Quito is not the largest city in Ecuador but it's the capital, it's centrally located, and unless you're en route to the Galapagos it's likely to be your major transportation hub. Quito is a sprawling linear mass that stretches north - south along the central valley of Ecuador. It can take over an hour to drive across town, assuming there isn't much traffic. This page is devoted to areas around the fringes of Quito and its valley. There is a separate page for central Quito.
Quito is located at about 3200m (10,000 ft) above sea level. As a result some of the mountains around don't look all that impressive despite being well over 4000m (12,400 ft) high. Pichincha volcano looms above the west side of the city. Pichincha itself is dormant now but a separate side peak called Pichincha Guagua is quite active.
Antisana is one of the many snow-capped volcanos that can be seen from Quito on a clear day. Antisana is southeast of Quito and the main road to the interior (Amazonas) runs just north of it through a high pass. Antisana is 5758m (17,800 ft) high. This picture was taken across the entire valley from a mountain pass on the side of Pichincha.
At 5790m (17,900 ft), Cayambe is just slightly higher than Antisana and is the next mountain north on the east side of the valley. Cayambe seems to dwell in clouds much more often than Antisana and we never had a really clear view of it from Quito. This picture is taken from the air en route from Quito to Coca.
At 4939m (15,250 ft), Cotocachi is not necessarily snow covered year round but it does have a very distinctive sharp peak to it. Cotocachi is quite a ways north of Quito about halfway from the capital city to the Colombian border. This picture is taken from the Mariscal district in central Quito.
The most popular day trip from Quito is to the Equator monument and the Pululahua crater. Unless you're planning on a serious hike into the crater it's not really even a day trip. A bus ride from Quito will take less than an hour. This is an ancient (but not entirely extinct) volcanic crater which is now settled and farmed. The overlook is a popular spot for Andean condor sightings (we did not see one). There's also a mini craft market and several people willing to explain the basics of volcano geology in a variety of languages. There are a couple of hiking trails around Pululahua.
As can be found elsewhere on our site, the Prime Meridian is a red line. The equator happens to be a ball on a platform. There are at least 3 major equatorial monuments at major road crossings in Ecuador and countless smaller ones. We crossed the Equator at least 7 different times. This one, El Mitad del Mundo (the middle of the world) is the most popular. Basically, people come here to take their picture standing in both hemispheres. It's not really necessary to go out of your way to get here however. It somehow seems just as good to be on a dirt road with a hand carved wooden sign nailed on a tree saying 'equator'.
Ecuadorians have absolutely no fear of volcanos. Several towns which have been destroyed multiple times in the past have been rebuilt once again in the exact same location. The suburbs of Quito continue to climb the sides of Pichincha. Apparently they haven't seen the postcards with photos of its last eruption in the 1990s. This neighborhood is pleasantly colorful (for now).
If you're not in the Mariscal district or Old Town of Quito then it generally looks like this. Sort of nondescript urban sprawl with no real centralized business or residential districts. Everything is just all blended together. On a series of bus and taxi rides in and out of Quito it was all quite bewildering. There are all sorts of exciting multi-level rotaries and no such thing as a straight line when it comes to roads. Several taxi drivers confessed to us that other than major roads they only know specific areas of Quito that they live in.