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Orientations in Quito

Quito is about 66 km long north to south, and about five km across. Luckily for first-time visitors, the capital is easily divided into zones: one for budget hotels and historical sights; one for visitor services, restaurants, and moderately priced accommodations; and one for businesses. It's almost impossible to become disoriented: just look for the mountains to the west, or, at night, for the lights on top of them.

Old Town

Quito's historical heart sits at the eastern base of El Panecillo ("Little Loaf of Bread") hill, whose statue of the Virgin is visible from most of the city. This area, also known as "Colonial Quito," is roughly bordered by 24 de Mayo on the south and the Parque La Alameda to the north. Most of the sights are within a few blocks of the central Parque de la Independencia, the original core of the city.

Steep, narrow streets characterise this part of Quito, with cars barely fitting down lanes designed for horse and foot traffic. Residents look down from countless balconies at street vendors--each with his own small crowd of sceptical but interested onlookers--hawking miracle products. Storefronts on the ground level sell clothing and household wares. Hotels are generally inexpensive and restaurants few.

Most visitors come for the outstanding churches and museums, which were key in having Old Town declared a World Heritage Site by UNESCO in 1978. Other visitors are content to wander the cobbled streets, which evoke Ecuador's colonial past more than any others in the country--despite the handbills and red graffiti from the latest political uprising marring the whitewashed walls.

New Town

The split wedge formed by the Parques La Alameda and El Ejido point away from the commercial hub of the capital, enclosed by the Avenidas Pátria, Orellana, 10 de Agosto and 12 de Octubre. Tourists keep this part of Quito in business, supporting dozens of hotels and restaurants for every budget along with enough souvenir shops, tour companies, and exchange houses for two cities. Expensive apartments and embassies fill many blocks, especially Coruña on the eastern edge of the valley just before the initial drop-off toward the Amazon.

Other Neighbourhoods

The section of Quito north of New Town sparkles with shiny high-rises housing a large part of the city's businesses and is home to much of the capital's industry. Modern shopping centres and chic restaurants cater to the middle and upper classes who live in the area or in the fast-growing Valle Los Chillos (or simply El Valle) to the east. More residential neighbourhoods occupy the lower slopes of Pichincha west and north of New Town.

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