Ecuador // The Best Things To Do In Quito
Ecuador’s capital, Quito, is known as the second highest capital in the world (just beaten by La Paz in Bolivia)! It’s located 2,850 m above sea level, right in the middle of the beautiful Andes Mountains. The city was voted “South America’s Leading Destination” at the World Travel Awards in 2016, and rightly so! It has so much to offer and we’ll tell you all about our favourite places in and around Quito, so you can plan the perfect trip :)
Quito is a bustling city, packed with colonial architecture, ethnic eateries, artisan market stands and colourful Quiteños. It’s also nicknamed the “City of Eternal Spring” because of it’s year round pleasant climate (average temperatures hover around 23°C), due to its location high in the mountains and close to the equator. And if this still hasn’t convinced you Quito is worth a visit, just have a look at its dramatic setting cupped in between several active volcanos!
Quito lies in a valley and at its broadest it’s 4 km wide, but it stretches in length at around 50 km. Getting around is relatively cheap, as you can take a taxi anywhere in town for $1 to $5. So there is practically nothing stopping you from exploring this magnificent city!
Top things to do Quito:
1. Explore the historic old town
Quito’s Old Town (founded in the 16th century) is one of the best preserved and least altered historic centers in the Americas, and the first city to ever become a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1978! And you’ll soon discover why as you stroll along the winding streets full of beautifully renovated facades, flower decorations and ornate street signs.
Get lost in this maze of historical charm but do try to tick off these places along your wanderings: the Iglesia & Monasterio de San Francisco, the Plaza Grande (formally known as Plaza de la Independencia), Calle Ronda (Quito’s finest historical street), the Iglesia de la Compañía de Jesús (decorated with tons of gold!) and the Basílica del Voto Nacional.
2. Climb the Basílica del Voto Nacional
One of the best highlights of Quito’s old town is the monumental Basílica del Voto Nacional. With two 115 m high towers it’s the largest neo-Gothic basilica in the Americas, and it features some very unique architecture! Have a closer look at the gargoyles and you’ll notice that they’re shaped as the native animals of Ecuador, such as turtles, condors, dolphins, penguins and monkeys, how awesome is that :) !
You can also climb all the way up the 115 m high towers. First you can take the elevator or stairs to make your way to the top of the roof, where you’ll have stunning views over Quito and the famous “El Panecillo” hill. After this you can make your way across the nave over a small bridge, and if you’re up for it you can continue to climb even higher via the narrow winding stairs to the top of the towers! This last part is definitely not recommended for people with fear of heights. Astonishing panoramas await the brave who eventually make it to the top :)
3. Hop aboard Quito’s Skyrail or TelefériQo
For the most spectacular views over Quito’s mountainous landscape, hop aboard the highest gondola lift in South America (about $8 dollars return)! It starts at 2,950 m and ends at 4,050 m on the top of Cruz Loma, just next to the Pichincha volcano. The views from this point are ahhh-mazing! Try and visit in the morning, because the clouds usually start rolling in by noon.
If you’re up for it, you can hike even further up to the 4,680 m high summit of Rucu Pichincha (about 3-4 hours). You can also hire horses ($10/h) to do the heavy work for you ;) Just be sure you’ve acclimatized in Quito for a couple of days before attempting to reach the top in order to avoid altitude sickness.
There’s also an amusement park, called Vulqano Park, The park contains 24 attractions and two roller coasters! They might not be the largest roller coasters you’ve seen, but we can assure you, at this altitude just a small one will do… ;)
4. Join the party at “La Mariscal”
If you ever go to Quito, some way or another you’re bound to end up in “La Mariscal” :) This famous quarter is known for its vibrant nightlife and backpacker scene. Which is why Quiteños often refer to it as “Gringolandia” :) This area in North Quito is the place to be for bars, nightclubs, restaurants, hostels, shops, tourist businesses and internet cafes.
Bungalow 6 is one of the most famous and popular nightclubs in Quito, where locals and foreigners get together to enjoy the great atmosphere, music and pool tables.
5. Visit El Panecillo
El Panecillo (aka “The Little Bread Loaf”) is a major Quito landmark, just south of the Old Town. This 200-metre-high hill of volcanic-origin is a popular place to visit and take in Quito’s sprawling cityscape and the surrounding volcanoes. Its peak is at an elevation of 3,016 m above sea level. On the top there’s a huge statue of La Virgen de Quito, the only figure in the world of a virgin with wings according to the Quiteños.
To get here just take a quick taxi ride from the Old Town (around $4). You could also climb the stairs at the end of Calle García Moreno, although this can be a bit unsafe at times. The best time to visit is early morning, as it’s usually the clearest part of the day so you can enjoy the full panorama :) You might even get a glimpse of the Cotopaxi from here, the second biggest active volcano on the planet (check out our report here)!
6. Discover El Parque Metropolitano & Parque La Alameda
Quiteños love to spend their lazy days off in one of the parks Quito has on offer. The two most popular are the Parque Metropolitano and Parque La Alameda. The first one covers over 1,376 acres, making it the largest urban park in South America! For reference, New York’s Central Park is just 834 acres… And it’s the place where Quiteños love to spend their lazy days off. There are lots of recreational facilities and several bike and trekking routes along the eucalyptus forests. The eastern section has an amazing view of the Cotopaxi volcano, the Antisana volcano, and the Guayllabamba river basin.
Parque La Alameda, also known as “Chuquihuida”, is the oldest park in the city (dating from 1596) with an area of 6.3 hectares. In this park you’ll find the Quito Astronomical Observatory (dating from 1864), the first astronomical observatory in South America. There’s also an artificial lagoon where you can hire a boat, which is very popular with the Quiteños!
7. Catch a soccer game at the Estadio Olímpico Atahualpa
Soccer (aka fútbol) is very popular in Latin America, and Ecuador is no exception! So definitely join the soccer craze and head over to the Estadio Olímpico Atahualpa if you have the time. We went to a small local match to catch the vibe, and had a great time hanging out with the locals. Stadium vendors pass regularly selling everything from beers and cigarettes to ice cream and banana chips. And in case you spill anything there’ll be a dog or two around happy to clean this up for you ;) !
We could go on and on about the many highlights in Quito, but the ones we just covered are not to be missed :) Next time we’ll tell you more about the best places to visit in the area surrounding Quito. Our favourite day trip from Quito has to be climbing the (active!) Cotopaxi volcano, check it out now!
Another popular destination in Ecuador are the Galapagos Islands, click here to find out more about this magical place!