THE AMAZING CITY of Quito is the second-highest capital in South America, and at 9,350 feet above sea level, you may find it takes your breath away in more ways than one. Some business travelers visiting Ecuador head to the financial hub of Guayaquil in the south, but Quito remains the seat of political and cultural power. It’s not unusual for visitors arriving at the city’s Mariscal Sucre Airport to feel a touch of altitude sickness, although it’s nothing some coca leaf tea or Diamox can’t fix for most travelers.
After opening in 2013, about 25 miles east of the city center, the airport became one of the busiest in South America, accommodating a steady increase in visitors. The ride to city center takes one to two hours depending on traffic; taxis cost $25–40, depending on time of day and your destination. Another good option, the Aeroservicios coach, runs 24 hours a day to the Quito bus terminal and offers free onboard WiFi. Book online before you arrive for $8 each way.
Riding into town, you’ll notice the city is surrounded by imposing volcanic peaks which form part of the Ring of Fire that runs along the edge of the Pacific tectonic plate. Despite its small size, Ecuador features a wide range of landscapes and its own set of environmental issues. Perhaps its most challenging project is the Condor Bioreserve — 5.4 million acres of public protected areas, farms, ranches and indigenous territories that encompass snow-capped volcanoes, cloud forests, high-altitude grasslands, rain forests and waterways. The Bioreserve’s creeks and rivers supply Quito with drinkable water. In 2000 The Nature Conservancy teamed up with the U.S. Agency for International Development and local partners to create a water conservation fund to achieve sufficient water quantity and quality to meet the needs of the people of Quito and provide long-term protection of water sources in the Bioreserve.
Alongside the natural wonders, you’ll find plenty of evidence of human ingenuity. The biggest attraction in Quito is its Old Town, one of the first UNESCO World Heritage sites ever declared and the best-preserved colonial city in the whole of the Americas.
In the middle of the historic center, the Hotel Plaza Grande boasts one of the most distinguished addresses in Quito. The first building to be constructed by the Spanish conquistadors in the 16th century, it sits on Independence Square surrounded by the cathedral, city hall and government palace. It’s a truly sumptuous place to stay or invite clients to dine.
Make an impression over dinner at the hotel’s La Belle Époque restaurant, serving up French and international cuisine in a distinguished atmosphere. While the food is incredible, the live opera performances while you eat are bound to make the night a memorable one. What good is entertaining clients if you take them somewhere eminently forgettable?
If you need an early start, get proceedings under way with a power breakfast at Europa Café. Found inside the Hotel Dann Carlton, this charming spot provides everything you need to begin the day. Great coffee, a wide selection of baked treats and freshly pressed juices make this an ideal place to get off to a productive start.
For a private lunch meeting, book a table at Zazu. For more than 10 years this spot has carved out a reputation as one of the best restaurants in Latin America, serving up local dishes with a gourmet twist. Think stone crab ceviche washed down with one of the thousands of bottles of wine from what is touted as the largest wine cellar in town.
After a long day of meetings, take your clients for a few relaxing cocktails at La Naranjilla Mecanica. This trendy spot is packed with hip locals who come to listen to live music while enjoying drinks prepared by expert bartenders. After the old-world glamour of the Old Town, La Naranjilla Mecanica provides a window into what contemporary Quito is all about.
If you want to seal the deal over a few more drinks, head to famed jazz bar El Pobre Diablo. Here you can sip on a stiff drink, take in some of the best jazz Ecuador has to offer and let your hair down. Other options for late-night fun include the chic Oceana Club Lounge in the Mariscal district, where locals go to party.
To clear your head, take the time to ride the cable car to the top of Cruz Loma, from which you can take in views of the city and the valley beyond. It really puts everything in perspective when you’re looking down from 13,000 feet above sea level, and it’s a great way to experience the natural beauty of the area around Quito.
Show your clients your appreciation for history by leaving them a gift of a toquilla hat. While most people call them Panama hats, these elegant straw creations actually come from the town of Manabi on the Ecuadorean coast. The best examples are so fine they can be folded into your pocket, and the level of craftsmanship makes them a gift to remember. Head to Homero Ortega if you want to treat your contacts to the best that money can buy.
There is something magical about sipping a glass of local wine while watching the sun slip into the Aegean Sea as the afterglow tinges traditional, white-washed Cycladic houses with glorious shades of rose, purple and gold. Ancient Greeks believed Helios, the Sun God, caused sunsets by driving his fiery chariot into the sea. Standing at water’s edge in Mykonos, watching the sky slowly turn from purple to inky black, you almost believe it.
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