A sprawling city located high in the Andes mountains, Quito is the capital of Ecuador and has over 2.5 million inhabitants. It was the first city to be declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Most tourists brush off Quito as just a quick stopover on the way to the Galapagos Islands, but you can easily find interesting things to do in Quito.
Basilica del Voto Nacional
The impressive Basilica del Voto Nacional is a must-see sight in Quito. Built in the late 19th century, it is the largest neo-Gothic basilica in the New World. It costs $2 to climb up to the top for panoramic views of Quito. As you make your way to the top, you will walk across a wooden walkway, and climb up an iron ladder. Some people might find the climb scary, but it is an exciting experience and well worth it!
The Basilica is unique because its gargoyles are shaped like Ecuadorian animals. You will see condors, monkeys, tortoises, penguins and pumas guarding the outside of the church.
Old Town Quito
Founded by the Spanish in the 1530s, Old Town Quito (El Centro Histórico), is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and is the best-preserved historic center in Latin America. You can spend a couple of hours exploring the three main squares: Plaza de la Independencia, Plaza Santo Domingo and Plaza San Francisco. Check out La Compañía de Jesús and San Francisco churches. If you like museums, visit Museo de la Ciudad to learn about life in Quito throughout the centuries. In the museum there are dioramas and model homes.
One of the prettiest areas in the Old Town is La Ronda. It is one of the oldest streets in Quito and has many restaurants, cafes, shops and art galleries.
A map will come in handy in the old town as many streets have two different names: the official name on green plaques and the historical name on ceramic tiles.
El Panecillo, which means “little loaf of bread”, is a famous hill in Quito topped by a tall statue of the Virgin Mary. It is called El Panecillo because from far away it looks like a small roll of bread. The statue was completed in 1976 and is made of 7000 pieces of aluminum. Back in ancient times, before the Spanish arrived, the Incas used to come to this hill to worship the sun.
From El Panecillo you can get magnificent views of the city and the surrounding volcanoes. On a clear day, you can even spot Cotopaxi Volcano. It’s best to come here with the Quito City Tour bus or a taxi instead of walking up the hill as the neighbourhood nearby is not very safe.
For magnificent views of the city of Quito, take the TeleferiQo cable car to Cruz Loma viewpoint. The ride is 20 minutes long and takes you up Pichincha Volcano from 3117m to 3945m. Since the altitude is so high, I recommend waiting until your second day in Quito to take the TeleferiQo. If you do end up experiencing altitude sickness, there are oxygen machines at the upper station and you can buy coca tea to relieve your symptoms.
Try to visit as soon as the TelerifiQo opens (around 8 or 9 am) as the skies tend to be clearer in the morning. By noon the clouds start rolling in and you may only seea foggy view from the top!
Capilla del Hombre
Located on top of a hill is Capilla del Hombre, a museum where you can see the art of Ecuador’s most famous artist, Oswaldo Guayasamín. The artwork in Capilla del Hombre depicts the suffering of the indigenous people of Latin America and Guayasamín’s hope for better human rights. Nearby is Guayasamín’s former home, where you can take a guided tour to learn more about his life and local history.
Getting Around Quito
Quito Tour Bus
Riding the Quito Tour Bus and hopping off at the stops you are interested in is the perfect way to spend your first day in Quito while you adjust to the altitude. You won’t have to do too much walking (unless you plan on spending a lot of time exploring the Old Town). Tickets cost $15 for adults. You can buy tickets from the official website, in person or at some hotels and hostels.
As there are some fake taxis going around Quito, know how to distinguish real taxis from fake ones. Official taxis are yellow with orange license plates. They have “transporte seguro” stickers on the outside. Ask your hotel or hostel to call a taxi for you if possible.
Quito only has two seasons: the dry season and the wet season. The dry season (referred to as summer) is from June to September and the wet season (called winter) lasts from October to May. The wet season is actually slightly warmer than the dry season, with an average afternoon temperature of 21°C. The annual average temperature is 15°C. You should bring a waterproof jacket or an umbrella, especially during the wet season.
Quito receives a high amount of solar radiation due to its high elevation. Even on cloudy days, remember to put on sunscreen.
The sun rises around 6:00-6:30 am and sets between 6:00-6:30 pm year-round.
Quito’s altitude is 2850m above sea level. As some people experience altitude sickness when visiting locations above 2,500m, drink lots of water and avoid too much physical activity during your first day in Quito. You may experience nausea, dizziness, headaches or difficulty sleeping. If you know you suffer from altitude sickness, you may want to ask your doctor for a prescription of Diamox before your trip.
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