I began my trip in Quito, the capital of Ecuador, and its second-largest city (the main seaport of Guayaquil being the largest). After arriving on a late flight, I headed to the Mariscal neighborhood for a few hours sleep. My first full day in Ecuador would be spent visiting numerous colonial sites and landmarks in El Centro Histórico, or the "Old City", while acclimating to the culture, as well as the Andean altitude.
The "Old City" is where most of the major Spanish colonial-era landmarks in Quito are found. Here I visited the Plaza de la Independencia, where the Palacio de Gobierno is located, as well as Plaza San Francisco, the site of the oldest building in Quito.
While in the Old City, I visited the gothic La Basílica del Voto Nacional. Though relatively new compared to some of the colonial-era cathedrals (it was started in the late 1800's and is technically not yet finished), it was extremely interesting to visit. By traversing various catwalks and rusty ladders, one can reach the top of one of the towers. Assuming you can make it there without dying of tetanus, the views of the Old City and La Virgen de Quito are amazing. According to a monument on the site, Pope John Paul II visited La Basillica in 1985.
The evening brought me back to Mariscal, which is the trendy area of Quito. This is where most of the gringos stay, and is know for its western-style bars, nightclubs, and internet cafes. I stayed at The Magic Bean, which not only had comfortable bunks, but great breakfasts and juices as well. I spent much of the evening at a cafe called Papaya.net, a popular gathering place for local travelers. I had a yummy drink there called a Moca Caliente. There's also a very good Texas-themed steakhouse nearby, where you can get a filet mignon for only $4. The most popular Ecuadorian beer is simply called "Pilsener", and while the name might be short on creativity, it certainly tastes good after a long day of sight-seeing. A large bottle of it will cost you around 80 cents.