South America special: 24 Hours in Quito

Roam the higgledy-piggledy streets, take in the views from the cable car, and dine at 10,000ft - don't forget your oxygen chaser

1 Breakfast on the patio

08.00: Enjoy a continental breakfast with tropical fruits in the secluded courtyard of Hotel Patio Andaluz, at Calle García Moreno N6-52 (00 593 2228 0830; hotelpatio Double rooms from $96 (£55). Then stop off at the tourist office, opposite, to pick up a city map. Most streets in the old town have two names: official and historical.

2 Make tracks for the museo

09.30: Housed in the lovely old Hospital San Juan de Dios, The Museo de la Ciudad, at Calle García Moreno 572 and Rocafuerte, has few original works of art or historical artefacts. Instead, it tells the story of Quito's development over the centuries with an engaging display of scale models, pictures and interactive exhibits. Entrance $2 (£1.15), 9.30am-5.30pm, Tuesday-Sunday.

3 Say a little prayer

11.00: Or at least take a reverent stroll around one of Quito's newly renovated churches, the Iglesia San Blas (at Calle Guayaquil and Caldas). The old town's smallest church was one of the few places of worship open to slaves. The square it faces is a great place to fortify yourself with a pastry and coffee.

4 Up, up and away

12.00: The recently opened Teleferico cable car is not for the faint-hearted or altitude sick, whisking passengers from an altitude of 2,950m to more than 4,000m in under 10 minutes. Views of the city and the snow-capped Cotapaxi volcano are stunning. Entrance $7 (£4).

5 A fresh, new taste

13.00: Even if you're not staying at Café Cultura, at Robles 513 and Reina Victoria (00 593 2222 4271; this boutique hotel is one of the highlights of the new town. The bistro café comes with frescos, the leafy garden with a resident peacock and the library/lounge with a fireplace. Lunch on Ecuadorian and European dishes and, should you decide to spend the night, the hotel has 26 individually decorated rooms, from $79 (£45) per double.

6 Go shopping in the Amazon

15.00: Shop along Avenida Amazonas and the adjacent streets that comprise the Mariscal backpacker's hub. Once you're done buying flip flops, Panama hats and Otavaleño blankets, take a spin round the Museo del Banco Central at the southern end of Avenida Amazonas (at Avenida de 6 Diciembre N16-224). Quito's premier museum houses pre-ceramics, gold jewellery and a gory collection of colonial art. Daily 9am-5pm, $3 (£1.70).

7 Scale the cultural heights

17.00: The Centro Cultural Itchimbia on top of the "sacred hill of the radiant sun", is housed in the old Santa Clara century market hall. The 19th-century glass and steel structure was recently transported to this city park, to host temporary art exhibitions. The light up there does wonders for the exhibits, and views of the old town are panoramic. At Calle Iquique and José María Aguirre. Daily 10am-6 pm, $1(£0.70).

8 Take in a show at sundown

19.00: The peach- painted Pasaje Arzobispal (Archbishop's Palace) on Independence Square - known locally as Plaza Grande - holds free concerts and folklore ballets in the courtyard on Friday and Saturday evenings - an extremely civilised sun-down experience.

9 Dinner with a view

21.00: Dine at El Escondite de Cantuña. High on a hill overlooking the old town, at Manuel Samaniego N8-95 and Antepara, this eaterie serves local cuisine with refined contemporary flare, in a cosy, modern-rustic setting. Not that you'll notice any of, this as the sparkling city lights below mesmerise you.

10 The night is young

23.00: If you still have the energy for a nightcap, head back to La Mariscal district, where backpackers and travellers keep things lively until the small hours. If you're still feeling the altitude, head to "O2", at Mariscal Foch and Reina Victoria, where your cocktail comes complete with an oxygen chaser.