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Quito is an elegant city in an Andean valley, surrounded by volcanoes and mountains. Although the city is the capital of Ecuador, it is not the largest in the country (that is Guayaquil on the Pacific coast). The city is divided into the colonial old town and the modern new town.

Inhabited by several tribes during pre-Columbian times, Quito took its name from the Quitus tribe, who lived in the area before the arrival of the Incas. In the mid 15th century, the Inca Pachacutec and his son Tupac Yupanqui extended their empire from Peru in the south, and began conquering Ecuador. By the end of the 15th century, despite fierce resistance by several Ecuadorian tribes, Huayna Capac, Tupac Yupanqui's son, conquered all of Ecuador and parts of Colombia, and Quito was chosen to serve as the capital of the northern half of the Inca Empire. During this period, the Ecuadorian tribesmen assimilated agricultural practices and the social organisation of the Incas, but they maintained their traditional religious beliefs and many customs.

In 1533, the Inca General Rumiñahui destroyed Quito so that it would not fall into the hands of the advancing conquistadors. Just a year later, after the Spanish conquered the Inca, Lieutenant Sebastián de Benalcázar began rebuilding Quito from the rubble and named it San Francisco de Quito. The Spanish promptly established the Catholic religion in Quito, with the first church (El Belén) built even before the city had been officially founded. The Spanish heavily evangelized the indigenous people and also used them for construction, especially in the initial stages.

In 1809 the first proclamation of independence was made, after nearly 300 years of Spanish colonization, in Quito a city of about 10,000 inhabitants. A year later the movement was ultimately defeated, when Spanish forces came from Peru, and killed the leaders of the uprising and about 200 inhabitants of the city. In 1830 the republic of Ecuador was finally proclaimed, and Quito announced as its capital.

Modern Quito is a city of two halves, old and new. The old town remains much the same as it did at the end of the colonial period but the new town bears no marks whatsoever of its colonial past. However, this area has the best hotels and restaurants in the city.


Quito highlights