Known as the second-highest capital city in the world, after La Paz, Quito is one of the best-preserved colonial cities in South America. Declared a UNESCO World Heritage site in 1978, the city is a fascinating combination of old and new. It boasts beautiful colonial houses and historic alleyways, and at the same time, trendy neighborhoods and skyscrapers while being surrounded by towering Andean peaks. If you are planning a trip to the Galapagos with a side trip to Quito, then we’ve put together an itinerary to help you make the most of your stay. Enjoy Ecuador!
Things to know before traveling to Quito, Ecuador:
Language – Being a Spanish colony for three centuries, Spanish have become the nation’s language which is widely spoken by majority of the people in the country. However, it is important to note that the Indian population still use Quechua, which is the language of the Inca Empire. English is used widely in most tourist areas, especially in hotels, souvenir shops, tour agencies and rent-a-car companies. Speaking at least some Spanish phrases or attempting to learn is greatly appreciated by the locals.
Currency exchange – Since January 2000, the official currency of Ecuador has been the US dollar. In the 1990s, the then-President Jamil Mahuad took a drastic decision of dollarizing the economy of Ecuador because of soaring inflation and the collapse of Sucre currency. ATMs and credits cards are widely accepted, but check with your bank beforehand if there are any limitations.
Safety and security – There is currently no nationwide security advisory in effect for Ecuador. Check your country’s travel advisory website to get the most up-to-date information for your personal safety abroad. Do not carry debit or credit cards with you, or hide it in your bra or shoes. There were incidences of robbery when offenders will escort you to an ATM and make you take out as much as you can. Leave your passport in the hotel’s safety deposit box and just carry a photocopy. Avoid unnecessary travel to border area of Colombia and Ecuador.
Getting there – Quito’s airport is Mariscal Sucre International Airport, located 40 minutes from downtown. The city is served by several foreign carriers including Aeroméxico, Air Europa, American Airlines, Avianca Ecuador, Avianca El Salvador, Eastern Airlines, LLC, KLM, LASER Airlines, LATAM Ecuador, Spirit Airlines, United Airlines, and TAME. Getting an “open-jaw” ticket is more economical if you are planning to visit other South American countries like Peru.
Getting around – Public transport throughout Quito, while generally safe, can be tricky especially for first time visitors. Despite this, the city has many transportation options including the Metrobus, Trolebus and Ecovia buses, which act like trams and railway systems because of their dedicated lanes. These buses run almost everywhere, from north to south. Basically, public transport is incredibly cheap and unlike most western countries, taking a taxi is a completely affordable and safe option. Taxis in Quito are required to use the meter and it will rarely cost over $5 if you’re travelling within the city.
Where to stay – Quito has a wide range of accommodation options, with something for every level of comfort and budget. El Centro Histórico, the well-preserved historic center dating from colonial times, has many nice small hostels and guesthouses, luxury and boutique hotels. La Mariscal, on the other hand, is a hub of backpackers since it has many budget hostels and reasonably priced bars and restaurants. Its heart, Plaza Foch, is a party zone at night and is famed for its vibrant bar scene. The hip and young neighborhood of La Floresta is perfect for you if you’re a foodie.
Hotels to consider in Quito:
Day by day itinerary: The best of Quito, Ecuador in 3 days
Depending on your time of arrival, you can take it easy and soak up the atmosphere in Quito, or you can begin your tour of its famous attractions. After your arrival at Mariscal Sucre International Airport, check into your preferred hotel/guest house. For your first day in the city, we suggest exploring El Centro Histórico (the historic city center), which has many protected buildings dating back to Spanish colonial period. With remarkable and least-altered city center since 1534, Quito was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site. After brunch, meet your Ecuadorian guide for your historic and cultural tour of Quito. Self-guided Walking Tours can be done; however, we recommend availing a guided tour so that you will be able to learn the history and culture of Ecuador from a knowledgeable guide.
Popular tourist attractions in the city center include:
Palacio Arzobispal (Archbishop’s Palace)
Palacio Municipal (City Hall)
Catedral Metropolitana de Quito (Metropolitan Cathedral of Quito)
Palacio del Gobierno (Presidential Palace)
Iglesia de San Francisco (San Francisco Church)
Basílica del Voto Nacional (Basilica of the National Vow)
In the afternoon, get acquainted to the city’s culinary scene. Locals stock up on fresh produce from Mercado Iñaquito (Iñaquito Market) where they also serve almuerzo (set lunch). Here you can sample Ecuador’s strange looking but delicious street foods as well as peculiar yet tasty fruits and vegetables. You’ll be surprised to see interesting imports products here from spices to liquors. That’s Mercado Iñaquito for you, full of surprises.
On day 2, delve deeper into the local culture by visiting Chaupi Estancia, a world-class winery located just 50 minutes from Quito. The winery tour is an immersive, censorial approach where wine comes to life. Chaupi Estancia aims to promote the cultural heritage of wine in Ecuador through guided tour of wine production and wine processing with wine experts. Along with the informative tour, visitors will also get a delicious lunch and wine in the beautiful vineyard. This tour will surely awaken your inner wine connoisseur!
Finishing with the wine part of the day, it is time to visit one of Quito’s most popular street – Calle La Ronda. Located south of El Centro Histórico , this charming street dates to pre-Spanish colonial period and earned a reputation as a bohemian district in the late 19th century. Creatives used to go here then it gradually declined its beautiful state when criminals, drug dealers and the homeless settled here. It was only in the late 20th century when La Ronda was restored.
On day 3, learn about Ecuador’s art scene by visiting Fundación Guayasamín, a museum dedicated to Ecuadorian master sculptor and painter Oswaldo Guayasamín, and Capilla del Hombre (The Chapel of Man). This three-level museum will give you an in-depth look into the life and art of Oswaldo Guayasamín. Here you will see his works and personal art collections including some very old pre-Columbian arts and other Spanish colonial pieces.
Your next stop is Guápulo, a bohemian neighborhood located just 15 minutes from El Centro Histórico. This well-preserved colonial village is packed with many interesting attractions so make sure to wear comfortable shoes and have your camera fully charged
Have you been to Quito or anywhere else in Ecuador? Do you have any tips or suggestions to share? If so, you can leave your comments below.
Featured image: Quito, Ecuador (alessandro pinto / Shutterstock)