A visit to the capital is a must – Quito is a thriving hub of wastrels and skyscrapers, bursting at the seams with exotic and vividly coloured restaurants, bakeries, cultural history and night spots. It is also home to the famed Gringolandia – a term of endearment bestowed by the locals on a small area devoted entirely to hostels, internet cafes, bars, tour agencies and brothels run by African immigrants. On a clear day you can marvel at the depth and breadth of Ecuador’s capital by making a pilgrimage to the large statue of the Virgin that guards the city from a high hilltop. A trip to the Old Town will leave you stunned by the mix of Belgian-esque cobbles and architecture, and the plethora of vagrants, vendors and comedians who ply their trade underneath austere Catholic facades and fountains. Getting there is half the fun so take a local bus and get lost a few times.
Quito is also the best place to start from – from there you can organise trips to Otavalo (massive craft and animal market – worth a visit for llama goods and genuine Ecuadorian-carved chess sets), Mitad del Mundo ( the erroneously named Equatorial Line – some 30 kilometres off by the last measurement), and various forests and wildlife hideaways.