A visit to Casa Gangotena offers a great view of Plaza San Francisco.

Ecuador is closer (and cheaper) than you think

You've done Disney. You're tired of New Orleans. Where to next? If you're looking to get away for a long three-day weekend, ignore the routine and set your sights on Ecuador.

This tiny country is a lot closer (and a heck of a lot cheaper) than you might think. With the continued strength of the dollar, a dip in tourism due to the recent earthquake, and nonstop flights from Atlanta, you can be in world's highest capital city in time for lunch.

Ecuador is a collection of "micro-climates," offering something for just about everyone. Over the course of a three-day weekend, you could soak up some sun on the beaches of Esmeraldas, trek through the sub-tropical Andean cloud forest, and ski down a volcano. Or, if you're looking for something a little more stationary, a few days wandering around Quito – the first city in the world to be declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site – might be the prefect prescription for that last minute vacation.

See

With limited time in Quito, you'll want to make sure you're seeing the highlights without missing any of the nuance. This is where a good walking tour comes in handy. While "free" tours are a dime a dozen, a solid professional tour can be the difference between a good day and a bad one. In that spirit, think about booking a tour with Metropolitan Touring. Despite their uniquely urban name, Metro Touring specializes in all things Ecuador – from the lush countryside to Quito's colonial Old Town.

Metro has partnered with local artisans, shopkeepers, and even traditional herbal healers to give you an up-close view of what life is like in Quito in a condensed amount of time. A major high point is a visit to Chez Tiff – a Ecuadorian-Swiss family-owned chocolate manufacturer that will walk you through the history of Ecuador's unbridled love affair with the dark, savory sweet. Samples are free!

Do

After walking around for a day, one thing might have grabbed your attention. What's that massive sculpture on top of the hill? Billed as "Ecuador's Statue of Liberty," the 147-foot-tall Virgin of Quito depicts the Virgin Mary standing atop a globe, complete with a pair of flowing angelic wings. It's the only one of its kind in the world, according to locals. Hike to the top of the hill (called El Panecillo) to inspect the Virgin up close and take in amazing views this rolling city, which will leave you wondering how anyone got around before automobiles.

Stay

Quito lacks no shortage of fine hotels and – as a result of unfounded fears about the earthquake's impact on the capital (hint: there were none) – now is the best time to book a few nights' stay. If budget is your thing, check out La Casona de La Ronda (Calle Morales OE1- 160, Quito 170104). This boutique hotel offers charming rooms and an original courtyard style construction.

If you're looking to splurge a bit, though, there's no chicer choice than Casa Gangotena (Bolivar Oe6-41 y Cuenca, Quito). A 31-room historic mansion overlooking Plaza San Francisco, this pomp palace offers first class luxuries. If a long-term stay is out of your price range, stop by for dinner or drinks on the roof, which offers prime sunset views of the city's many peaks and steeples.

Buy

Despite the name, the world-famous Panama hat was not invented in Panama but rather in, you guessed it, Ecuador. Today, you can find an authentic Panama hat for sale on nearly every corner of Quito's Old Town. An expensive one (which is woven so tight it can hold water when turned upside down) can run north of $100, but a cheaper (and less watertight) version sells for less than $20 – and looks just as stylish.

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