We have a full day to explore Quito -- or San Francisco de Quito, to give it its full moniker. Famed for its 16th-, 17th- and 18th-century Spanish architectures, it's a thriving city of grand squares and magnificent churches.
Our complimentary city tour takes us first to the historic district -- one of the best preserved in South America -- to enjoy a walk around its pastel-tinted, wrought-iron-balconied Spanish colonial mansions and elaborate 16th-century churches. The Gothic church of the Society of Jesus is particularly dazzling, decked out wall-to-wall in gold leaf, which workers are burnishing to a brilliant shine.
On its steps, impoverished children toting shoe shine kits offer to do the same to our shoes, while country women in ponchos and trilbies proffer dolls, handmade scarves and other bric-a-brac, highlighting the city's juxtaposition of poverty and prosperity. Two local girls board our bus to sing traditional songs as we embark on the 20-minute journey up into the hills to view the gigantic silver angel which guards the city.
Then we're off for lunch at El Crater, a pretty restaurant set on the rim of a volcanic caldera. We tuck into Ecuadorian potato soup, a delicious concoction with melted cheese and avocado, followed by fried chicken and a light-as-air mango mousse cake, to prepare for the highlight of the afternoon -- a visit to the center of the world.
The point of 0 Latitude, 0 Longitude -- as established by 18th-century scientists -- is now the site of an attractive restaurant and shopping complex and a magnificent monolith topped by a gigantic globe. As it happens, the eggheads were 50 meters out -- but that doesn't bother the tourists who pose for snaps on the yellow lines dividing north from south and east from west.
It's been a lovely day, and it gets even better when we return to the hotel to find that Ronnie, our highly efficient hotel representative, has been to the airport and collected our lost luggage while we were out.
Photo of Quito was taken by Gonzalo Guana and appears courtesy of www.quito.com.ec.