One of South America’s more unique cities is one of our favorites. Quito, the capital of Ecuador, is the second highest city sitting above sea level in the world and is the largest city in the nation.

Long before Quito was colonized by Spain, the area was ruled by indigenous tribes that can be traced back to 8000 BC. In the 15th century, the Incas invaded, then in 1531, Spain landed. Two years later, Rumiñahui, an Incan warrior, ended up burning the city to the ground destroying all of Quito’s ancient history to prevent Spain from taking over. Although he was successful in destroying Quito, the city was colonized and officially became Quito in 1541. For 300 years, Ecuador was under Spanish rule until 1822 when it gained its independence. Today, Quito is a fascinating city with a lot of history and interesting sites to discover for both tourists and locals alike.

So if this capital is on your list of go-to destinations, we recommend these hidden gems and local favorites to add to your list.

Cafeteria Modelo

Start your day off by grabbing a bite and/or coffee at Cafeteria Modelo, one of the oldest cafes in Quito. Opened in 1950, this small cafe serves breakfast and lunch and is also known to serve good empanadas. The place can get pretty busy with locals, so we recommend heading there as soon as it opens at 8:30am (Monday through Saturday; 9am on Sunday) if you have a full day packed with activities.

Casa del Alabado

Looking to learn more about the indigenous culture in Ecuador? We recommend you stop at Casa del Alabado, featuring a variety of artifacts from the pre-colonial era in a house established in the 17th century by Spaniards. You can find a variety of items relating to the afterlife such as masks and wooden statues, as well as pottery, tools, jewelry and musical instruments. It’s a terrific way to learn about the past—there’s an audioguide you can grab to hear all the history outside of what’s written by each item.

Cascada de Peguche

Although this place is not in Quito (it’s less than a two-hour drive from the city), it’s a magnificent place to visit if you’re looking to get away from the hustle and bustle of the city. This waterfall, known as Cascada de Peguche, falls 50 feet and flows through the bottom of a volcano called Imbabura. Cascada de Peguche isn’t just any waterfall either, locals come here to perform rituals, so it’s a very sacred place. Aside from the waterfall, you can go there to hike several trails and explore the wildlife—you will need to carve out a whole day if you decide to go to Cascada de Peguche.

Museo Franciscano del Padre Almeida

Museo Franciscano del Padre Almeida is a convent-museum built in the 17th century. Inside you will discover frescos and wall art that are hundreds of years old, secret chambers, and even a tour up the stairwell to the top of the convent where you’ll get a beautiful view of the city. The tour only costs $3 US, and although it’s located in a lesser-known part of the city, it’s a hidden gem we recommend.

Cafe Mosaico

Dinner and music? Head to Cafe Mosaico, located on top of a hill and overlooks Quito. The restaurant serves local favorites such as Llapingachos, Heart of Palm and Lupino Bean Ceviche, El Churrapingacho (sautéed beef or chicken breast, rice, eggs, sausage, potato patty, avocado, lettuce and tomato) or Encocado de Camaron (shrimp in coconut sauce). We love this place because live bands play a variety of pop music there from the 1950s all the way up to the 1990s. Cafe Mosaico is a fun place to go to in the evening—you’re bound to have an excellent time with friends or your significant other.

Visiting Quito, Ecuador is one you won’t regret—it’s full of interesting places to discover and restaurants to eat at. So if you’re planning on a trip to this South American city, we hope this guide will help you have a memorable time.

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