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Public spaces, such as the Plaza Grande, above, fill with music, street theatre and dance every Sunday. (Quito Turismo)
Public spaces, such as the Plaza Grande, above, fill with music, street theatre and dance every Sunday. (Quito Turismo)

Move over, Rio – Quito is South America's hottest must-see city Add to ...

But even the environmentalists take Sundays off in Quito. Every plaza is filled with music, street theatre and informal and intergenerational dancing. Wander the streets carefree in the historic section of the city – it’s closed to traffic, as is the main drag Amazonas. Sunday is also a good day to stroll the Calle de La Ronda, a historic narrow cobblestone street.

Film aficionados can indulge in Quito’s film scene at art house Cine Ocho y Medio. The cinema industry has received a 300-per-cent boost from Ecuador’s recently implemented government program, similar to Canada’s National Film Board.

Quito has long been the stepsister of its more sophisticated South American siblings, Buenos Aires and Rio, but no longer, says University of Andina professor Michel Levi, a close observer of the arts scene. “The social class for this sort of thing used to go abroad to see all this. The landscape has finally changed.”

IF YOU GO

WHAT TO DO: Join the adoring crowds at 11 a.m. on Monday mornings at the Presidential Palace for the changing of the guard. It’s a chance to see El Presidente wave from his balcony. There are brass bands, high stepping horses and guards in 19th-century sartorial splendour. All just this side of a Sacha Baron Cohen send-up.

Straddle both hemispheres, but not at La Mitad del Mundo, the reputed middle of the world. That site is the fake equator, off by 240 metres. The real geographic equator latitude is a few minutes away up a dusty, unpaved road lined with cacti. There you’ll be met by some indigenous people who will do hokey but fun science experiments at the outdoor Intinan Museum. You’ll also find the hemisphere dividing line and a stone solar clock.

WHERE TO EAT: the new hip, nine-table La Cuchara de San Marcos features organic Andean cuisine, and you’ll likely run into young people from around the world working on protecting the Amazon. Wonderful food and inspirational conversation. Junín E3-121 y Manuel Jijón; lacucharadesanmarcos.blogspot.ca

At the elegant restaurant in the hotel Casa Gangotena, chef Andrés Dávila serves up regional variants of traditional dishes such as locro, a thick potato soup, and, of course, aji – a hot sauce made with tart tree tomatoes. Bolivar Oe6-41 y Cuenca; casagangotena.com

WHERE TO LISTEN: Decades ago when Quito was still a sleepy traditional town, painter/photographer Pepe Aviles did something unheard of. He opened a club for jazz and new music, El Pobre Diablo. This is still, says drummer Esteban Falconi, “a mandatory place for young musicians to play.” Isabel La Católica N24-274 Galavis esq. La Floresta; elpobrediablo.com

El Aguijón with its cool industrial vibe, is a multigenerational nightspot and one of the few alternative clubs in Mariscal. Aguijon showcases independent bands like Latin ska kings Los Fabulosos Cadillacs, has riotously amusing karaoke with live bands, and every tourista’s dream, salsa night on Wednesday. José Calama E-7-35 y Reina Victoria.

Brand new Catekil (a.k.a. Centro Cultural Catekil) is the darling of alternative Quito. The underground place is a welcoming venue for the work of young and disaffected artists and musicians. Foch OE 5 43 y Reina Victoria

WHERE TO DANCE: Grab a taxi to Mayo del 68 and your driver will be surprised that you, a tourist, have found the most local dance spot. Lizardo Garcia y Juan León Mera

If you aren’t quite ready to make a public appearance, sneak in a few dance lessons at Academia Salsa & Merengue Foch E4-256 y Amazonas

 

WHAT TO BUY: Chocolate and coffee are Ecuador staples, but your conscience will be clear when you shop for your take homes at the tiny Kallari Café. The organic chocolate from bean to bar is 100-per-cent owned by a Kichwa people’s co-operative high in the Andes. kallari.com

La Tienda de CAC, the museum shop at the Centro de Arte Contemporaneo, has art pieces from $4,000 (a woven and recycled fabric doll by one of Ecuador’s most well-known artists, Paula Barragán) to under $10 (a clever bit of handiwork turning tire treads into a pencil case. centrodeartecontemporaneo.gob.ec

 

WHERE TO STAY: The sweetest of hotels, Hotel Patio Andaluz, is in a genteelly restored colonial building. It’s atmospheric in an Old World Latin-American style, with kind and attentive staff. Rooms from $245 (U.S.). García Moreno N6-52 between Mejía and Olmedo

The little 10-room City Art Hotel Silberstein is right in the heart of the city and convenient to bars, restaurants and shops on every dutiful tourist’s list. The hotel is a kind of ongoing garage sale since you can buy any of the funky antiques you see in your room. Rooms from $122 (U.S.). Wilson E5-29 y Juan Leon Mera; galextur.com/city-art-hotel-silberstein

The writer travelled courtesy of Quito Visitor Bureau. The agency did not review or approve the story.

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