Quito, Ecuador is not the biggest tourist destination in the world, not as googled as let’s say, London or Paris. And aside from standing in as a buffer en route to the Galapagos Islands, it seems fairly overlooked. Tucked away into the folds of the Andes Mountains, Quito is the highest elevation capital in the world. I’m here to tell you ‘The Top 5 Things to Do in Quito, Ecuador’. and you’ll see why Quito should be on your bucket list.
La Mitad del Mundo
La Mitad del Mundo, the Middle of the World, known as the equator line on the outskirts of Quito. The real equator line is actually about 250 yards down the road. Having been proven wrong in recent years by GPS, it’s still a must-see. Generally, we take public transportation wherever we go. This was the exception. From the hotel, it would’ve taken much more time on the bus than we were prepared to spare. Only in Quito for a long weekend, we had to move quickly. It was still quite a drive, taking about an hour, and costing about $15. (Fun Fact: the Ecuadorian Currency is the USD.) But it was a good way to get to see the city as we relaxed a bit. And before we knew it, we had arrived.
We got there about 8am, as we always insist on being the first in line. It was great. It gave us some time to walk around the outside of the gate and get photos with no-one else around. Once inside, we headed immediately for the ‘equator line’ and the monument in the center, the Monument to the Equator. Built in 1979, it has a museum inside and an observation deck up top that gives splendid views. Once we finished our self-guided tour, we headed out to explore the rest of the park.
The park is full of museums of all sorts, touristy gift shops, and restaurants. In fact, we had the best empanadas we’ve ever had in our lives here. And the price wasn’t too shabby either, about $10 for 6 empanadas and 2 large beers. So with a full stomach after lunch, and one more leisurely walk around the park, we were on our way back to the city.
Basilica del Voto Nacional
Next up, the Basilica del Voto Nacional. Construction of the Basilica began in 1892 and remains technically ‘unfinished’. According to legend, the end of the world will come when the Basilica is complete. (Maybe that’s why nobody’s in a rush to complete it.) Whether finished or not, it’s a beautiful church. Complete with 3 towers, it is the largest neo-Gothic Basilica in the Americas. The entry fee to the church and its grounds are a mere $1. For an additional couple of dollars, you can climb the towers.
Not for the faint of heart, the transept looms over the city from 243 ft. in the air. Only the bravest of the brave will climb the dizzying, outdoor ladder that takes you to the top. In fact, only half of our 2 person group made it to the top. Staring up at the first of the ladders, I had to make the walk of shame back to safety. Pete conquered it and the pictures made me regret not trying harder. However, the 2 frontal towers still provide a great view, but from the safety of solid ground.
The Quito Teleferico
Quito sits nestled in the Andes at 9,350 ft. and is surrounded by many volcanos. The Teleferico takes you up the side of an active one, the Pichincha. For $8.50, you board a cable car that whisks you to an elevation of 13,287 ft. The ride takes roughly 10 minutes and drops you next to a café. From here, there is an amazing view of the city below. I recommend making the trip early in the morning. Weather conditions can change quickly at this altitude and block the view.
You can also hike a trail that takes you even further up the volcano, but use caution. The elevation is more than enough to cause altitude sickness in those not accustomed to it. And sadly, there have been reports of theft on the trails further up the mountain. As always, do your best to remain vigilant and watchful of your surroundings.
Plaza Grande, also known as Independence Square, is the heart of the historic city centre. It’s surrounded by the Presidential Palace, Archbishop’s Palace, the Cathedral of Quito, and the Municipal Palace. There are many restaurants in the area to choose from, many of which offer a great view of the square. Food prices are a little higher in this area, but it’s worth it for the picturesque setting.
Try to plan your visit to Plaza Grande for Monday morning and you will have the opportunity to wave at the President of Ecuador. Every Monday at 11 am, El Presidente de Ecuador emerges from the Palace to the balcony. He gives a short speech and waves to the crowd below, followed by the changing of the guards. It’s quite a show and should not be missed. Arrive early, as the square fills with citizens and tourists alike.
Foch Square is the entertainment district of Quito. Known to locals as La Zona, it’s home to numerous restaurants, bars, and discos. In addition, there are sometimes weekend markets and music. The restaurants serve up a variety of Ecuadorian food, even the infamous Cuy! The bars really get going after dark and offer a wide variety of music tastes. If you came to Quito to party, this is the place to be. Plaza Foch is not my favorite square I’ve ever been to, but still a must-see if in the city.
Steps from the hottest nightclubs in the city, the surrounding neighborhoods play host to many hostels and their guests. But as with any city, large amounts of tourists often bring out the pickpockets. There was a large police presence while we were there, probably due to exactly this. Remain watchful and you should be ok.
In conclusion, Quito has much more to offer than this, Cotopaxi National Park, El Panecillo, and Mercado Artesanal to name a few. After all, I didn’t even get started on the food!
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