Squint south towards the old town from Quito center and you can’t miss El Panecillo, a hill that does indeed resemble a panecillo (bread roll), and the statue of the Virgin Mary standing on top.
At 9,895 feet (3,016 meters) above sea level, El Panecillo is Quito’s most popular lookout, affording 360-degree views over the city. On a clear morning (and mornings are the best time for cloud-free views in Quito) you can even see as far as Cotopaxi’s distinctive volcano.
The aluminum statue of the Virgin Mary was introduced to the Panecillo in 1976 and was inspired by the Virgen de Quito (Quito’s Madonna), which can be seen in the Church of St. Francisco.
Plaza de la Independencia, known as Plaza Grande to the locals, was Quito’s main square in the 16th century, serving as central market and bullfighting area.
The plaza contains several important buildings: the Archbishop’s Palace to the north, City Hall to the east, the cathedral to the south, and the white, neoclassical Palacio del Gobierno (Government Palace) to the west.
The Government Palace (re-built in 1920 after its original 1650 building was destroyed by fire) is not open to the public, but you can take a peek inside the main entrance, which is a beautiful example of Moorish architecture. There is a tourist information booth just behind the entrance gate.
You’ll find more Moorish-inspired work in the courtyard of the Archbishop’s Palace (built in 1852) where there is also a small craft market and a few shops.
Cotopaxi National Park (also known as Cotopaxi Volcano National Park) lies 53 kilometers (31 miles) southeast of Quito and is the second most visited (and second biggest) National Park in Ecuador.
Cotopaxi National Park's main attraction is its still active volcano, which stands at a towering 19,000 feet (5,900 meters) above sea level, dwarfing the surrounding valleys, rivers and lagoons.
Referred to by the Incas as the 'Neck of the Moon,' the volcano has had over a dozen recorded eruptions, making it the most volatile volcano in South America. That doesn't deter the many climbers who attempt to climb it each year, however. It last exploded in 1877.
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