Quito, its awesomeness, and all its superlatives

Why Quito is a Must-Visit City of the World

swing at the edge of the world
Edge of the world swing on Pichincha Volcano

Quito, Ecuador’s capital, and the city that I’m thrilled to call home.

It’s not only a cool place to hang out, it’s also a really fascinating and unique place.

*I’ve bolded all the superlatives for you!

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A Smidgen of History

Quito is named after the Quitu tribe, who occupied this area in the first millennium. Exact dates are not known, but it is widely believed that Quito is South America’s oldest continuously inhabited settlement. The kingdom of Quito was officially founded by the Caras tribe in 980 CE, after conquering the Quitu tribe. It wasn’t officially declared a city until March 14, 1541, after the Spanish took over. It’s rumoured that the Spanish chose Quito as the capital because they heard about a enormous Inca treasure buried somewhere in the area and they wanted to be close to it in the hopes that they would one day find it (they never did).

The official name of the city is San Francisco de Quito, named after the much-loved Saint Frances of Assisi.

The Spanish ruled for over 300 years until May 24, 1822 when Quito won its independence in the Battle of Pichincha.

After that, it actually became apart of Colombia, or what was then the Republic of Gran Colombia.

Gran Colombia was dissolved after just 8 years, and Quito become the capital of the newly formed Republic of Ecuador.

Quito was the first city to be declared a UNESCO Cultural Heritage Site in 1978. If you look at the reference number, you’ll see it’s #2. It was the second overall Heritage site to be filed for UNESCO.

UNESCO also claims that Quito’s old town is the best preserved and least altered historical center in Latin America.

A Smidgen of Geography

The elevation at the point of the city’s main square is 2800 meters, making it the 2nd highest administrative capital city in the world, after La Paz, Bolivia. However, Bolivia is one of those rare countries that has 2 capitals. It’s constitutional capital is Sucre, so technically Quito is the highest constitutional capital in the world, and the second highest administrative capital.

Located in the Quito valley, the city is very long and narrow – 50 km long from south to north and just 8 km wide from east to west.

mitad del mudo - the equator in Ecuador
Straddling the equator in Ecuador

Quito’s northern city limits are only 1 KM from the true equator, making it the closest capital city to the equator.

It is the only capital in the world that’s located right next to an active volcano, Pichincha volcano is just 8 KM away from the city.

Its official city bird is the black breasted puffleg hummingbird, which is critically endangered with less than 300 left in the wild. They live on the side of Pichincha volcano.

Malaria, which has decimated populations worldwide, has never been a problem in Quito. The altitude is too high for malaria transmission.

A Smidgen About Infrastructure

For 6 years, Quito’s Mariscal Sucre International Airport was named South America’s best airport by the World Travel Awards. The airport only opened in 2013. Quito’s old airport was located in downtown Quito, which made it a very difficult airport to land in. The former airport is now a giant park where you can jog on the former runway and visit hangars that still have planes in them.

Landing in Quito’s old airport

The only problem with the new location of the airport is that it’s far away from everything. It’s about 45 KM away from Quito’s historic district – about an hour drive. But, as the crow flies, the distance is really only 20 KM. The terrain of the area really limits how you can build roads. However, they’re working on a way around this. For a few years now they’ve been talking about building the world’s longest cable car from Quito to the airport – 14 and a half KM long. The problem is, it would cost about 236 million dollars and Ecuador is pretty much broke, especially now after the pandemic.

Quito does has a subway system, it’s just not being used yet. A 23 KM metro system started being constructed in 2016. Earlier this year it was reported that the system was 95% done. Then the Coronavirus hit, halting construction. The system will only be a single line, however Quito is a very narrow city as it’s nestled in a valley, so it really only needs a single line.

In an effort to preserve Quito’s historical district, only one stop will be made in that area.
However as they were digging it they discovered archaeological remains, so they had to move the station 2 blocks in order to not further disturb the findings.

Quito’s Parque Metropolitano is the largest urban park in South America at 1,376 acres – about 500 acres bigger than New York’s central park.

There are over 40 museums in Quito featuring everything from money to water, and there are about 24 historical monumental churches and convents.

Personally, my biggest concern about living in Quito is not having enough time to see it all. There are so many side streets, markets, and tucked away shops that I don’t know if I’ll ever be able to have a strong connection to the city.

I guess all I can do is keep exploring.