Plaza de San Francisco, Quito

Quito, Ecuador, is readying to reel in the tourists, intent on enticing visitors to stick around for more than just a quick stopover en route to the Galapagos. There's the old colonial center (a UNESCO World Heritage Site), along with picturesque plazas, beautiful churches, stunning architecture, and cobblestone streets – all surrounded by scenic snow-capped Andean peaks and distant volcanoes. These five Quito attractions simply can’t be missed, and best of all, they're all budget-friendly. 

1. Casa del Alabado (The Museum of Pre-Colombian Art)
This fantastic collection of pre-colonial period artifacts comes thoughtfully presented in a little jewel box of a museum, which is housed in a 17th-century colonial building just off of Plaza San Francisco. The exquisite works displayed showcase the culture and spirituality of Ecuador’s ancient indigenous peoples, with a fluid self-guided circuit through rooms that highlight topics like ancestors and shamans, with the help of nifty interactive high-tech installments. $6 admission. 

2. Mindalae Ethnohistoric & Crafts Museum of Ecuador
his modern art museum, located in the trendy La Mariscal neighborhood, is a delight to explore, with five easily digestible floors of traditional Ecuadorian arts and crafts. Start off your visit from the top – the site of a shamanism exhibit – and work your way down through engaging displays of hand-crafted baskets, pottery, textiles, musical instruments, and more. Adission: $6 per adult, $1.50 per child. 

3. San Francisco Cathedral
This 16th-century Baroque stunner -- now Quito's oldest church -- is built atop an ancient Incan temple on what is now the Plaza San Francisco. Look for Moorish influence on the ceilings, an intricate central altar, and iconography rich with both traditional Catholic and indigenous symbolism, all capped off by a majestic dome overhead. Free admission.

4. Central Bank Museum of Ecuador
At the Central Bank Museum, you'll find Ecuador's most important collection of art and artifacts that showcase the nation's historical and cultural evolution. The permanent collection includes pre-Colombian ceramics, stonework, and gold (pictured to right), a colonial art gallery, artworks from the Republican period, and contemporary pieces. $2 admission. 

5. La Compañía de Jesús
The over-the-top ornate Church of the Jesuits is a shimmering Baroque beauty (depicting some Moorish influence) and dates back to 1605, though it took a whopping 160 years to complete Gold leaf envelopes line nearly every inch of the interior, which also feature gilded pillars, domes, and altars. $5 admission.

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