Quito Ecuador is the city that travelers in South America definitely need to stop. This stunning city is affordable and packed with gorgeous sights, delicious food, and rich culture.
The capital city of Ecuador is situated high in the Andes. Hemmed in by mountains the city is situated in an exceptionally long and narrow valley. Rebuilt in 1533 the historical city center was the first UNESCO world heritage site. It is filled to the brim with colonial treasures. The area is regarded as one of the best kept in the region. Upon entering the city there is a comforting, warm and inviting atmosphere.
With an international airport and good road connections it is the perfect launching point to reach other places of interest in Ecuador. Places like Mindo, the Galapagos Islands, Cuenca or the Amazon rainforest.
When is the best time to go?
You´ll be pleased to hear that you can enter the city year-round and have a blast. The weather doesn´t change drastically. There are really only two seasons. Though sometimes it feels like you get to experience all of the seasons in one day!. Definitely worth packing an umbrella and a couple of warmer clothes due to the altitude as it can get a little chilly during the night.
How do I get there?
Easiest way is to fly into Mariscal Sucre International Airport. The airport is 20km from the city. You are most likely going to want to grab a taxi for $25 to “Old Town” which is where the main tourist activities are.
There is an airport express bus that runs from the airport terminal to the old airport which is much closer to the city. The cost is only $8 and the journey lasts one hour. These buses leave frequently every 20 minutes, 24 hours a day. You can purchase tickets online beforehand or at the airport itself. Please note if you have additional luggage it will cost $2 per item.
Alternatively you can take a public bus that will take to you to Rio Coca bus terminal for $2. Buses run every 15 minutes from 6.20am until 9pm. From Rio Coca terminal you will need to take another public bus into the main part of the city for only $0.25.
Quito Ecuador is easily accessible through its international airport, but can also be reached by bus from nearby cities. For example, a bus from Mindo to Quito costs only $3.10 and takes roughly 2 hours. Within the city, public transport is extremely cheap. A bus ticket costs only $0.25 and can transport you to any location in Quito as I said before.
What can I expect when I get there?
Formally known as San Francisco de Quito it is officially recognized as the highest capital city in the world! At an elevation of over 2800m (9,350ft) above sea level you will notice the difference and feel a little out of breath when climbing the hills here.
Make sure to take a couple of days to allow yourself to acclimatize. Altitude affects most people regardless of age or fitness.
The long, narrow valley is 30km from North to South and merely 4km wide. With 2.6 million Ecuadorians living here, it is the second most populous city in the country (Guayaquil being the first).
The city offers a whole host of activities from visiting the center of the world, admiring cathedrals to climbing a volcano!. Wandering through the old town with preserved colonial buildings provides a nice contrast to the modernity of many cities. Here you will find market stands, Shamans with traditional healing medicines. Also families who have been making the original panama hats for generations.
The Centro Historico represents a true highlight of Quito Ecuador, where history and culture embodies itself in the magnificent architecture and energy of the area. The streets are lined with vibrantly colored buildings laced with balconies and flowers.Quito´s plazas are wide open centers of relaxation. Around every corner is a local man or woman selling fresh fruits, meals, and souvenirs for cheap prices. You will find every Ecuadorian is extremely friendly and willing to help anyone.
Along with beautiful buildings, the Centro Historico hosts numerous museums of history, art, and culture. The most popular are Museo de la Ciudad, Museo Manuela Saenz, and Museo Alberto Mena Caamaño. All of them are conveniently located near each other. There is also an abundance of churches that are worth visiting, including the gigantic Basilica del Voto Nacional. For a small fee, you can enter the massive church and admire the decoration. You can añsp climb the tall church towers for a panoramic view of the city.
Panoramic views of Quito Ecuador can also be found at El Panecillo, a huge aluminum angel statue sitting atop a hill. Buses travel up and down the hill daily, or a taxi ride up the hill is only 5 dollars from the Centro Historico. Walking up the hill is not recommended, as the area is not very beautiful. Once you reach the top, you can marvel at the beauty of the statue, browse through the souvenir stands, and gaze out at the vastness of the busy city life below.
