As you think about Ecuador, Quito travel should definitely be on your list, and if it’s not, we’ll give you some great reasons why you should visit it at least once. As Ecuador’s capital, Quito is not only geographically central to the world but has been historically central as well.
Legend has it, Incan General Rumiñahui burned down the city of Quitu (the indigenous name for what we know today as Quito) in 1534 to keep Sebastián de Benalcázar from conquering the city in the name of the Spanish Empire. Centuries later, Quito would become the site of great discovery for French explorer Charles Marie de la Condamine who published a famous paper in 1751 after spending five years measuring and observing the city’s physical dimensions. His findings confirmed Newton’s theory that the world is not flat, but rather a rounded globe that bulges at the Equator (sorry members of the Flat Earth Society).
Nearly another two centuries later in 1949, journalist Leonardo Páez’s adaptation of H.G. Well’s The War of the Worlds (1898) famously blared through Radio Quito airwaves as he read his script live —depicting Quito as an alien-invaded land that left Quiteño society in an absolute panic. When Páez finally announced his alien narrative as a “fictional drill” the public took to the streets, marched down to the radio station, and burned it to the ground killing seven Radio Quito personnel.
In this article, you’ll learn why you should take some time exploring this unique and beautiful city full of stories to tell.
Reasons to Love Quito
As the capital of Ecuador, Quito is a political and economic hub, but the history of this city can be tasted, viewed, and touched through multiple sites:
- Food: located in the Andes, Quito benefits from multiple tubers (potatoes, sweet potatoes, yuca/casave), grains (corn, wheat, barley), and meats (beef, pork, goat, chicken, guinea pig) that are endemic to its ecosystem, and some that are the product of African and Spanish migrations. Additionally, Quito’s proximity to the Pacific Ocean guarantees fresh delicious seafood. If you like soups, I highly recommend locro (potato soup), fanesca (a soup made out of 12 grains that is typically prepared during Easter), sancocho (a hearty beef broth with vegetables). If you like tapas-style meals, you can try bonitísimas (corn cakes), llapingachos (potato cakes), or empanadas (fried dough filled with your choice of cheese, meat, or shrimp). As a Moroccan friend told me recently: “every food in Quito is comfort food.”
Where to try these dishes:
- Architecture: Quito’s major architectural influences come from the indigenous Quitus and Incas, as well as the Spaniards. During the colonial period (16th-19th centuries), Spaniards brought a variety of styles (mudéjar, rococó, baroque, neoclassic) that gave shape to churches, monasteries, and government buildings, like the presidential palace (Palacio de Carondelet). The turn of the 20th and 21st centuries have brought new architectural practices to the city, ranging from skyscrapers to the Itchimbía Cristal Palace.
- Nature: Because Quito is built at the foot of an active volcano (Guagua-“Child”- Pichincha), and across several smaller mountains (Itchimbía, Ilaló, Panecillo), the views of the city from above can’t be beaten. These natural terraces will allow you to understand what it means to be located at the heart of the Andes.
- Markets: Ecuador is home to many nationalities and ethnicities, and there is no better place to understand this social and cultural diversity than markets. The Mercado Central (Central Market) will give you a clear idea of legumes, fruits, vegetables, and even flowers that are produced within the country. The Mercado Artesanal (Handcrafts Market) will give you a sense of the clothes, jewelry, and souvenirs that are made by indigenous communities in the Highlands.
Magical Places in Quito
- A short taxi ride from Quito’s downtown ($4-$6 depending on traffic) will take you to the base of the Pichincha mountain range, which contains three peaks: Guagua (the Child), Rucu (the Sleeping One), and the Padre Encantado (the Enchanted Father). The peaks of these mountains all sit above 4,000 mts (13,123 ft) above sea level, so make sure you wear your layers as the temperature will get cold. Remember, Quito is right on the Equator, so abundant water and sunscreen is always a good idea. The furthest point of the mountain you can reach by car is the lift’s parking lot, where you will be able to do two things. You can go to Vulcano Park, an amusement park with roller coasters, bumper cars, and a vertical slingshot. Additionally, you can take an air gondola that will take you up the mountain, where you will have a marvelous view of Quito. The gondolas are open every day from 8am-5pm, and a roundtrip ride will cost you $8.
- Church and Convent of Saint Francis
- Another alt-history favorite: they say Spanish King Charles V complained that he should be able to see the towers of Saint Francis’ Church from Spain given all the resources the Crown had invested in the construction of the building. His anger was understandable: the construction of Saint Francis began in 1539, and the building was inaugurated in 1705. Despite the King’s budget concerns, Saint Francis remains one of the most important monuments in Latin American colonial architecture. I highly recommend you take the time to visit the Church, the gardens and the Museum Fray Pedro Gocial located, inside the monastery. The convent is open Monday-Sunday from 10am-4pm, and it costs $4 to enter its premises.
- Pro Tip: Ask about the Cantuña legend and how one of the monastery chapels was built. Sometimes being a procrastinator can lead to success by way of the devil, or so the Catuña legend suggests.
- El Ejido Park
- Since the foundation of the city, El Ejido has been used as a place for animals to graze, a site for executing convicted criminals, and–since the 1960’s–a place for painters to exhibit their work on Sundays. While it’s highly recommended that you not miss out on visiting El Ejido, try to do so during the daytime.
- La Ronda Street
- From Inca Trail to poet alley, the Juan de Dios Morales street–aka La Ronda street–embodies the historical changes that make Quito such a unique city. I recommend you visit this street after 6 pm, and enjoy empanadas de viento (cheese empanadas), empanadas de morocho (morocho-corn empanadas, usually filled with meat and rice), and canelazo, a hot drink that combines juice and sugar cane alcohol. This street is located right by Santo Domingo, another beautiful building you might want to visit during the afternoon.
Best Souvenirs from Quito and Where to Buy Them
- El Mercado Artesanal ($- Handcrafts Market)
- Jorge Washington 611.
- The Market is open every day from 9am-7pm.
- Olga Fish Store ($$$)
- Av. Colón E10-53 (Flagship Store)
- Monday-Friday: 9am- 5pm and Saturday: 10am -6pm
- Szimon Tshirts ($$)
- Av.Amazonas N16-114 y Av. República (Mall El Jardín)
- Monday-Saturday: 10am-8:30pm and Sundays/Holidays: 10 am-7:30 pm
Whether you begin your trip, end your trip, or stop en route in Quito, Wanderbus can take you to Ecuador’s amazing capital city in the sky.