Quito is breathtaking. The highest capital city in the world sits on the eastern slope of Pichincha, an always-menacing volcano. The snow-capped Andes stand in the background. The city’s historic center was so unaltered and well-preserved that it became (along with Kraków, Poland) the first UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1978. While grand palaces, colonial churches, and the largest urban park in South America fill the city. But these aren’t the reasons you traveled all the way to Ecuador.
Ecuador is one of the world’s largest producers of cacao, whose dried seeds are used to make chocolate. For centuries, cacao grew in the wild, and South American tribes used the beans as everything from a medicine to an aphrodisiac. Today, it’s cultivated on large plantations and turned into some of the best chocolate in the world. But the majority of this delicious chocolate has been sent abroad to places like Switzerland, Belgium, and France. Ecuadorians have only recently started to keep some of the good stuff for themselves.
Your first stop in Quito is Kallari Café. The café serves sandwiches, cake, and coffee, as expected, but it also has some of the best single-source chocolate in the city. Their chocolate is grown and harvested by indigenous Kichwa farmers in the Amazon. It’s organic, sustainable, and delectable. Sip a cup of rich hot chocolate on a wooden table outside. Sample their artisan bars made with ginger and Andean salt, vanilla, and lime. Then buy bars of 70 percent, 75 percent, and 80 percent cacao to bring home—if they last that long.
After sampling some of Quito’s amazing chocolate, you’re ready to see how it’s made. Unfortunately, plantation tours are only offered during the harvest season (April-May), but you can still tour a chocolate factory right in the city. At Gianduja, a sparkling-clean facility, the chocolate is kept warm in a large vat. The entire room smells sweet. Fruit, nuts, and spices are mixed with some of the brown liquid. Then it’s poured into molds, left to cool, and eventually wrapped. Taste pure chocolate, and then chocolate mixed with passion fruit and cinnamon caramel. Before leaving, add more goodies—macadamia brittle and handmade truffles—to your bag.
By now, your sugar high is starting to wear off. Return to your hotel, Casa Gangotena, in Old Town. The grand, restored mansion overlooks Plaza de San Francisco and the churches that surround it. Your Art Deco-style room has painted ceilings, French windows, and a view of a the plaza. Go to the glassed-in patio for afternoon tea and warm empanadas. Read a newspaper in the wood-paneled library. Then go to the third floor terrace for a panoramic view of Quito and maybe one more sliver of chocolate. Whether it’s the high altitude, the view of the Andes, or freshness of the bar, chocolate has never tasted this good.