Wander the revitalized cobblestone streets of the historic city center, which was named one of the first UNESCO World Heritage sites in 1978. Thanks to more than a decade of ongoing restorations, the formerly gritty atmosphere of the city’s 500-year-old Plazas San Francisco and La Independencia has been wiped away. Admire the Palacio de Carondelet (Calle Espejo and García Moreno), the Catedral Metropolitan (Plaza de la Independencia), and gilded Iglesia de la Compañía de Jesús (Calle García Moreno and Av. José de Sucre; 593-2-2584-175; $3 admission), a baroque masterpiece that took more than 160 years to complete and is widely considered to be one of the most beautiful churches in the world. Afterward, stroll down the recently restored colonial street Calle de la Ronda, which is now lined with eclectic shops and cafés.
Get the best views of the city (and the thirteen volcanoes that surround it) by riding the TelefériQo (Avenidas Occidental and Fulgencio Araujo; 593-2-222-2996, $8.50 round-trip), one of the highest aerial lifts in the world. The 2.5-kilometer gondola line takes you up the side of Pichincha Volcano to the Cruz Loma lookout, more than 13,000 feet above sea level, in about eight minutes. It’s open until 10 p.m. on weekends, but you’ll want to go during the day if you’re interested in embarking on the three-hour hike to the volcano’s summit, which you should only consider after a few days of adjusting to the altitude.
Stand with one foot in each hemisphere at the Intiñan Solar Museum ($4), just north of the city, where GPS technology accurately marks the equator. You can try to balance an egg on its end or flush a toilet on each side of the line to confirm the exactness of the measurements, which you can’t do at the more popular yet hokey Ciudad Mitad del Mundo 600 feet away.
Take a taxi to La Capilla del Hombre (Mariano Calvache E18A; 593-2-2448-492; $4), internationally renowned artist Oswaldo Guayasamín’s re-creation of a pre-Columbian temple on a Bellavista Park hillside overlooking the city. While a more complete collection of his work can be found five minutes away in the Museo Guayasamín (Mariano Calvache 2458; 593-2-2448-492), this impressive two-level monument, completed by the artist’s family in 2002, three years after his death, holds some of his greatest works, including Tears of Blood and an eternal flame dedicated to those who have died in the struggle for human rights.