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Quito is not just a stop en-route to the Galapagos Islands but one of the leading cities of South America,. Voted one of the Best Destinations to Discover, according to National Geographic Traveler magazine. Here are 9 reasons:

Quito is at the middle of the world

Quito is the capital city closest to the sun in both altitude and latitude. At a lofty 2,850 meters above sea level and is also near a place where you can straddle both Northern and Southern Hemispheres. A visitor site has sprung up at the “Centre of the World” where the equatorial line is drawn at Latitude 0 ° 0’0 ”. Despite the altitude Quito enjoys a spring-like climate, all year round.

An Unsurpassed Historical Centre

Quito was declared the first World Cultural Heritage site, with one of the best-preserved colonial centres in the Americas. Wander around restored gems such as La Compañía de Jesús, a baroque masterpiece; or the Plaza Grande, the main square surrounded by historical monuments; tour the religious complex of San Francisco. Ramble through La Ronda, a charming street that keeps traditional trades still alive. The historical centre is not just a museum, it is dynamic living place where inhabitants, religious devotees, public officials and merchants get on with their lives.

Quito’s Cuisine

Quito’s cuisine is one of the best kept secrets. Try traditional mestizo dishes that mix the pre-Columbian and colonial. A fusion of Andean and Iberian culture. Try locro: potato & avocado soup, fritada: fried pork, empanadas: tasty pasties, home-made chilli sauces, paila fruit ice cream, the list goes on. Other dishes are influenced from the Pacific with fish and prawns and coconut. Taste the gourmet chocolates made with finest cacao and the high-altitude coffee. Enjoy fresh fruits throughout the year: such as the tree tomato, naranjilla, cherimoya, granadilla and taxo, babaco and much more.

Handicrafts and art

Quito was an important cultural and artistic centre during colonial times. These skills have been passed down through the ages. You can still see artisans plying their trades in their workshops: drapers, hatters, tailors, goldsmiths and jewellers. Colonial Quito fostered religious art, its well-known Quiteña School, produced some of the most important colonial artists including the sculptors Bernardo de Legarda and Manuel Chili and the painter Miguel de Santiago; discover their works in the many museums and churches.

A Bit of Culture

Quito has many places with permanent and temporary exhibitions, theatre, music or film. Highlights are The Museum of the City, the Museum of El Alabado (with pre-Columbian treasures), a Wax Museum, the Sucre Theatre, the Centre of Contemporary Art and Music to name a few. For archaeology buffs, take a trip to the site museums in Tulipe, Rumipamba or La Florida. Children also have their spaces in the Yaku Park Museum, the Interactive Science Museum and the Train Museum.


Ask our local guide to recommend one of the many restaurants, cafes, bars and clubs in the sectors of La Mariscal, La Floresta, Guápulo and La Carolina. There you will find music, local and international cuisine and, above all meet the locals having fun.

Take a Train

From the district of Chimbacalle, in Quito, you can embark on a journey in “the most difficult railroad in the world”. An ambitious work of engineering linking the coast with the Andes, built the beginning of twentieth century. Now it has become a heritage tourist train, including the famous Devil’s Nose zig-zag through the Andes. Today you can take upscale pullman on a four-day journey or take the local one-day train. The slow pace better to appreciate the Andean scenery.


Quito is ideal for retail therapy, you will find a variety of choice for all tastes and budgets. From modern shopping centres such as Quicentro Shopping or Mall El Jardín, or stores of Ecuadorian contemporary design in La Floresta district or La Mariscal; likewise in the Historical Centre you can look at handicraft shops such as El Quinde, with Andean alpaca clothing, gold, silver, filigree jewellery, leather goods and weavings. Unique products are vegetable ivory (tagua) from the Amazon and the famous straw hats (misnamed Panama Hats). In Quito you will find paintings, sculptures in street markets and in La Mariscal there are galleries and antique shops.

The Paramo and the Cloud Forest

Just an hour or two away from Quito, you can enjoy two different environments. Firstly, the haciendas located in the Andean moorland. Enjoy thermal waters, horseback riding, hiking, mountaineering, flower plantations and more. Alternatively head to the Northwest, you can discover the subtropical cloud forest, a paradise for bird watching, with more than 500 species. One of the best places to see dozens of species of hummingbirds and butterflies. Two completely opposite worlds, one warm and one cold.
To visit Quito as part of a tailor-made tour please see our journey ideas at Select Latin America.

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The Life of Mexican Artist Frida Kahlo

Frida Kahlo (1)

Frida Kahlo has been hailed by many as Mexico’s greatest artist.

