Ecuador’s capital city, Quito, located high in the Andes mountains at 9,350 feet, is the highest capital city in the world. It is also one of the most dramatically situated, hemmed in by encircling peaks and volcanoes.
But, like most large cities, it has rush hour, traffic pollution, and less salubrious neighborhoods. So why are so many expats choosing Quito over the warmer and—dare I say—somewhat prettier Cuenca? What is it that makes this city so appealing?
After spending a few weeks housesitting in Quito’s Gonzalez Suarez neighborhood, I began to see the attraction.
The days are warm and sunny enough for t-shirt and shorts or jeans. But thanks to the high elevation, it has much cooler evenings. Perfect, some would say, for snuggling under duvets or relaxing by a fire. But, unlike in many North American cities, you won’t have months of shoveling snow, as the temperatures remain consistently moderate throughout the year (averaging 66 F during the day to 50 F at night).
Gonzalez Suarez itself is a well-established area of small multistory apartment buildings, each nestling behind flower-filled, immaculately landscaped forecourts. The wide boulevards are lined with coffee shops, patisseries, and a host of restaurants, serving everything from pasta to sushi, each with its own tree-shaded patio. Interspersed between them are hair salons, tiny grocery stores, print shops, and florists. Clinics, malls, shops, churches, and parks are all within easy walking distance, thanks to a multitude of stairways connecting the boulevards that meander up and down the hillside. It’s almost a mini city in itself.
Residents—depending on the orientation of their building—enjoy stunning eastward views of the historic and picturesque village of Guapuloor, or impressive views of Quito to the west as it spreads out and embraces the lower slopes of Volcano Pichincha . After wandering the streets alongside residents walking their dogs, soaking up the sunshine in one of the small parks that dot the area, or simply admiring the view it’s easy to see why this area is so popular.
A big draw for many of the expats I spoke with is the easy access to Quito’s “Old Town.” The core of Quito is a UNESCO World Heritage Site packed with historical testaments to its rich colonial past. Narrow cobbled streets open into huge plazas dominated by domed churches and palatial buildings.
Whether you are a museum or architecture buff, or an art and theater connoisseur, you will find your fill in this delightful city. Another draw is the ease of getting around. With metered taxis costing just a few dollars, many residents find a vehicle unnecessary.
In short, Quito has all the amenities of any big city in North America at a fraction of the cost. Fresh food is inexpensive and readily available, with a big bag of fresh produce costing as little as $5. Fresh cut roses are as little as $2 or $3 a dozen and grace every room. Eating out can be as inexpensive or as costly as you wish with a three-course lunch known as an almuerzo, costing only $4 or $5.
Healthcare of equivalent standard to that in North America, costs a fraction of what it does back home and you have easy access to waterfalls, beaches, the Amazon jungle, and mountains just a few hours away. Plus, if you do need to head home, an international airport is right on your doorstep.
English is widely spoken and Ecuador’s mixed population of Mestizos, Amerindians, Afro Ecuadorians, and white European descendants means it’s easy to fit in. Add the warm, relaxed, and traditional sierra culture and you have a city of undeniable grace and charm. In short, there is everything you would expect to find in any big city, plus so much more.