Quito is Ecuador’s capital city that is often given a miss or a paltry 2 days in one’s South American adventure of travels. Known as the Big Banana, due to it sprawling longitudinally rather than the concentric growth of most capitals, Quito has stunning landscape surrounding it like no other. It can go from volcanoes to history to food jaunts all in a matter of minutes. Having spent a whole month there, I want to tell you why Quito is a fantastic city to have an extended stay with five fun activities (I actually had ten but my post was getting mighty long so instead I’ll give the other five posts of their own!)
- Explore the Centro Historico de Quito
Quito’s historical centre was classified as a UNESCO World Heritage site in 1978 and it is easy to see why with its preserved Spanish colonial architecture and many a beautiful plazas (squares) flanked by beautiful churches each with unique interiors to explore.
I explored Centro Historico first with a free walking tour organized through Community Hostel (shout out to Jitske who was amazing answering all my questions). I highly recommend this if you are short on time on knowing the places to see in this area. On my tour some of the places I visited included the local market where I tried a plethora of fruits indigenous to Ecuador, the military museum, Plaza Grande, the Church of San Francisco and Plaza de Santo Domingo. The tour allowed me to later go back and visit the interiors of some of the churches we did not enter and Iearn about Ecuador’s history in the process.
Later in my own time I went to discover the Cathedral of Quito, Compania de Jesus and Calle de las Siete Cruces (the street of the Seven Crosses) of which sadly I only counted 5 and was too tired to walk back and seek the ones I missed. There are still many more places in the Centro Historico that I didn’t visit and I was there a month so take your time in this area and just enjoy the history it contains. It is also a fantastic place to people watch. If you don’t fancy joining a tour its really easy to explore the area yourself as places of interest are clearly marked with signs directing one to the location. You can also download the GOUIO app which gives information about Quito – what to see and do. Also there is hop on, hop off tour bus that one can use to discover at your own pace.
FYI: All the churches have an entry fee but are discounted for students
- Visit La Ronda at night
La Ronda is a street in the Centro Historico that I explored on my walking tour and was told how from the balconies females being wooed from the streets by potential suitors would dump buckets of water (or urine) over them if not interested. During the day, you have restauranteurs trying to usher you in for the lunchtime deal of ‘Almuerzos’ consisting of soup and a main dish all at a reasonable price and a few tourist shops.
However, it is at night that this place becomes alive with more restaurants opening with music blazing out from them, laughter and street performers on the street and just a joviality of life. I myself had a little Ecuadorian boogie on the streets of La Ronda after I sampled a traditional Ecuadorian meal.
- Climb the Towers of Basilica del Voto Nacional
Often mistakenly thought to be the Protestant cathedral of Quito, it is easy to see why when this beauty stands out from any rooftop all around the city. It is the largest Catholic gothic church in Latin America and is architecturally a gem. If you are really brave you can climb the ‘steps’ of the towers to see the views of the city and get a closer look of the towers. I put the word steps in quotation marks as you are essentially climbing ladders where one slip could be a disaster so if you are afraid of heights this is one way to try and conquer them! Access to the towers is at a cost and the cost is separate to the cost of entering the church interior.
Visiting the interior of this splendor was one of the first things I did when I arrived as you could just see it everywhere and it just draws you for a visit. Take it in and admire the stained glass windows that tell many tales of the Bible. I had great fun taking pictures of them and trying to get my family to guess what Biblical story it was depicting.
- Pick up beautiful goodies at Mercado Artisanal
Everyone who knows me well, knows whenever I travel abroad I love me a good market. The possibility of picking up a one off/rare gem from my travels excites me. So in Ecuador it was not going to be any different and this was an added bonus as it was a short walk from my homestay. In this place a lot of stalls can sell the same stuff but its all about keeping your eye out for something different. It’s a lovely and bustling place to walk around and take in the artistry of some of the items here and in the process after spending about an hour at stall trying on all the different sizes, styles and prints of Hi-tops, I settled on the gorgeous pair below (ADULTING went out the window). I also got some small artwork that I plan to decorate my home with (my house is gonna just be a mecca to travel I can just see it!)
- Get 360 degree views of Quito from La Virgen del Panecillo
I went up here on a school trip and was strongly advised that we should not walk up the steps as the area can be sketchy and some people have experienced muggings. What did we do as a class? We walked the steps lol. This was not the original intention but we waited quite a bit for a bus so Mario, our school caretaker who was leading us on the trip, decided we were to wait no longer and that we could walk as a group and be safe, and so we were but I would not advise doing this walk alone.
La Virgen del Panecillo sits on top of a hill of volcanic origin over 3000m above sea level overlooking the city of Quito. It is a sculpture of the Virgin Mary finished in 1975 and made entirely of aluminium making it the largest aluminum statute in the world, and is actually taller than Christ the Redeemer in Brazil (didn’t feel like it to me). One pays to enter and then you get your 360 degree views of Quito; it really provides you with quite a picture of how big Quito is and also I was surprised at how colourful the city is too.
And there you have it! I’m a city girl and living in London, where you have the world literally packaged in one city, Quito did not disappoint me culturally. I always had something to do and discover and I hope this summary shows you it deserves your time!
Big Quito City Love,
From The Five to Nine Traveller