Located in the foothills of the Andes at an elevation of 2850 meters above sea level, Quito is the highest capital in the world. It is a narrow and long shaped city with colorful houses, colonial buildings, parks and squares in the old town and skyscrapers in the new city. Here are my best tips for one day in Quito and the things you can do in Ecuador’s capital.
Among pilots, the airport of Quito is one of the most spectacular ones in the world due to the cities elevation, the surrounding vulcanos and the sea of houses. They recommend passengers with a tendency to fear of flying to not look out of the window. The new airport, however, is harmless compared to the old one which was closed a couple of years ago after numerous accidents due to the very short airstrip. Arriving in Quito is a bit of a thrill.
And the thrill could possibly continue on your taxi ride from the airport to the city…
…If you grab a „wrong“ taxi. Note, that official taxis in Quito are yellow with a green sticker at the side.
…If your driver mistakes the three-lane motorway with a formula 1 route.
…If your Spanish is not good enough to tell the driver where you need to go.
My tip: Uber and Cabify are safer and common alternatives to the yellow Quito taxis. I can recommend Taxi Aeropuerto (+593 983 408 394). They picked up my luggage the next day after my suitcase did not arrive with the same flight as I did.
Ok, here we go - these are my top things to do in Quito
Basílica del Voto Nacional
One of the top sights of Quito is the neo-gothic Basílica del Voto Nacional. The stuccoes, decorations, and structures on the façade are fascinating and beautiful. But the highlight after the exciting ascent to the tower is the view and the perspective through the two church towers to the Panecillo, the hill with the virgin statue. An elevator leads comfortably to the first vantage point at the front of the Basilica. If you want to go further up and see the more beautiful view through the towers, you have to go through the long passage and climb a very steep ladder on the other side that leads to the outside. Once there, climb up two more steep steps. If you don’t mind height and are sure-footed, don’t miss the view.
Opening hours: Monday to Friday from 9am to 5pm and on weekends 6am to 6.30pm 9.00
Admission: 2 USD
Panorama view from the first vantage point
Walk through the roof and climb up the steep stairs
A woman restoring the beautiful windows of the Basilica
A stroll through the old town of Quito
The old town of Quito has been a World Heritage Site since 1978. It is characterized by historic buildings, churches, and monasteries in colonial style as well as parks and squares. If you go to the church La Companía de Jesús, you better put on your sunglasses because of all the gold. A little less BlingBling but still plenty of decoration can be marveled at in the San Francisco church.
The Mercado San Francisco is worth a stop as well. Especially the back area of the market is exciting where the herbal knowledge of the healers is in high demand. Behind the curtains, the smaller and larger aches and pains are being cured.
Calle de la Ronda
In the south of the historic old town, you reach the Calle de la Ronda. The cobbled street with its colorful houses is the oldest in the city. It is packed with bars, restaurants, museums, galleries and small shops. Especially on Friday and Saturday evenings it comes to life and invites tourists to eat, enjoy the live music and taste a canelazo.
El Palomar Chocolateria
Ecuador is known for chocolate. El Palomar chocolate factory is a family business with a long tradition of producing the finest chocolate. For the chocolate junkies it is worth a visit to the café in a historic building in the old town – even if it is hot outside, hot chocolate is always a treat.
Address: García Moreno N9-59 y Oriente
In the courtyard of the Centro Cultural, just around the corner from Independence Square in the old town, you will find the Diosolopay restaurant, perfect for a delicious lunch. For the big appetite, I recommend the daily changing menu with soup, main course, and dessert.
Tip: If you order a menu, the waiting time is many times shorter than if you choose a dish à la carte.
The Virgin of El Panecillo
High above Quito on a hill the Virgin of El Panecillo, one of the landmarks, watches over the city. Panecillo means “small loaf of bread” and the name probably comes from the fact that the hill reminds of a loaf of bread – what do you see? A road leads up the hill from where you have a wonderful view of the city.
Even if you might assume that the area is a nobler residential area because of its location, this is not the case. Don’t walk on El Panecillo, but take a taxi up and down to avoid being a potential victim of robbery or attack.
A fancy diner and Quito at night
When visiting Quito, I recommend you to have diner at restaurant El Ventanal. From there you have a fantastic view over Quito, El Panecillo and the Cathedral. Even though the food is not quite cheap – it is delicious and the ambiance compensates the few dollars more for dinner. Take a taxi and get you picked up again. A short path leads from the parking lot to the restaurant with a roof terrace, where you can enjoy an aperitif and Quito at nightfall.
Address: Carchi y Nicaragua, Esmeraldas
The roof terrace of El Ventanal is a great photo spot. If you don’t necessarily want to carry a tripod with you and still want to photograph Quito at night, that’s no problem up there, because you have the wall of the terrace at your disposal. My suitcase has not arrived with me that day and my tripod was in there. A photographer’s disaster! In the end, the wall did a very good job.
Okay, now please don’t judge me for this Quito tip. In Ecuador, guinea pigs are something like a delicacy. On the street Manuel Cordova Galarza, which leads to Mitad del Mundo (so already a bit outside), the guinea pig barbecues line up. I haven’t tried it, that’s all I can say…
High above the city on the Teleférico de Quito
If you want to escape the hustle and bustle of the big city and see the mountain panorama, the best way is to take the Teleférico de Quito cable car. In only 15 minutes, it will take you to a viewpoint at 4000 meters, from where you can see the volcanoes Cayambe, Antisana, and Cotopaxi on beautiful days. From the mountain station, you can also hike to the top of Teleférico at 4696 meters, if you are already well acclimatized and don’t mind the altitude.
The gondola is at Vulqano Park and it is open daily from 9.00 am to 8.00 pm.
A few more tips for Quito:
Mercado Artesanal La Mariscal: Jewellery, Alpaca blankets and many souvenirs
Center for Contemporary Art in an Old Military Hospital (Montevideo y Luis Dávila, Montevideo)
La Floresta: Hipster district off the beaten tourist track
Nightlife at Plaza Foch
The old town of Quito is indeed nice to walk through, but it is not recommendable to do this in the evening. Attacks are not uncommon and the perpetrators want your money and valuables. When that happens, give it all up and call the police afterward. In general, you should only take a taxi in the evening and pay attention which taxi you choose. It’s best to get one called from the hotel/restaurant or order an Uber/Cabify.
Avoid public transport. Even if they are ridiculously cheap, the pickpockets love to do their job in crammed buses. Usually, it’s groups that work together. Better take taxis, they are really cheap in Quito.
Carry your valuables somewhere on your body. If you take out your mobile phone, be careful, because it can go really fast and bang, it’s gone.
Where to stay in Quito?
The weather in Quito?
You can have sunshine in one minute and rain in the next. Be prepared for rapidly changing weather and pack a warmer jacket especially for the late afternoon and evening.
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