Quito, the capital city of Ecuador, deserves every bit of its UNESCO World Heritage city tag. It has rich colonial architecture, old houses that survived the passage of time, preserved basilicas, monasteries, convents and more. The city is laden with stories and legends that build its captivating and enchanting heritage. If explored in its ideal form – that is on foot – it would for sure give travelers an adventure equivalent to time travel to a colonial era.
A breathtaking tour typically starts with Plaza Grande leading to the President’s Palace and then the Grand Hotel. A row of seemingly numerous churches locally known as Iglesias lie a few meters from the main square – you won’t miss them. Make sure you see the Church of Jesus de la Compania, San Francisco, and Sto. Domingo. A visit to San Juan de Dios is a must as it carries with it the incredible story of Franciscan Missionaries and their tale of love and dedication for their terminally ill neighbor. The ride back to history is cut short by the colorful street hawkers dressed in costumes and selling blankets, scarves, hats and other trinkets. You may want to check out the famous coca paste, an ointment known for its pain- relieving effectiveness.
When To Go:
The capital city and the adjoining region are spread along the foot of Andes mountain range, giving it its cold climate. The winters, spanning from June till September, are cold and dry with temperatures ranging around 50° Fahrenheit.
The better of two seasons, summers are the best time to visit the city of Quito. The summers here span from December to March and experience quite a bit of infrequent showers, in line with the Andean stormy season. The high altitudes contribute to the moderately low temperatures faced by the region. Remember that the country lies close to the equator, so it is a good idea to carry wide brimmed hats, umbrellas, drinking water, and sunblock to avoid getting sunburned. The weather may be intense, but it doesn’t stop Quito from being the most visited city in the Andes region.
Read on to learn about the
and the most interesting places to explore in the city of Quito, Ecuador:
Iglesia de La Compania de Jesus
The Iglesia de La Compania de Jesus is strikingly similar (with its Baroque style architecture) to some of the churches of Salvador de Bahia in how it uses gold. The church is pretty much covered in gold, resulting in awe-inspiring works of art that leave its visitors amazed by the attention to detail and grand design.
Every church here is marked by a stone cross. This one is no exception. It is one of the seven churches adorned with gorgeous architecture and a grand cross. The large colonnaded entrance imitates the famous Bernini colonnades of St. Peter’s Basilica in the Vatican City.
Considered one of the seven wonders of Ecuador, it is one of the most visited monuments in Quito. Its dome provides visitors with a remarkable view of the entire Piazza San Francisco. It would be a better idea to hire a guide to understand the magnificence of the architecture as well as the rich ornaments that draw a steady stream of visitors inside this well-preserved church.
The construction of this church was undertaken by the Jesuits in the seventeenth century. The façade is no less grand with its Baroque style of building, but it is the interiors that lend the monument its real opulence. Be it the thick columns, the retablo, the altar, the doors -everything is covered in gold leaf displaying a true masterpiece of Baroque Latin American creativity. It is one piece of human endeavor that simply cannot be missed during a walking tour of the city.
La Capilla Del Hombre (Guayasamin Museum)
La Capilla Del Hombre, popularly called Guayasamin Museum, contains some important works of contemporary art by Ecuadorian master artist, Oswaldo Guayasamin. His art is important not just for the art lovers but also for those who appreciate works showcasing the exploitation of the indigenous Latin American. His work is on fine display in the chapel and in the museum and make for a remarkable experience.
If you are traveling to the city for the weekend, you could very well take advantage of the free entry to both – Capilla (chapel) of Del Hombre and the house museum of the artist – on Sundays. The grand size and the ample space within the premises allow for large groups to explore the facilities are a leisurely pace. Use the free guides available here. In case you feel like having a quick bite, there is a café at the hall of the house museum. There are also well-priced souvenir shops where you can buy gifts. After taking a tour of this expansive yet beautiful collection of modern works of art showcasing passion, love, war and hate, any visitor will not be able to remain indifferent to what the indigenous Latin American community has faced.
