x Abu Dhabi, UAE Thursday 20 July 2017

Quito fine and dandy in the Andes

Business travellers from the Emirates do not often visit Quito. But it is well worth enduring the 18-hour flight to Ecuador's capital to explore the city high up in the Andes.

Gothic Basilica del Voto Nacional, old town, Unesco World Heritage Site, Quito, Ecuador. Getty Images
Gothic Basilica del Voto Nacional, old town, Unesco World Heritage Site, Quito, Ecuador. Getty Images

Quito may not be a frequent destination for business travellers from the Emirates. All the more reason for those who brave the 18-hour flight to Ecuador's capital to take some time to explore the city high up in the Andes.

Urban sprawl doesn't come in a more exotic setting than Quito. The capital straddles an elongated plain, pushing back nature on the slopes of the green mountain ranges surrounding it.

Its magnificent historic core speaks of colonial times and the independence era, its richly adorned churches and elegant government buildings testament to the riches the conquistadores found in the country many centuries ago.

The old town, which dates to the 16th century, was one of the first places to be named a Unesco World Heritage Site. It is a visual treat from near and far. A stroll through the narrow streets reveals some architectural gems, and exposes the visitor to Quito's everyday bustle, created by street vendors dressed in traditional Andean garb, city dwellers going about their business. The consistent flow of the traffic fails to disturb the serenity that cloaks the city of two million inhabitants.

At an altitude of 2,800 metres, the air is thin, and it takes some stamina to climb El Panecillo, the hill separating the city's centre and south. On the hilltop, a 450-metre tall statue of the Virgin Mary observes sea of houses that stretches for miles before it drops out of view.

For a comfortable stay, visitors are advised to keep to the city's north, where most of the upmarket hotels are located.

The Hotel Quito offers a four-star service and a stunning panoramic view of the deep valley at the city's edge. The surrounding streets are lined with elegant modern apartment blocks and stylish restaurants. The Sheraton is not far away, but suffers from its drab environs.

Both hotels are close to the La Mariscal area, where restaurants and cafes abound.

Quito inaugurated an airportin February after the old airport was deemed dangerous. The newcomer has been experiencing the expected teething problems, and an hour-long drive to the city must be factored into travel plans.