What comes to mind when we think about Ecuador is often the famed Galápagos Islands, but the 18 islands that make up this Darwinian discovery and national park are only one piece of Ecuador. Recognized by National Geographic Traveler as 2013’s Best Destination, the country offers the Andes mountain range, thousands of plant and animal species, farmland to relax on, and large cities with more than just native shopping and restaurants.
Rich in history, Quito is a good place to start exploring outside the Galápagos. The historic center is home to colonial plazas, museums, monasteries, convents and churches, including the gold-studded Iglesia de la Compania. The main plaza, Plaza Grande, is also located here in front of the Carondelet Palace; where on Monday mornings you can see the changing of the guards. The nearby Hotel Plaza Grande provides a Spanish colonial luxury stay, with three beautiful restaurants and several suites. If you prefer a larger hotel, 10 minutes away is the luxury Swissotel Quito with a contemporary design and great fitness options. Five restaurants are on site, offering everything from local flavors to Swiss and Japanese cuisine.
After a good night's sleep in one of these hotels, there's a new double-decker tour bus that which can help you explore parts of the city you wouldn't find on your own. You'll uncover picturesque city and mountain range views along with great shopping and nightlife that can be found in La Mariscal neighborhood and also Calle La Ronda, a narrow street filled with small restaurants, caffés and artisan shops.
For artist, a visit to La Capilla del Hombre is a must. This art museum is dedicated to the people of Latin America from Ecuadorian artist Oswaldo Guayasamín, featuring his work as a history of Latin America suffering and violence. The late artist's home is also available for touring nearby with more paintings and sculptures.
Explore outside of Quito for even more adventure. Crater del Pululahua is a collapsed volcano filled with trails to explore with over 1,000 plant species. The valley also can get completely covered by mist, making it barley visible from sites like the nearby hotel and restaurant, Hotel El Cráter. Ten minutes away from here are the two equator sites, the Mitad Del Mundo, a mini city center with a 100-foot-tall monument, shops and restaurants, an amphitheater and more, and Museo de Sitio Intiñan, an outdoor museum and learning center.