For amazing nightlight and fun, visit Plaza Foch and its surrounding streets. This area is full of bars, restaurants, cheap hostels, stores, and all sorts of entertainment. The quaint cobblestone streets are pleasant for strolling and interesting street art brings life to the buildings, walls, and gates. You can also find every kind of food imaginable here. From traditional Ecuadorian cuisine, to Irish pubs, to fast food joints, to Middle-Eastern and Asian restaurants. This area is perfect for those who like to party and experience the craziness of a city and night.
In addition to these spots, Quito Ecuador is home to many pleasant parks and artisan markets. For example, Parque El Ejido lies near the Centro Historico, and hosts a large street market daily. This market sells everything from art, to traditional clothing, to food, to other unique trinkets and souvenirs. Other parks, such as Parque Carolina and Parque Bicentenario, represent gorgeous green spaces for having a picnic, taking a walk, or simply relaxing from busy city streets. Parque Carolina even has a Botanic Garden, a skate park, a playground for children, and numerous sports fields.
What activities are there?
Cable car (Teleferico) – Gondola, cable car or teleférico whatever you want to call it. The one in Quito Ecuador is the second highest in the world. It whisks you away to an impressive 4,100m above sea level. I would not advise going there on your first day. The top provides great views of the city and the option to hike for 5 hours up to the Guagua Pichincha active volcano. Tickets are $8.50.
The Equator (Mitad del Mundo) – Interestingly there are two places claiming to have the line of the equator. The first and better known is the large monument, built to commemorate finding the equator back in 1736. Entry is $3.50. In the main square regional dances are performed and there are restaurants, cafes and small souvenir shops around.
The other line of the equator is 240 meters away in a small museum called Museo Inti Ñan. This is an interactive museum that showcases not only the line in the center of the world (proven via GPS). Here you can conduct experiments in the center of the world such as the Corollas effect (water draining clockwise and anticlockwise). Also balancing eggs on a nail (supposedly easier though I still couldn’t do it!). You can see on display a real shrunken head and two indigenous houses. Guided tour is $4 and lasts one hour.
Free walking tour – The perfect way to get to know the sights and sounds of a city is through a walking tour. The community hostel´s old town tour is the best around. The free tour departs every day at 10.30am. The knowledgeable guides present not only the history and culture of Quito Ecuador but rumor and juicy gossip as well. The tour includes a taste of local delicacies and lasts 3 hours. There is a lot to see.
Calle de la Ronda – The most romantic street in Quito Ecuador. The street became famous when young men would woo potential new suitors by singing and playing their instruments underneath the ladies windows. This tradition is still recreated during the weekends. This is my favorite part of the city due to the pedestrian only zones, quaint cobbled streets and many good restaurants and cafes. During the night the street practically vibrates with energy from the small bars mixed with the aromas of delicious local foods.
Cathedral (Basilica del Voto Nacional) – The basilica stands proud above the surrounding buildings in the historic center, the impressive facade can be seen from anywhere in the city. Aside from entering the cathedral and admiring the splendor, you can climb the bell tower stairs to gain a spectacular view of the city. The locals reveal a legend that if the cathedral is ever completed the world will end. That’s because construction has been ongoing for over 100 years.
Viewpoint (El Panecillo) – Overlooking the city this hill (named the breadroll) separates the north of Quito Ecuador from the south. In 1976 a 140ft tall statue of the Virgin Mary was constructed atop the hill. The viewpoint is safe but be sure to take a taxi to the top, as thieves have been known to operate along the walk up to the viewpoint.
Tourist center (La Mariscal) – Chockablock with fine dining restaurants, bars and clubs. This part of town is mostly frequented by tourists and the place to go for nightlife.
Itchimbia cultural center – In the center of the Itchimbia Park is the cultural center that hosts temporary art exhibitions and weekend workshops.
Park Metropolitano – On top of a large hill this large and beautiful park provides spectacular views of the city. Make sure to find out where the main entrance is beforehand as the side entrances are sometimes closed.
Overall, Quito Ecuador is the perfect place to soak up Ecuadorian culture and enjoy fun activities. The people are warm and friendly, and the streets are overflowing with beauty and excitement. This place is not to be missed by those traveling in Ecuador or in all of South America.