The most dramatic attraction around Quito may be the looming outline of the potentially explosive Volcán Pichincha, but the most famous, busiest and most developed is La Mitad del Mundo. Almost directly north of the city, it’s a complex celebrating, and positioned (almost) on, the equator, with a monument, museum, exhibition spaces and the famous line itself, marked in the ground. On high ground overlooking the monument is a prehistoric site, Catequilla, which, it was discovered only recently, is exactly on the equator. Also nearby, and often included on trips to La Mitad del Mundo, is the huge volcanic crater Pululahua, whose foothills are home to thousands of acres of rich, cultivated farmland.
Northeast of Quito are Calderón, production centre for dough figurines, Guayllabamba, home of the capital’s zoo, and El Quinche, an important religious centre with an impressive church.
Southeast of the capital are the market town Sangolquí, San Rafael, with its excellent museum on artist Eduardo Kingman, and the Refugio de Vida Silvestre Pasochoa, a woodland refuge surrounding a volcanic crater where trails pass through abundant native forests rich in birdlife.
Other excursions and attractions within a short distance of the capital, but discussed in other chapters, include the birdwatching mecca of Mindo, the cloudforest reserves a few hours northwest of the capital, such as Bellavista, Tandayapa, Maquipucuna and Santa Lucía, the fabulous hot springs at Papallacta, the huge artesanía market at Otavalo, the ruined pyramids of Cochasquí and the Cotopaxi national park, dominated by its famous volcano.