Stand on the Equator in Quito, Ecuador

View of El Panecillo in the center of Quito, Ecuador

Tucked in a lush valley in the heart of the Andes, the Ecuadorian capital of Quito is an amazing destination for travelers on a South American cruise. Here, they can explore the mountains, learn about culture and even go on some exciting overland excursions.

The main plaza of Quito is known as Independence Square, and on a visit here, you can see some of the city's most impressive landmarks. The square is home to a towering cathedral, the Archbishop's Palace, the Presidential Palace and the Santo Domingo Church and Convent, a historic religious facility famed for its Mudéjar architectural style.

One of the most unique attractions in Quito is the Equatorial Monument. The Ecuadorian capital is situated directly on the equator, and local authorities have erected a colonial village on a special site near the city. When you visit this monument, you won't want to miss the post office. Although it may seem mundane at first glance, any postcard you send to family and friends at home will bear the postmark "Mitad del Mundo," or "Middle of the Earth."

Several towns near Quito also have plenty to offer on your shore excursion. In the town of Montecristi, you can explore shops selling the area's famed weaving and wicker work or visit a factory where artisans carve figurines out of taguera, a palm nut similar in appearance to ivory. Meanwhile, the coastal town of Manta is home to the Archaeological Museum, where you can see an array of pre-Columbian artifacts.

Quito and the port of Manta also serve as a gateway to other exciting excursions around South America. From here, you can fly to Peru to see Incan ruins or to the Galapagos Islands, where you will encounter a range of exotic plant and animal species.