valley, 2,850 metres above sea level, its skyline dominated by views of the snow-capped Pichincha volcano. Quito was formerly just seen as a stepping stone en route to rural Ecuador or the Galapagos Islands, however, in recent years considerable restoration work has been undertaken in the historic colonial centre, which has now made exploring this part of the city town a real joy. The colonial centre was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1978 is a treasure trove of architecture including mansion houses, churches, monasteries and museums.
Quito is a good base for trips to nearby haciendas and to Otavalo market for essential handicraft shopping. Keen birdwatchers and nature enthusiasts will also depart from Quito to drive into the cloud forests around Papallacta, Mindo and Maquipucuna. Jungle trips into the Ecuadorian Amazon basin also start and end in the capital. Flights to the Galapagos Islands depart from Quito via Guayaquil (on the coast) several times daily.