Few capitals in the world can match Quito’s dramatic natural location. Surrounded by the towering mountains of the Andes with three snow-capped peaks visible on clear days, the city surprises many visitors with its exciting mix of old and new, great cuisine, friendly people and fascinating history.

Quito’s historic centre is the largest and best-preserved in the Americas, stretching across a chequerboard valley of streets between imposing hillsides. Here, we’ll stroll across the handsome squares with their statues and monuments, amble through the museums and admire the gold-laden churches — there are more than a dozen churches, convents and monasteries, some of them still home to cloistered nuns. The Old Town is very much alive, full of small shops and local life, where we can learn about traditional crafts and try local foods.

The modern city stretches to the north, home to parks, museums, markets, shops and residential streets. Highlights include the Guayasamín museum and Chapel of Man, the artisanal market, the modest but very good Botanical Gardens, the shops of La Mariscal and the hipster neighbourhood of La Floresta (where street art, designer boutiques and trendy cafés abound).

For those seeking stunning views, the cable car on Mount Pichincha’s eastern flank hoists you up to 4,000 metres (over 12,000 feet), while a short drive to the north takes us to visit the Middle of the World complex, where museums and displays explain Ecuador’s geography, its diverse ethnicities and the physics of the Equator.