Ecuador’s capital, Quito, is perched 9350′ high in the Andes. Its setting is breath-taking, framed by snow-topped mountains and brilliant fresh, blue skies. And unlike so many South American capitals, its growth has not morphed into slums and hodgepodge. It has conserved its unique colonial beauty and expanded with an almost Nordic minimalist beauty.

Although there may be as many as 2 million people leaving in and around Quito (about 1 in every 7 Ecuadorians), the city just doesn’t seem like a big place. This is probably because of the extensive parks that separate densely populated areas of the city, the fact that the historic center is meticulously clean and fresh, and because of its peculiar elevattion, there’s not a lot of poluting industry. Quito is truly a “park city” that seems young and vibrant.

As capital it’s been centrally located in the country, which gives the visitor easy access to some of the most radically contrasting environments in South America: the capital is 15 miles south of the equator on a ridge of the Andes mountains, a mere 100 miles to the east is the lowland Amazon jungle, and 100 miles to the west is the Pacific Ocean!

Contrasts are conserved within the very city itself, between “Old Quito” and “New Quito”. The old and historic Quito is one of the better preserved of the South American capitals built by the Spanish. There are many beautiful 16th and 17th century churches, public buildings and squares built by the early conquistadors. New Quito, which is much larger, bears no resemblance at all to the past, and is distinctly modern if ultra-modern. From many small modern shopping centers to many new modern villages within the city, New Quito is one of South America’s most progressive urban areas.

Because of Quito’s altitude, it’s never hot. In fact, it’s often cold! Many travelers are surprised when arriving at night how cold it is, often in the forties and foggy. The hottest time of the year is during the lengthy rainy season of October through May, but even day time temperatures rarely exceed the lower 80s.