Amid volcanic peaks like Pichincha (15,000 feet) to the west, Artisana (18,700 feet) to the east, Cayambe (18,725 feet) to the northeast and Cotopaxi (19,347 feet) to the south sits Quito, the capital city of Ecuador. Quito was the first city in the world to be named a UNESCO World Cultural Heritage Site.
There is so much to do in Quito, a city founded by Spaniard Sebastian de Benalcazar in 1534. Prior to Spanish colonization, Quito was occupied by the Incas. Both the Incas and the Spaniards left an array of treasure troves waiting for you to discover.
Here are Travelmath’s top 5 things to do in Quito:
1. Visit the Government Palace (Palacio de Gobierno) and Independence Square
Since 2007, the Government Palace has been open to the public and free tours are offered daily. The tours are available on Mondays from 3 p.m. to 6:45 p.m., Tuesdays to Fridays from 9 a.m. to 6:45 p.m., Saturdays from 9 a.m. to 10 p.m. and Sundays from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m.
To visit, bring your passport, and present it at the information booth located on Espejo and Garcia Moreno streets. You’ll be given a ticket with an allocated time slot for your visit. This 45-minute guided tour is conducted in both English and Spanish, visiting the grand dining room, reception rooms, meeting rooms, conference room, and the balcony. The balcony is where the President and his staff stand every Monday at 11 a.m. for the changing of the guard parade at Independence Square (a must-see event if you are there on a Monday).
The tour includes a complimentary souvenir photo taken by a photographer at the palace.
2. Learn about the equator line and balance an egg at Intinan Solar Museum
Try balancing an egg on a nail, stand on Latitude 0 with one foot on the southern hemisphere and one on the northern hemisphere, and learn about the Andean culture, native plants and animals of Ecuador at Intinan Solar Museum.
Quito’s original name was Quisato which means “middle of the earth.” Quito is the only place on earth where the equator line crosses the highlands. At 9,350 feet above sea level, Quito gives visitors a unique perspective on the Coriolis effect in the northern and southern hemispheres. You can experience the effect at Intinan Solar Museum.
The museum is open daily from 9:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. Admission fee is $4 for adults and $2 for children.
3. Immerse in Pre-Columbian art at Casa del Alabado
Casa del Alabado, a colonial home built in 1671 houses one of the most comprehensive and well-documented pre-Columbian art pieces in the world. There are 500 pieces in 14 thematic galleries. The pieces include shaman figurines, ceramic pieces, hunting tools, weapons, musical instruments and more.
The museum is open daily from 9 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. including holidays. Audio guides are available.
4. Visit La Compania de Jesus Church
La Compania de Jesus Church is one of the prettiest churches in South America. Built between 1605 and 1765, every single square inch of the interior’s wall is covered with 23-carat gold leaf. It took 160 years to build and decorate the church’s gold leaf covered interior, six Solomonic columns, vaulted ceiling, main altar, portraits of the Prophets, large paintings and more.
The church is open daily. It cost $4 for adults, $2 for students and is free for children. There is no admission fee on the first Sunday of every month.
5. Stroll along La Ronda, the oldest street in Quito
La Ronda is a restored cobblestone street lined with traditional handicraft stores, souvenir shops, restaurants, bars, and cafes. It is usually busy and noisy from Thursday to Saturday. The street is fairly quiet the rest of the week.
When you are there, try the giant empanada filled with cheese at El Pondo de Barro, a tiny eatery in La Ronda. Another unique shop is Chez Tiff chocolate shop where chocolate and cocoa butter are made on-site.
Tips on traveling to Quito Ecuador:
- Delta, American Airlines, Jet Blue and LATAM are some of the major airlines that fly into Quito. For a list of airlines serving Quito, use Travelmath’s Airlines serving tool.
- Quito is two hours ahead of Los Angeles. Use Travelmath’s Time Difference tool to find out the time difference between your hometown and Quito.
- Weather is unpredictable in Quito and the Andean highlands. You may experience four seasons in a day. Travel with a jacket when in Quito.
- The US Dollar is used in Ecuador.
- Be aware of your surroundings and don’t walk alone at night.
- You may experience altitude sickness on your first day in Quito. Take it easy on the first day.