Quito is a place I never thought of visiting. It certainly wasn’t on my radar until I found myself on a 2-day stopover in the capital city with absolutely no prior knowledge of it.
(I can be quite the contradictory traveler. Sometimes I will have my entire itinerary planned out down to what bus number I need to take and other times, I will already be in the air when I realize I don’t even know what currency the country uses.)
It turns out that Quito is a fairly large city nestled into the mountains of the Andes. At an elevation of 9,350 feet (2,850 meters), it is the 2nd highest capital city in the world. Quito is one of those places you need to see from a bird’s eye view to get a better understanding of the city. (Hong Kong is another city like that.)
So if you find yourself in Quito for a few short days, here’s what you should do:
Take the Teleférico up the Pichincha Volcano
The first way to see Quito by air is by taking the gondola up the Pichincha Volcano, where the altitude reaches almost 13,000 feet (4,050 meters). Here you will have a view of 14 peaks of the Andes called Volcanoes Avenue (or Avenue of the Volcanoes).
While the view was great, the facilities at the top left a LOT of room for improvement. While under the impression that there would be restaurant options available–the only thing we found was a poor excuse of a hot dog stand that should have been avoided altogether. Had the hot dog been hot, it still would have been the worst hot dog I’ve ever eaten. However, this was back in 2013 and I can only hope they have tried to improve things since then.
Climb the Basilica del Voto Nacional
One of my favorite things about travel is when you stumble across something unexpected and that’s exactly what happened at the Basilica del Voto Nacional. After wandering around the inside, we discovered some stairways that took us up top. One exploration led to another and soon I found a rickety walkway made from old boards that took me right over the rafters of the main section of the church. I wasn’t sure if we were even allowed up there, but my curiosity urged me forward. Eventually, I found myself outside walking on small pathways around the turrets. There were wobbly stairs and loose boards that dangled me over the city of Quito and turned my legs into jelly. I didn’t expect it to become such an adventure, but it really was a highlight.
The views were beautiful and offered a much closer perspective of the city than the teleferiqo. If you don’t have time for both and are up for a little adventure–this one is a must.
Visit the Plaza de San Francisco
The plaza is situated right in front of the Church of San Francisco, which is a large impressive structure that looms over the square below. I was lucky enough to catch it 5 minutes before it rained because the storm clouds gave it an ominous presence (I love storm clouds in photography…).
Just around the corner is another church–the Church of the Company of Jesus–that is worth checking out. I didn’t have time to go inside either of them, but I hear it is worth the look. The area is nice to explore and shop around.
Step foot in both hemispheres
Quito happens to lie right near the equator and you can visit Mitad del Mundo– a monument that lies directly on the equatorial division. Mitad del Mundo, meaning ‘middle of the world’, has a line drawn through the area where visitors can take pictures with one foot in each hemisphere!
Read more about Mitad del Mundo
Indulge in South American food
Here you will find flavors and combinations unique to your pallet. Try some of the typical Ecuadorian foods such as menestras con carne asada y arroz (grilled meat, rice, lentils), patacones (fried plantains) or langostinos (prawns).
Things to know about Ecuador
- A lot of stores close early on Sundays if they even open at all.
- Taxis might try and rip you off because gas is so cheap.
- They don’t sell alcohol on Sundays.
- The city has an overwhelming smell of exhaust.
- If you attempt to drive, know that most cars will only leave about 2 inches between your car and theirs, and a lot of cars slide backwards when put into gear. Expect anxiety.
- You may need to bring alka seltzer.