Location: Quito

To be included as a UNESCO World Heritage Site a location must first and foremost be of outstanding universal value. As one of the first cities to hold this title, Quito has been a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1978. Walking through the Old Town district of Quito, the city’s wealth of history and architecture is flaunted on every city block. But Quito, like the country it represents, is not easy to describe. It is diverse in its beauty, as seen in the brightly colored colonial buildings that house everything from empanada vendors to the President’s offices at the Palacio del Gobierno. Quito is full of surprises as we witnessed in the use of iguanas and turtles as gargoyles at the basilica. We walked through dimly lit church corridors observing Ecuador’s highest tribute to fallen heroes and martyrs. For their contribution to Ecuadorian history, the likes of Mariscal Sucre rest in eternal peace in ornate tombs within the cathedral. But what makes Quito universal? Is it the smiles that greet our group of 24 as we try to blend into the city’s heavy foot traffic? Is it the pride for culture and values that show up in ornate monuments throughout the city? Or is it universal to sit on a bench and appreciate each other’s company while admiring the grandeur of the Andean mountains? Perhaps the universal appeal of Quito lies in its beauty or perhaps it’s in its national philosophy that in Ecuador everything is possible, but nothing is certain.