Casa del Alabado
Casa del Alabado
is a museum containing excellent collections of art from the pre-Columbian era. The artwork is well presented with comprehensive written descriptions and a clear audio guide. You will learn interesting facts about pre-Columbian culture and history of Quito. The Museum is housed in a well renovated colonial property and the entire collection showcases the culture of Valdivia that dates back to 4000 BC.
Opened just three years ago, this museum could be counted among the best of pre-Columbian art museums in Latin America. The collection seems to be tastefully chosen and the whole setup including the windows, lighting, panels are arranged such that they accentuate the beauty of the artwork. The media room in this complex shouldn’t be missed, as it is as excellent as the collection itself. The cost of audio guide is included in the $4 entry ticket. It takes around an hour to complete the tour that covers all pre-Columbian civilizations of Ecuador, starting from the very origins to the present time. Don’t miss the crafts store (a part of the tour); it brings an appropriate closure to one of the most interesting museums in the whole of Quito.
Basilica del Voto Nacional (Basilica of National Vow)
Basilica del Voto Nacional
(Basilica of National Vow) is a beautiful church dedicated to the local wildlife. The church is famous for its exterior sculptures and gargoyles that remind visitors of the wild animals of the Amazon and the Galapagos. The church rests on the top of a hill at the end of the old town with two imposing bell towers overlooking the historical center of Quito. It was built in Gothic style during the beginning of the twentieth century.
Interestingly, the interiors of the church do not have much to offer as compared to its exterior. Instead, you should climb one of the bell towers of the grand Basilica to enjoy a beautiful view of the whole city. The sculptures of turtles, iguanas, and sharks at the front of the building represent Ecuadorian wildlife well, as do the spires that are adorned with the statues of Condors, a local vulture species) and great apes. The Basilica is not just a tourist attraction, it also holds importance for the Quiteños from historical standpoint. The church houses the tomb and funerary chapel of General Sucre, chief architect of the independence of Ecuador, and that of Garcia Moreno, another historical personality of the country.
San Francisco Church (Iglesia de San Francisco)
Considered to be the greatest architectural complex of Spanish colonial era in Latin America, occupying an area of 3.5 hectares and 40,000 square meters of built-up area, San Francisco Church (Iglesia de San Francisco) is an icon in the historical city of Quito. Although mostly rebuilt because of damage caused by earthquakes, the sixteenth-century complex will take you back to the time of the Spanish “conquistadores”. The details of the interiors stand in stark contrast to the whitewashed walls of its exteriors.
It is a treat to observe the laid back activity of the local inhabitants around its central square far away from the traffic and activity on the streets of the busy city center. The church of San Francisco and the statue of the Virgen del Panecillo at its center are a treat to eyes. There is a large restaurant on the ground floor where you could also find “souvenir” shops as well – if you are in a mood to shop.
Quito Historical Old Town Tour
Boasting an excellent collection of churches, monasteries and museums, most of which do not charge more than a dollar for entry, the Historical Old Town of Quito is one of the best preserved historical centers in the world. Grab a taxi and go from one attraction to another for a small flat fee of around a couple of dollars. There are also a lot of photo opportunities if you just walk around exploring. There is plenty to eat, and many hotel rooms for staying overnight. It’s easy to have up to three fulfilling days around the Old Town.
Impressive not only in terms of its beauty but also for the scale of size and degree of preservation, you won’t have a moment of inactivity in the Old Town. Tours start at the Great Square and continue to the convent of San Francisco, the craft shops, public buildings, historic monuments, and plazas. The changing of the guard at the Plaza Grande (Plaza de la Independencia) is also not to be missed. Make sure you are there early- it starts exactly at 11 AM.
Plaza de la Independencia (Plaza Grande)
The Plaza de la Independencia (Plaza Grande) is a must see square within the city center that is surrounded by interesting historical buildings. You can take a guided tour to check out the president’s palace.