She was born in 1907 in Mexico City to a German photographer called Wilhelm and a Mexican mother called Matilde. She was the third of four daughters the couple had. When she was little she contacted polio which left her bedridden for the best part of a year as well as leaving her with permanent damage in her right leg.

During her time at college she studied the Mexican artist Diego Rivera who was working on a mural project at the time. He became a source of inspiration in her future work. Later she became romantically involved with another student called Alejandro Gómez Arias. In 1925 they couple were in a serious bus crash in which a steel rail went through Kalho’s abdomen and left her with a broken pelvis, fractures in her leg and a dislocated shoulder. This damage prevented Kalho from ever having children. It was during her long recovery that Kalho began painting, one of which was a self-portrait.

In the late 20’s Kalho met Diego Rivera again and the couple later married. They moved often to allow Rivera to work on commissions. During the early 30’s they lived in San Francisco, New York and Detroit. During this time Kalho’s work became more graphic often referencing her miscarriages and pain.

Their marriage became increasingly troubled. Both Kahlo and Rivera had numerous affairs, for Kahlo this included a number of women. Although Rivera tolerated her relationships with women, the men she has affairs with made him jealous and irritable. This led to Rivera having an affair with Kalho’s younger sister Cristina. She had a brief romance with the exiled Soviet communist Leon Trotsky. Eventually in 1939 Kalho and Rivera divorced only to remarry again a year later. Even after remarrying they lead almost separate lives, living in adjacent rooms.

Frida Kahlo (2)

Throughout her artistic career Kahlo produced over 140 paintings, many of which were self-portraits. She once said “I never painted dreams, I painted my own reality.” She was heavily influenced by indigenous Mexican culture – the bold colours and simplistic style can be seen throughout her work. She often included a monkey which is the symbol of lust in Mexican mythology.

In the late 30’s Kahlo had an exhibition at the Julien Levy Gallery after which she was invited by André Breton to exhibit in Paris. During this exhibition the Louvre purchased on painting The Frame, the first 20th century Mexican piece the gallery had ever bought.

By the 50’s her health was deteriorating. In 1952 her right leg was amputated due to gangrene at which time she also suffered from a serious bout of bronchopneumonia. Throughout 1954 she had a serious of anxiety attacks and increased her morphine consumption to deal with the pain of her health. Her last self-portrait was called “No moon at all” in which she looks extremely frail.

On 13 July 1954 at the age of 47 Kahlo died. This was not unexpected and in one of her last diary notes she says “I hope the exit is joyful and I hope never to return”. Although officially she died of pulmonary embolism some believe she died of an overdose. Her ashes are kept in a pre-Columbian urn at her home – La Casa Azul (The Blue House) in Coyoacan, Mexico City. The house is now a museum showing a selection of her work.

To visit The Blue House and learn about Frida Kahlo start planning your trip today.

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Sixe Paredes Futurismo Ancestral: An Offering To Peru

Futurismo Ancestral photo © David Horwell

Futurismo Ancestral photo © David Horwell

From today a magical exhibition of Peru will be exhibited at Somerset House. Inside this historic venue alongside London’s river Thames I was transported by the spirits of the Andes and Nazca desert. In an extraordinary show Futurismo Ancestral, the Spanish street artist Sixe Paredes has blended elements of Pre-Colombian culture with modern elements. At first I was disappointed with the first room which has a few large abstract tapestries and weavings, but on entering into the bowels of Somerset house through a series of trapezoidal arches one enters an underworld like no other art gallery. In these cave-like passages replete with drainage pipes and doors leading to who-knows where. In what is called the ‘Deadhouse’ I  arrived at colourful modern versions of Quipus the ancient Peruvian counting strings that glowed in the dark chambers. My favourite was the multi-coloured knitted masks, these reminded me of the festival of Paucartambo which is held every July in a remote Andean village; I had once visited this festival as a young backpacker. It was Sixte’s travels too that inspired him. Undoubtedly the almost fluorescent colours of the patterned tapestries will stick in the mind. In the subterranean vaults there are carefully lit modern versions of ceramics that held ancestral importance as vessels for ‘chicha’ the sacred drink of the Incas. There are daily events including Peruvian music, food, performance and film. Paredes had a team of other artists and volunteers helping him build this unique show. If you miss this but would like to visit Peru for yourself please contact us. Click HERE for more information on this exhibition.

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How Did Easter Island Get Named?

