Our trip both began and ended in Quito. And what a place to get to tour twice. Quito, a UNESCO World Heritage site and the highest elevation capital in the world, was founded in the 16th century on the ruins of an Incan city and stands at an altitude of 2,850 meters. According to UNESCO, Quito has the best-preserved historic center in all of Latin America. If we had wanted to, we could have easily spent our entire 2 week vacation in and around Quito and not run out of sights to see, churches to explore, or restaurants to try. Alas, we had a good 4 days, and we made the most of them.
TelefériQo: First order of business was to get a better perspective, literally, with the TelefériQo– a cable car that takes you up Volcán Pichincha, where you can see all of Quito below. The ride itself is fun, and there’s a lot to do and see when you reach the top; llamas to pet, a little church to peak in on, horses to rent, mountains to hike, and an amusement park to convince your kids they don’t actually want to go to. The whole ride up, walk around, and trek back down is a few hours, at least.
Cathedrals: Not surprisingly, Quito has cathedrals, and lots of them. Great, old, stunning cathedrals, and so easy to walk to, because the ones you really want to see are all relatively close to each other in the centro histórico. One fun one is the gothic Basílica del Voto Nacional. It is the largest neo-Gothic basilica in the Americas, and part of it is unfinished, so if you have a death wish you can climb across a rickety bridge constructed of wooden planks and ropes, and then climb a steep metal ladder or two, all for a view of the city you can also get from the far safer clock tower on the other side of the building. Also, I took too many pictures (see below).
Next up, El Sagrario, a 17th century cathedral also in the centro histórico, and another really fabulous church. This cathedral is located right off of the Plaza de la Independencia, and nearby are two other churches, so close you can easily confuse them, which I probably have- Catedral Metropolitana de Quito and Iglesia de la Compañia de Jesús.
La Compañia is a baroque church built from 1605–1765 with an interior almost entirely adorned with gold leaf. It is easily the most famous Quito church, and you are not supposed to take pictures, so I did the best I could with my unauthorized iPhone snaps.
Iglesia de la Compañia de Jesús
I really enjoyed the Iglesia de Santo Domingo. There’s pretty much no substantial information on this church online. Suffice to say it’s worth a look inside, the colors and design are vibrant and I like its style.
Another really cool church and convent we saw was La Merced. The Moorish and Incan decoration is brilliant, and the paintings inside depict scenes of volcanoes erupting over colonial Quito.
The Iglesia de San Agustín is constructed in Spanish Baroque style, and as it was closed, we only saw the doors, which are plenty fun to photograph.
Calle La Ronda: Calle La Ronda is recommended by nearly every travel site, and it is indeed is an alluring street. Also, it is said to be one of the oldest streets in Quito. It has a plethora of shops and restaurants, and we found some fun spots as we browsed. First off, we savored some fabulous Ecuadorian hot chocolate and coffee at Chez Tiff Artesanal. Continuing on, we browsed shops selling artisanal items, and one selling wooden tops and yoyos made on site- we watched the tops being carved and painted on the lathe. As we have a yoyo lover in the family, this was quite exciting.
Eating: We found some cute spots here and there to eat, and our favorite lunch spot was really chosen by location- it was a little cafe on the square by the Teatro Sucre. We ate some sandwiches and Coca Cola, and appreciated the sunshine and warm atmosphere, before heading home to a chilly December.
Our last night in Quito we ate a choice meal at Café Dios No Muere. As both our girls fell asleep in their chairs from tourist exhaustion, it was lucky that the restaurant was so close to our hotel. Dios No Muere is intimate with a great atmosphere, everyone is friendly, and the food was excellent.
The Presidential Palace: Palacio de Carondelet is also located in the old town of Quito, and can sometimes be toured, but while we were there the lines were quite long. Still, from outside you can see the guards and there is a changing of the guard ceremony on Monday mornings.
Shopping: We had one favorite shop in Quito- Tianguez, which is both a cafe and a gallery-style shop of winding, cavernous tunnels found in the Plaza San Francisco. The products sold are fair trade, but still at very affordable prices, and just exploring all the rooms was like a mini museum tour.
Where we stayed: The Hotel San Francisco de Quito is a colonial and Quiteño building from the 1700s, and although most rooms lack windows, they instead open onto a balcony ringing an interior courtyard full of flowers and with a stone fountain centerpiece. Even cooler still, breakfast is served each morning in the restaurant, which is housed in tunnels used by prisoners during the Spanish inquisition. There also is a Virgen de Quito fresco from the mid 1700s, which has been splendidly preserved. Our room was amazing, circular bricks and woven Andean artwork on the walls.To top it off (literally), Balcon Quiteño is a balcony on the external sixth floor offering dramatic views of the entire city.
Effigies: One last topic to cover is the effigies we saw all over Ecuador, not only in Quito. These effigies are used on New Years Eve, essentially to say good-bye to the old year, in this case in the form of a burning mass of paper and fabricated to look like cartoons, political figures, or pop culture icons. We saw SO MANY effigies for sale, my only regret is that we weren’t staying for New Year’s Eve to see them all burn!
What we didn’t see: There’s a lot going on around Quito. We were all a little under the weather at different times during the trip, and this slowed us down a bit. We missed the equator, and Mindo, the botanical gardens, and the Virgen del Panecillo. We hung around centro histórico and pretty much ignored the rest of Quito, so for sure we missed out there, too. Just some more excuses to go back!