Although there are a lot of shops around that sell everything from handicrafts to art and expensive jewelry pieces, you may still want to check the tourist information center first. It sells beautiful government-certified craft items at competitive prices. In case you are in no mood of haggling with the shopkeepers, you may just laze around on one of the benches and chat up with a retired Quiteño. The locals are quite friendly here.
The highlight here is the dramatic changing of the guard ceremony that is presented with much fanfare in line with the electric Ecuadorian culture. The ceremony starts with Honor Guards arriving on horsebacks with the sound of a military band performing the traditional songs of the country in the background.
Palacio de Gobierno (President’s Palace)
A few sections of the Palacio de Gobierno (President’s Palace) are open to the general public after it was approved by current Ecuadorian President Rafael Correa. Tourists will appreciate the large and clean halls of the palace that are adorned with large pots of pink flowers. The ground floor contains two manicured gardens and houses ancillary services sections. You may find it strange to see the presidential meeting room sharing space with a chapel on the second floor. The second floor also plays host to all the protocol activities. A large terrace on the second floor overlooks the Independence Square or Plaza de Armas from where the Ecuadorian president addresses his people. The presidential quarters and other important facilities are housed on the third floor.
Entry to the palace is free and guided but requires a document of identification (such as a passport). It will be held, and returned at the end of the tour. You can’t take photos, but you are able to order some from a photographer conveniently located in the courtyard.
The Parque Metropolitano, is an oasis of calm and peace in the bustling Quito City. The grand park spanning 550 hectares of green space overlooks the city center and is located in front of Pichincha. There are areas for virtually every kind of activity, be it a small family picnic or barbecue, or games for children. Beautiful paths crisscross each other throughout the park and can be used for walking or jogging. Several volcanoes like the Cayambe through the Cotopaxi Antisana and the Sincholaga Rumiñuahuipresent present a dramatic background to this popular park.
The park offers an escape from the traffic and its overwhelming fumes in the city. Art installations dot the trail that leads to different viewpoints (miradores) offering breathtaking views of the valley that drops almost half a mile into the wide urban sprawl.
Calle La Ronda
Calle La Ronda, with its electric nightlife, is one of the oldest and liveliest parts of the city. There is no lack of restaurants and craft shops on this historic street. Live music and street musicians add to the excitement of this part of the city. Calle La Ronda is a foot traffic only street, so it is safe for pedestrians. Taxies are available throughout the night to provide a ride back to your hotel. A large number of bars and dining places make this place a must visit.
La Virgen del Panecillo (Virgen de Quito)
The statue of La Virgen del Panecillo (Virgen de Quito) is perfectly located at the highest point in the city. It offers an unparalleled 360° panorama view of Quito.
Only accessible by a taxi or public transportation, the statue was inaugurated in 1971 at a spot where the people of Quito traditionally celebrate their festivals. The climb inside the iron structure has exquisite images of Madonna in beautiful stained glass and most the beautiful views of the white city hills down below.
Teleferico (Quito City)
The Teleferico cable car ride is a must do on a visit to Quito. It takes visitors almost to the top of the Cotopaxi volcano at the height of 4,100 meters. The ride is smooth and transitions well through the altitude. The ride takes you through lush green views and the vistas on the top are incredible. You won’t be left hungry though as there are small shops selling snacks even at the top. The air is expectedly clean and fresh. The trail is around 5 kms and covers almost half a kilometer in altitude. It is quite chilly at the top so make sure you do not forget an extra layer, along with a hat.
One of the safest cities to visit in South America, Quito offers a peek into its history like no other. It is a sublime experience taking a stroll down the Calle la Ronda and listening to the musical performances. Enjoy the beauty of the Winged Virgin of El Panecillo (Virgen de Quito), also known as the protector of the city, perched high on a hill. Walk around taking in the historical and rich sights. Interact with the locals, taste some typical fruits, see piñatas hanging in the shops, eat at the restaurants or shop for souvenirs from the streets. There is a lot to do in Quito, and you are sure to enjoy it all.