Top 10 things to do in Quito, Ecuador

Wednesday, March 4

No trip to Ecuador is complete without exploring the gorgeous city of Quito! There is so much to do in the vast expanse of this historical and modern day city, but I've narrowed down my favorites! I've also listed them in order of a walking tour from the Panecillo to the Basilica, which is what Kevin and I did in one day...Here goes:

Climb the Panecillo

The Panecillo is is a 200-metre-high hill of volcanic origin, located between southern and central Quito. In 1976 a Spanish artist was commissioned to build a 45-metre-tall stone monument of a Madonna which was assembled on a high pedestal on the top of Panecillo. This is a great place to start your day in Quito. Hike to the top of the statue, and look out onto the historical district. See the huge church in the distance? That's the Basilica del Voto Nacional. A great way to plan your day is to start at the Panecillo, and work your way towards the Basilica. Everything you'll want to see is between these two gems! Let's go…

Get lost in the Historical Center

It's not easy to get lost in Quito, because you can always see the Panecillo to the South and the Basilica to the North. But…this makes for a great adventure of just letting yourself wander down random streets, enjoying whatever you stumble upon (but still holding your bearing). There are so many treasures in the city! From the Pancillo, walk due north and you can wander around Avenida 24 de Mayo and La Ronda, one of the best-presevered colonial streets in Old town. If you like museums, there are quite a few in the city worth seeing (some free, always nice!). Here is a great list of museums you might pass while wandering.

People Watch in Plaza San Francisco

Check your map and head towards Plaza San Francisco! This historical center boasts some lovely architecture and beautiful views. The majestic building that stands in the middle of the plaza is Inglesia San Francisco, and is the oldest colonial edifice in the city and the largest religious complex in South America! According to our guidebook, it was built on the site of an Inca royal house within weeks of the city's founding in 1534, and the first wheat grown in Ecuador was sprouted in one it's courtyards! Pick a bench and people watch! Great place to take a little break!

Eat Lunch in Plaza Grande

Just around the corner from Plaza San Francisco is Plaza Grande. The historical pulse of the city emanates from Plaza Grande (or Plaza Independencia). From this idyllic center, you can stand at the independence monument and revolve in a circle to see the Carondelet Palace (which is the Presidential Palace), the Metropolitan Cathedral, the Archbishop's Palace, the Municipal Palace and the Plaza Grande Hotel. This is where things happen in this city! To the right of the Plaza Grande Hotel is a courtyard filled with floors of restaurants. Kevin and I ducked in for a delicious meal at Hasta La Vuelta, Señor, on the 3rd floor. A great option for hungry travelers! We also got some popsicles for dessert at a cafe lining the streets of the Plaza, which made for a gorgeous view while we munched!

Take a Free Tour of the Presidential Palace

Speaking of Plaza Grande, don't leave until you get a free tour of the Presidential Palace! Kevin and I had wanted to take a tour of the Ecuadorian version of the White House, and were floored when we learned it was free of charge! {Gotta love FREE!}. Get in line on the left side of the Palace to secure a ticket. Your ticket will tell you the time for the tour, and you can just enjoy the plaza while you wait (or eat lunch, which is what we did!). The tour is really fascinating, as it gives you a brief history of Ecuador, and shares what and where the presidents work. You'll learn little tidbits about different presidents in Ecuador's history, and their significant contributions to the country. We loved hearing about all the amazing ways our friend Alicia's father, Sixto Durán Ballén, served his country as President! Surprisingly (and super random) you'll also get a free picture of yourself in front of the fountain as a little souvenir! {Thanks Mr. President!}

Poke your head into Teatro Bolivar
Teatro Bolivar was built in 1933 and is a wonderful example of Neo-classical architecture. It has had a few fires, but is currently being restored. From Plaza Grande, head south east on Eugenio Espejo and you'll hit Teatro Bolivar. Peak your head in and marvel at the gorgeous theatre! They may even be hosting shows by the time you go, so look for what events might be happening there! Plus, Eugenio Espejo is a really cute street regardless!

Tour the Basilica del Voto Nacional
The crowning jewel of Quito is the Basilica del Voto Nacional. The first stone was laid in 1892, and it was blessed by the Pope in 1985…so it was a work in progress, and is still technically "unfinished".  It is the largest neo-Gothic basilica in the New World, and let me tell you, is utterly fascinating to explore.  There are so many levels to the Basilica making it possible to explore for over an hour and still not have seen it all. Make sure to hike to the second floor to get a stunning shot of the main nave of the worship center, as well as the looming windows that project an incredible view of the city below. Hike up a littler further and you'll be inside the clock tower on a tiny little spiral staircase {that make me incredibly nervous, but also incredibly brave! I felt like I was Nicholas Cage in National Treasure! ha} Some of the best views of Quito can be seen from the balconies of the Basilica, don't miss it!

Shop the Markets

Ecuadorian handicrafts are some of the most beautiful and unique in the world. I'm a sucker for leather and for bright fabrics, and this has the best of both worlds! I managed to escape without too many extra treasures in my bag, haha! From the Basilica, Kevin and I took a taxi to La Mariscal market. This was a fun half a block of different merchants selling colorful items! Make sure to barter on prices, that's half the fun!  If you have the time, I might even suggest taking a day trip out to the famous Otovalo Market, which is one of the biggest markets in all of South America! To see a few pics of the market and the treasures we found, click here. 

Ride the Teleferico
This is the only activity on this list that Kevin and I did not do because lack of time, however I've heard it's really neat. The Teleferico is a cable car that takes you up the side of a mountain in Quito, and delivers some beautiful views. It costs $8. I also read that from the top of the mountain, there are some horse-back riding tours you can take of the surrounding area. Check it out here to read reviews! However, if you are looking for a good view and don't have time for the Teleferico, the views from the Basilica are spectacular!!

Volunteer at Casa Victoria 

Without a doubt, one of our favorite parts of Quito was meeting the incredible staff and children at Casa Victoria. Kevin and I spent a day here, helping out with the after-school program. One of the most amazing parts of volunteering is that it opens your eyes to some of the real issues a city is up against. Many families in Quito, like all big cities, are struggling to survive, the parents working multiple jobs and the children having little structure or help with their school work. Casa Victoria reaches out to these children and offers them a safe place to come learn and play, and eat a meal each day. If you are looking to help support an amazing organization, check out Casa Victoria! {I share about CV here on my blog, but they also have a website here} ** Currently Casa Victoria is looking for a committed couple or volunteer to come longer term (i.e.: 4-6 months!)…could that be YOU?

For more pictures of Quito and to see the walking tour we did, see Quito Day 1 and Quito Day 2

Happy Wednesday sweet friends!! 

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