7 Quirky Sights to See in Quito, Ecuador
Quito may not have the best reputation compared to other South America Capitals and I’d agree that this sprawling city is a little overwhelming at first glance. After all, is it the second largest city in the country, with a population of over 16 million people, 6 main universities and two interregional bus stations. It sits 2,850 meters above sea level in the midst of the Andes mountains, halfway between the Pacific Sea and the Amazon Rainforest. Got all that?
The thing is, most places you’ll want to see are located in the city centre which is easy to travel by foot, Metrobus or taxi, so once you know where to go and what to look for the city doesn’t seem quite so scary.
1. The Middle of the World
Probably the best-known attraction in Quito is the Mitad del Mondo Monument, marking the place where the Equator cuts horizontally through the country. It’s a bit of a trek by bus from the city centre but most hostels will organise day trips or shared taxis to this place.
Interesting Fact: the official Mitad del Mondo monument doesn’t actually mark the Equator.
It was originally built in 1936 before scientist could measure the location accurately. The true Mitad del Mundo is marked by a red line painted on the ground. Standing on the line has some cool effects on the body. Try walking straight on the line with your eyes close, for example, you’ll find your balance is similar to when you’re heading home after a few hours drinking Agua Diente while listening to Salsa music!
Tip: Skip the Mitad del Mundo Monument, it can be seen from the road anyway. Instead head directly to the Intinan Solar Museum, a few hundred metres further north, where the true equator is located.
2. Little Bread hill
View this post on Instagram
Majestuosa Virgen del Panecillo, Quito • • • #Panecillo #virgendelpanecillo #ElPanecillo #Quito #Ecuador #allyouneedisecuador #Monuments #quitocity #phantom3 #drone #drones #dronestagram #droneofficial #droneoftheday #dronegear #dronenerds #dronebois #dronepic #aerial #aerialphoto #film #phototheday #photography #quadcopter #dronefly #fpv #uav #city #airvuz #phantom4pro
El Pancillo gets its name from its bread-like shape. Standing on top is the Virgen de Quito and it’s difficult to miss this 40-metre-tall structure no matter which part of the city you are staying in. The winged senora looks out to the north of the city and is said to bless all those who pass beneath her gaze. Whether you believe the story or not you can still enjoy some pretty nice city views under the shadow of the statue. Unfortunately, it’s not recommended to walk this way alone, so most people take a taxi to the top. If you’re in a group, however, its pleasant walk up through the houses.
Tip: Take a taxi to the top in the early evening, ask the driver to wait and watch the sunset over the city.
3. Quito Old Town
Quito is essentially split into two parts, the new part in the north and the old part in the South, the two-area sort of merge into one another. The old town is where you’ll find the political buildings, galleries, museums, historic sites and an abundance of local abuelitas in traditional dress.
This is also where you’ll see the best examples of Spanish architecture, colonial squares, monuments to Ecuador’s Independence and hilly cobbled stone streets. If you stay in Quito for more than a few days then you’ll probably witness some kind of public protest or demonstration outside the Presidential building too.
View this post on Instagram
____________________ Visiting The Basilica of the National Vow (La Basílica del Voto Nacional) in Quito is part cultural excursion and part thrill ride. It’s the biggest Neo-Gothic cathedral in the Americas and instead of gargoyles, its adorned with creatures such as iguanas, turtles and others native to Ecuador. The artistry of its facade, nave and stained glass is captivating, but visiting the towers takes this place to another level both literally and figuratively. In order to get to there, one must climb across what appear to be some rickety wooden planks thrown across the airy heights of the interior. Eventually, they lead white-knuckled visitors to steep and frightening stairs aimed toward the heavenly towers that can be seen throughout Quito. ____________________ #visitquito #quitoecuador #basilicadelvotonacional #basílicadelvotonacional #cathedraltower #quitooldtown #centrohistoricodequito #quitophoto #discoverquito #discoverecuador #visitecuador #neogothicarchitecture #neogotico #neogothic #neogótico #neogotic #dangerousstairs #worththerisk #thrillride #thrillrides #culturalexcursion #ecuadortravel #quitotravels #ecuadorgram
Tip: Take your passport if you want to visit the Presidential Palace. Entrance is free but you will need to provide ID.
4. Central Park
This is actually my favourite spot in the city. One side of the park is occupied daily by artisan stalls, some selling overpriced trinkets, others selling beautifully handcrafted instruments or vibrant handmade textiles. You can find a man who guarantees to weave your name into a bracelet in under 5 minutes and if you hang about the footpaths for long enough someone will probably teach you how to make some handicrafts.
On the other side of the park, the city’s men gather to play volleyball and share a drink. Then there’s a playground and families riding around on tandem bikes and there’s still space for men in wide-brimmed hats to play the panpipes, for Rastafarians to strum their guitars and empty spots to get comfy with a book.
Tip: this is an awesome spot so don’t miss it but be aware of who’s about and do not visit after dark.
5. Free Walking Tour
Quito’s free walking tour is one of the best that I’ve ever taken. Its led by a local man called Ovi. The tour covers the city centre and old town, it visits the city’s colonial churches, the Grand Plaza and gives a pretty honest introduction to Ecuador’s history, politics and culture. Best of all, you get to know the must-see sites from the maybe-see sites and pay a visit to Quito’s oldest sweet shop!
Tip: Take the free walking tour on your first day in Quito and bring $5 to $10 (or however much you like) to tip your guide.
6. Quito’s Central Market
Fancy some fresh fruit juice or milkshakes made right before your eyes. Pineapple, banana, peach, kiwi, watermelon, maracuja (passion fruit), tomate del arbol (tree tomato) or maybe you want to try some guanabana (that’s ‘soursop’ in English).
A pint-sized glass will set you back about $1.50. You could also pick up a snack-sized cup of salted mango or sit on a plastic stool for 2-course lunch of soup, rice, plantain, yucca, or potato, salad and some kind of fried meat, for $2-$3.
Tip: Vegetarians should stick to the juice stalls or ask for ‘Almuerzo sin carne’ (lunch without meat), you might have to specify that by ‘meat’ you also mean chicken and fish.
7. Visit La Ronda
La Ronda is the city’s bohemian quarter. You’ll find that it’s pretty quiet from Monday to Thursday, but at weekends it’s a lively area filled with the tune of live musicians and chattering people. This cobbled stone street hosts a whole bunch of cultural events and fiestas throughout the year but even on a normal day you can stroll between artisan stores, pop into workshops, browse the art galleries or stop in one of the cafes. This area one of the few places to serve Canelazo all year round. The native Quiteño drink is a mix of Agua Diente (a fairly potent liquor made from sugar cane), canella (cinnamon), raw sugar and either orange or blackberry juice. Served hot this is the perfect drink for Quito’s cool Andean temperature.
Tip: The best time to hit La Ronda is in the evening when there are live musicians and plenty of people.