On our second day in Ecuador we explored beautiful colonial Quito. Quito was the first capital city to be named an Unesco World Cultural Heritage Site. The original name of the city was Quitsato, meaning "Middle of the Earth" in ancient 'tsafiqui' language, as Quito is the only place where the Equator passes over the highlands. The history of Quito alone is pretty impressive. We began our tour of Colonial Quito at La Compania De Jesus Church, one of the richest in the Americas. La Compania is located near La Plaza de la Independencia, which is very central to all tourist desires and surrounded by the Presidential Palace, Municipal Palace, Archbishops Palace and the Cathedral. We were a little late (per usual) for a tour of the Presidential Palace but were allowed to walk to the front entrance and wave to the people.
Quito is 9000 ft above sea level, so a little walking around can make you very hungry. We had a good source on a restaurant and after walking past it 3 or 4 times, figured out it was the one. San Augustin Heladeria & Restaurante knows whats up - they list their ice cream first. Because it really is that good! We walked lunch off with a visit to Cantuna Chapel. The legend is that Francisco Cantuna, the indigenous architect, made a deal with the devil to finish the construction on time. When the atrium was almost completed he stole one of the large stone blocks and saved his soul. There's a lesson in here somewhere. We also hit up the Casa Del Alabado, one of the most impressive collections of pre-Columbian art I've ever seen, housed in an amazing building.
Always watching over the city is La Virgen de Quito, standing on El Panecillo. The original can be seen at the main altar of the San Francisco Church. You can enter La Virgen (I KNOW) and go on up to the balcony for an amazing view of Quito, or of terrifying lightning clouds. We got both! We also got some mariachi music and an amazing hot (and strong) drink. The drink consisted of a local spirit made from sugar cane and a splash of fruit juice. It was just what we needed since it was cold and rainy.
We avoided the torrential downpour and finished our day with a very special date night at the Hotel Plaza Grande, the same hotel where my grandparents had their first date. The hotel was the first luxury hotel in Quito (then called the Majestic) and is uniquely located on La Plaza de la Independencia. We had a beautiful dinner and also took cabs to and from the hotel to our apartment by ourselves. Successful day all around!