Quito, Ecuador is arguably one of the most impressive cultural capitals in South America. With a complete historical renovation of the downtown cultural area, exquisite antique churches, exotic ecological and cultural daytrips to places like Otavalo, Mindo, Termas de Papallacta, the Orienté, and the oldest observatory in South America, there’s lots to enjoy.
Here are my top six picks for things to do within the city limits of Quito, Ecuador.
Spend some time at the Quito basilica.
The Basilica del Voto Nacional in the historical section of Quito, Ecuador is worth more than a quick visit. This impressive ornate structure is one of the most commanding buildings in Quito. The outside grassy areas are enjoyed by picnicking locals who enjoy gazing on the architectural details of this immense basilica. When we visited, entry was free. The interior is cavernous, and another opportunity to appreciate the work put in by the church’s architects. There’s an outside patio area to enjoy as well, including a small café. We had done a fair bit of walking around on the morning of our visit, so we hung out with beverages for a few hours, had some sandwiches and generally extended our visit to the Quito basilica by gazing up at the structure over lunch.
La Campana de Jesus: Quito Gets Gilded.
If you want to be overwhelmed by just how much gold leaf can be applied in a single building, then La Campana de Jesus Church in Quito is just what the doctor ordered. The structure has detailed decorations, and is reminiscent of similar buildings throughout Europe. It provides a sense of perspective on the missionary culture that influenced the area historically. The church’s entrance fee for foreign tourists is a couple of bucks, while residents of Quito, Ecuador and Ecuadorian nationals in general are granted a fee that is half that price.
Take a walking tour of Quito, Ecuador’s historical section.
This historical center of Quito, Ecuador is in my opinion the most picturesque portion of the city. You can visit one of the numerous tourist information offices for free maps and guide brochures, or download a walking itinerary that suits you from the Quito tourism authority’s web site. There is a particular section of streets near the presidential palace where the restoration efforts are particularly exceptional. If you run into the banking and coin museum, you’ll know you’re there. Some of these buildings look like architectural wedding cakes, with their snowy-white accent details displayed against yellow and pink walls. Even if you don’t do a structured, self-guided walking tour, taking time to stroll through this section of town at your leisure is a must-do.
Check out Monday’s changing of the guard ceremony.
While the guards change out daily at the presidential palace in Quito, Ecuador, on Monday mornings at 11:00 a.m. things get officially fancy with a formal ceremony in full traditional costume with rifles, horses, a band and more. The event takes place in the plaza in front of the presidential palace. You’ll want to get there early, as this is a great opportunity to people watch and grab some photos of soldiers and civilians alike. School children, grandparents, tourists and apparently anyone in the area with free time descend upon the plaza at this time. It’s a colorful, vibrant and just plain cool activity to include on your visit to Quito, Ecuador.
Stop by the historic Quito Observatory.
Officially the oldest observatory in South America, the observatory in Quito, Ecuador is not only a pleasant attraction for city visitors and astronomy buffs, but also provides some serious steampunk photo ops for those who enjoy ornate historical structures and scientific equipment. As a lover of old buildings, I was particularly taken with this one and how well it has been preserved. My husband, an avid skywatcher, was equally thrilled with this observatory that harkens to the bygone days of gentleman astronomers. While catching a nightly public telescope viewing is hit or miss, you can tour the facility and grounds for free, and enjoy a pre or post visit picnic in the adjacent park.
Visit the various Quito museums.
Those who enjoy historical exhibits, or tourists who feel comfortable having a few extra rainy-day activities in their hip pocket may want to check out the numerous Quito museums. I wouldn’t say there are any in the city I’d consider world class, but if you’re looking to take your exploration of Quito, Ecuador to the next level, then there are a few venues here to help you do just that. While some of them land firmly in the range of kitschy, the buildings are historical and fun to enjoy from that respect alone. Visit one of Quito’s tourist information offices for further information on the individual museums themselves when you’re in town.
There are a number of great restaurants to try out in the general area, and within the actual city limits of Quito proper. A number of them are located outside of town in historic haciendas where you can also spend the night, such as Hosteria La Cienega, and the Cactus Café in Cumbaya. So a visit to the city provides not only an enormous amount of history to explore, but plenty of culinary delights as well.
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