Ecuador’s capital city may easily overwhelm travelers on their first day.
From the busy roads full of wild drivers and the constant sound of car horns, to the crowded streets packed to the brim with persistent street vendors and pedestrians, Quito can be a lot to take in. Countless restaurants and parks lie fill every street while different museums and churches are scattered around every block; how does a traveler know where to start in this chaotic city?
Quito has so much to offer in terms of urban beauty and cultural insight, but there are definitely some highlights that can make exploring the city easier. Here are the ten best things to do in Ecuador’s amazing capital.
1. Tour the Cathedral
When looking at an aerial view of Quito there is one building which stands out above all the rest: Basilica del Voto Nacional. This massive, ornate cathedral sits on a hill in the Centro Historico, in the south of Quito, and is truly a work of art. The exterior of the building is crafted in beautiful detail, and the interior is full of religious art and delicate stained glass. It costs $1 to enter the church, and $2 to climb the tall towers for a picturesque view overlooking the city.
2. Relax In Parque Carolina
Located in central Quito, this gigantic park is perfect for enjoying Ecuador’s warm, sunny weather. Complete with a skate park, a botanic garden, a kid’s playground, various artistic sculptures, and numerous sports fields, Parque Carolina has something for everyone. For those who just want to relax, napping in the soft green grass makes for a wonderful escape from the craziness of the city.
3. Browse Through San Roque Market
The south of Quito is traditionally poorer than the north of Quito, and therefore has some less visually-appealing neighborhoods. But the people of this area are as friendly and welcoming as can be, and the outdoor markets here have incredibly cheap prices. The San Roque Market lies on a steep street branching off of the main road, and is overflowing with fresh produce. From piles of exotic fruits, to massive bowls of nuts, to baskets stuffed with bread and pastries, you can buy enough delicious and fresh food to last a week for only a couple dollars.
4. Enjoy The View From El Panecillo
While wandering around the south of Quito, you may notice a giant silver angel on a hill, faithfully watching over the bustling city. This 45 meter tall, aluminum statue represents the Virgen de Quito, and rests atop the hill named El Panecillo. Buses and taxis frequently travel up and down the hill for very cheap prices, and public transport is recommended as the walking up the hill will take you through a dangerous neighborhood. Upon reaching the top of the hill, you can spend the afternoon marveling at the incredible views of the sprawling mass of civilization below and eating at the small sheds of street food.
5. Eat Street Food
Speaking of street food, every street corner in Quito hosts a friendly local with small cart offering some sort of cheap, freshly made food. You can find everything from assortments of fruits like papaya, watermelon, and banana, to traditional meat and rice dishes, to sweet pastries, to fresh juices and smoothies. A particularly delicious local dish is Choclo con Queso, or thick, Ecuadorian corn grilled and slathered in butter, mayonaise, and cheese.
6. La Foch
For a fun night with a younger crowd, visit the small neighborhood known as La Foch near center of Quito. The narrow, stone streets contain more pedestrians than traffic in this part of the city, making La Foch perfect for strolling around at night and hopping between the endless supply of clubs, bars, and restaurants. Food of every genre is available here as well, from Irish pubs to fast food joints, to classic Ecuadorian cuisine, to Asian and Middle-Eastern food. This area also contains tons of cheap youth hostels, enticing street art, and unique theme bars and clubs, so La Foch is ideal for young travelers who love to party.
7. Wander Through The Historical Center
The Historical Center, or Old Town of Quito represents the best place for sightseeing in the whole city. The tightly-packed buildings brighten the town with vibrant colors and decorations. Palm trees, balconies, flower pots, flags, and artwork only add to the stunning architecture, and every street looks like a gorgeous scene right out of a novel. Huge government buildings, modest or magnificent churches, and spacious public squares complement the crowded maze of side streets to create a marvelous center of history, art, and culture.
8. Take A Day Trip to Mitad del Mundo
When in Ecuador, one must visit the Center of the Earth, also known as the Equator. The line of latitude 00°00’00’’ passes right through the northern Quito, and blue public buses labeled “Mitad Del Mundo” travel through Quito to the equator every day. Visit the museum at the center of the earth to learn about the physics of the Equator line, the history of the area’s indigenous cultures, and the process of chocolate making, all the while exploring the interesting art and demonstrations placed around the famous line.
9. Visit A Street Market
Though commercialized shops offer many souvenirs, the best place to buy gifts in Quito is a street market. Parque El Ejido houses an enormous open-air market full of hand-crafted goods and unique trinkets. Here you can find weaved clothing, colorful bags and hats, incredible paintings and artwork, chocolate, food, and snacks, coasters, posters, jewelry, maps, shoes, figurines, key chains, and any other type of souvenir imaginable. Once again, prices are cheap, and the locals are affable and always willing to engage in conversation with confused tourists.
10. Explore The Museums
For a more in-depth education about the history, lifestyle and culture of Quito and Ecuador, stop by one of Quito’s many museums. Most museums are located in the Centro Historico, wedged between government palaces and ornate churches. Quito’s most popular museums are Museo de la Ciudad, Museo Manuela Saenz, and Museo Alberto Mena Caamano, all of which reside near each other in the Centro Historico. This area of Quito has quite a few information booths and tourist offices, which can provide more information on the many attractions in the city.