Mist-covered mountains surround Ecuador's capital, Quito. Beneath its calm Andean backdrop, this ever-growing city is the country's centre for both arts and politics. It's known for its indigenous peoples, who you can see in vibrant traditional dress, and bustling artisan markets. The central old town is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, with 17th-century colonial architecture in a series of leafy plazas dotted with ornate churches.
Among the hostels in Quito is a place with its own swimming pool and sauna that funds a local street children's charity. There's also a centrally located Quito hostel with an outdoor terrace and a kitchen serving homemade pizzas. Most Quito hostels have outside spaces like gardens or terraces, and relaxed communal areas for meeting fellow travellers (as well as multilingual staff). In some you'll find private bathrooms or other perks such as rainfall showers.
Quito's buzzing old town is a good place to start exploring, with narrow, cobbled streets, historic buildings and interesting museums. Mariscal Sucre, or La Mariscal, is a lively part of the new town, popular with residents and guests (it's also nicknamed 'gringolandia'). It's the place to go for bars and world cuisine. The La Floresta neighbourhood is home to Parque de las Tripas – as evening falls here, food stalls start selling local dishes like empanadas and seco de pollo (chicken stew).
Drive about 30 minutes north of Quito to visit the equator. A short walk away, there's the Intiñan Solar Museum (which has ancient claims to be the 'real' equatorial spot). To mark important times of the year, Quito has many colourful festivals with processions, music and dancing – alongside cannons, bonfires and beauty queens. Head to the Museo Nacional for pre-Hispanic Ecuadorian art like ceremonial stone thrones and ceramic wild serpent bowls. For a true taste of the city, pick up a plate of hornado – beer-marinated, whole roast pig – in one of Quito's markets.
Quito's main airport Aeropuerto Internacional Mariscal Sucre is 37km from the city. Taxi prices from here to the old town are fixed and the journey takes about one hour. A 30-minute shuttle bus gets you from the airport to Parque Bicentenario, which is 15km away from the old town and means a less expensive taxi ride. The city's two principal bus terminals (Terminal Terrestre Quitumbe and Terminal Terrestre Carcelén) are both around an hour's journey by public transport.