Like most South American capital cities, Quito is a rapidly changing, contrasting, and invigorating place to be. At an elevation of 10,000 feet or 2,800 meters, the altitude can literally take your breath away, so be prepared for a short acclimatization period, especially if you are coming from sea level. The Spanish spoken here is clear and a bit slower than the Spanish on the coast, so the city is a great place to study the language. With a minimal introduction to Spanish, visitors are able to connect with the residents of the city more deeply. The Spanish founded and rebuilt Quito in 1534. And while walking the cobblestone streets in the historical center, admiring the architectural and culture grandeur of la Cathedral Central or La Plaza San Francisco, their influence is clear. Although no archeological evidence remains from the pre-Spanish settlement in the city, many of the residents speak or are studying the language of the Inca, Quechua. Residents have visible pride in their cultural heritage. And rightly so, the valley enclosing Quito has been occupied by humans for over 10,000 years and it was an important Inca city. The cultural and political capital of Ecuador contains a growing ex-pat community and is a center for backpackers. Quito is also becoming a hub for adventure sports. Each weekend there are a variety of outdoor competitions taking place in the city and its surrounding valleys. Downhill mountain biking is also becoming increasing popular, with an annual series of 5 races within the city center drawing larger crowds each year. In Quito, you can plan and start a trip anywhere in the country, with a tour agency or on your own. Quito is a progressive capital, in Latin America terms. On Sundays, the busy street that bisects the city, Via Amazonas, is closed to cars making bike transportation a safer option, and there is a city-wide campaign against machismo. In short, Quito is an inviting, relatively safe city with limitless cultural, historical and outdoorsy experiences to explore.