Copyright David Horwell

Copyright David Horwell

Easter Island was named by European Jacob Roggeveen who first saw the island on Easter Sunday, 1722 whilst leading a Dutch expedition to the South Seas. Of course the Polynesians had found it centuries before and they called it Rapanui. This small island is the most remote inhabited island in the World, being over 2,000km from Pitcairn its nearest neighbour to the north-west, Chile lies even further to the east.  This small volcanic island was annexed to Chile in 1888, and until 1965 the Chileans kept the natives as interns on their own island and used it as a big sheep farm. In 1996, Easter Island made a World Heritage Site by UNESCO. Archaeologists have long wondered about the construction and transport of the long-faced statues or moai that are scattered all over the island. It is thought that the statues may have ‘walked’ by rocking them from side to side vertically with teams of workers with ropes over wooden rollers. Later statues were toppled as it was thought their power no longer worked. This coincided with the arrival of the Europeans. Today the island has become a Mecca for those seeking the ultimate escape and several boutique hotels and lodges can be found, the real attraction are the wonderful people, descendents of the Polynesian seafarers who found the island against all odds over a thousand years ago. Contact us for details of how to get there.

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Good Friday in Quito

Quito Good Fri

Quito Good Friday processions of Cucuruchos, the brotherhoods of penitents whose uniform dates back to the Inquisition. During  Holy Week people from all walks of life, assemble to make a public display of religious fervour. The Cucurucho dress of a conical hat and purple robes, helps anonymity, some re-enact the procession of Christ, dragging heavy wooden crosses and wearing crowns of thorns including ones made of barbed wire. Others self-flagellate, carrying heavy chains in bare feet along the steep streets of old Quito.

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The Carnival of Oruro is a religious festival dating back more than 2000 years that takes place in the highlands of Bolivia. Originally an indigenous festival, the celebration merged with a Christian ritual around the Virgin of Candelaria, which takes place in February. The traditional ‘Llama llama’ or ‘Diablada’ became the leading traditional dances of the festival. It is one of UNESCO’s Intangible Heritage of Humanity. The modern festival demonstrates the ongoing pagan-Catholic blend common in the Altiplano region. The carnival starts with a ceremony dedicated to the Virgen del Socavon. Marching bands compete simultaneously in the greeting to the Virgin the grotto of Pie de Gallo. The highlight of the festival is the three day and three night parade of 48 groups of folk dancers over a four kilometre route to the sanctuary of the tunnel. In different regions of Bolivia and Peru, the locals wear colourful masks and dance to the rhythm of lively music, liberally inebriated by aguadiente, the local firewater.

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Merida, capital of the Yucatan


Capital of the state of Yucatan, the colonial city of Merida was founded over an ancient Maya city. The narrow streets and shady plazas create an old-world feeling, as horses and cars traverse the cobblestone streets lined with centuries-old mansions. The city is ideal for those seeking comfort and culture, and is a nicer gateway to the Mayan ruins than Cancun. Merida offers mansions and haciendas that have been turned into luxury boutique hotels, gourmet restaurants and cafes, galleries and museums. A stroll down Paseo de Montejo with traditional Yucatecan music leading your way is the perfect way to spend a Sunday afternoon. Best of all, Merida is one of the safest cities in Mexico. Merida has an ideal tropical climate and cool winds that blow in from the nearby coast. The rainy season runs from June through October but any time is a good time to visit Merida.  There are cultural celebrations almost every day. Don’t miss the Anthropology and History Museum with a great collection of Mayan artefacts and explanations of their calendar. As well as traditional eateries there are gourmet restaurants like Rosas & Xocolate; here innovative culinary specialties created by master chefs are sure to satisfy. Contact us to start planning your holiday to Merida.

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Casa del Alabado Museum Quito

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It is rare to wander into a museum and be pleasantly surprised by the quality of the exhibits and the way they are shown. I like small museums that you can see the entire collection in an hour without being overwhelmed or bored. This museum was perfect. Only inaugurated in November 2012 the  Museo Casa del Alabado is an art museum devoted exclusively to Pre-Columbian Art, located in Quito old town. The museum is housed in a Spanish residence just off San Francisco Square that was built in 1671. The name means ‘Praised be’ in Spanish. The ages of the pieces range from 4,500 B.C. to 1,500 A.D. mostly ceramics with some bronze and gold treasures. They were dug up on Ecuador’s coast which had thriving civilizations long before the Incas. The exhibits are divided into the Under-world, the Middle-world and the Upper-world according to the cosmology. The first includes creator myth imagery, the second graphic depictions of fertility and reproduction and the third the warriors, half-human half-animals and (my favourite) some very stoned-looking shamans. The lighting is good and they don’t mind photography without flash. The museum is a fitting tribute to those long-forgotten artists.

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