How to Spend a Day in Quito, Ecuador
Okay, I’m not gonna lie, when I arrived in Ecuador, Quito was not on the top of my bucket list. I mean, I really didn’t know much about the city and was basically just there to visit a friend (Thank God for Maria who drove me around and picked me up from the airport. Public transportation options were not that great at the time) and see the Galapagos Islands. Little did I know that this charming, historical, capital city, would bewitch my heart and capture my soul.
Not only is this city set high in the picturesque backdrop of the Andes Mountains (pro-tip: Bring pants and sweatshirts because the altitude makes the city cold at night, even though it’s on the Equator), but this city has a vivaciousness of spirit and historical charm that is like no other place I have visited.
There is a unique, Ecuadorian Sierra culture here that combines overflowing market stands, shamanistic healers, and fourth-generation haymakers with a sophisticated culinary culture and a vibrant and modern nightlife scene. The result is a city that expertly and distinctly intertwines the culture of the old with the excitement of the new, creating an atmosphere of life that is unlike any other I have experienced.
But, the character of this city doesn’t come from the beautiful, snow-capped mountains or the historic colonial monuments and architecture of the Old Town district, now a UNESCO world heritage site. The real charm of this city comes from the spirit of the people who live here and their love for this country; a love that touches everything the Ecuadorian people do.
Whether it’s a building, a mountain, or a culinary delight, there is a joy of life that is embodied in the pride and care that citizens take within their daily life. And I respect that so much because it can be easy
to get bogged down in the mundane reality of the everyday; or to become bitter and angry in recounting the tragedies of the past, of which Ecuador has many. But the people of Ecuador seem to get up and fill their country will joy, excitement, and a pride of culture that was obvious in the enthusiasm that my friend had in showing me around (All this being said, Quito is not a utopia and there is crime and poverty so you do need to be careful and do your research before going).
So I invite you to come with me and find out how to spend a day in Quito, Ecuador. Now, Quito is a vast city, with quite a lot to do, so this task won’t be easy. But, if you’re up for it, there are a lot of things that you can learn, see, taste, and do!
The List: How to Spend a Day in Quito, Ecuador
- Capilla del Hombre – You’re probably reading the name and wondering, “What does that even
mean?” Well, this building is actually an art gallery that features some of the most important Guayasamin artwork in all of South America. That is because this artwork is so emotionally expressive that it simultaneously captures the pain of and hope from an entire generation of indigenous people. These feelings are embodied in a way that I have never seen before and in a way that words simply cannot express. The building itself is located a few blocks away from the Museo Guayasamín and stands as homage to the suffering of Latin America’s indigenous poor and to the eternal hope for a better future. Seriously, bring a kleenex. The emotions that this art evokes are unreal and unlock feelings you didn’t even know you had (Best and most moving part of my time spent here). Tours in English, French and Spanish, are in included in the price of admission ($8 adult) and are highly recommended to enhance your understanding of the art displayed here. They usually leave upon request during opening hours,
which are from 10 am – 5:00pm, Tuesday – Sunday.
- Teleferiqo – This vantage point overlooks the entire city of Quito and provides spectacular views of the mountainous, Andes landscape. The natural beauty of these mountains generates a peacefulness of body and a connection of spirit, with the environment, that the city of Quito lacks. When ascending the mountains here, you literally feel as though you are entering an entirely different world, when you are really only entering the outskirts of Quito itself. A truly transformative, worthwhile journey for sure.To get here, hop aboard the sky tram that takes passengers on a 2.5km ride (10 minutes) up the Volcán Pichincha to the top of Cruz Loma. Once at the top , you can hike to the summit of Rucu Pichincha (4680m), which is about a three-hour hike for fit walkers (Can be tricky so ask about safety before attempting).You can also hire horses (per hour $10), which are about 500m from the upper station (follow signs to ‘paseos a caballo’). The horseback riding option sounded less daunting and more romantic to me. But, with only 24 hours in the city, I went in the morning, when the views here are best, by taxi for about $5 (To get into the national park itself, which is open between 9:00 am and 6:00pm Monday through Friday and until 8:00 pm on Saturday and Sunday, it costs $8.50) . I didn’t get the experience that I wanted, but I was ecstatic that I took the time to enjoy this scenic, peaceful place.
- La Mitad del Mundo – This is better known as the equator, or the invisible line that runs across the globe and separates the world into the Northern and Southern hemispheres. Now while the line
itself is imaginary, the El Reloj Solar Quitsato monument is located here and was designed to represent the equator and it’s importance to scientific advancement. Because this area has become such a popular tourist destination, a series of shops, food stalls, and museums have sprung up around the monument. As a result, hawkers of various indigenous wares will get in your face and demand that you buy whatever it is that they have to offer. Therefore, I would maintain a,” get in, get out” mentality when you get here and basically take your pictures and go. That being said, the only thing that you may want to see here is the Equatorial museum. Yes, it is a little touristy, with “shrunken heads of the Amazon” on display (This really creeped me out and I hoped they were dolls), but there are some interesting scientific phenomenon that are demonstrated here, that only occur on the Equator itself and are totally worth seeing (My inner science nerd screamed with delight when I saw this). You can also get a equatorial stamp, in your passport, to commemorate your visit, and I mean, come on, who doesn’t want more stamps in their passport?
- Old Town – Make sure you end your day by walking through the Old Town or the architectural/historical crown jewel of the city. Everywhere you turn, the streets are lined with colonial monuments and architectural wonders that embody this city’s past occupation by the Spanish. This quarter of the city has no austere, museum mile, devoid of ever
yday life. Instead, locals steadily bustle through the series of restored, cobble stone blocks, that are lined with 17th-century facades, picturesque plazas, and magnificent art-filled churches. After marveling at such historical beauty, meander on over to the ‘gringolandia’ of the Mariscal, a region of the Old Town that is packed with local eateries (Get the empanadas and canelazo, which is a traditional, warm cinnamon drink), vivacious nightlife, and bands playing authentic, Ecuadorian music until the wee hours of the morning.
Museo Nacional – Now, if you have done ALL that and still need something else to do, or you have more than one day in Quito, then I highly recommend the Museo Nacional. I was really bummed because I did not have time to go here, but I heard wonderful things about this museum, which is located in the circular, glass-plated, landmark building of Casa de la Cultura Ecuadorian.
This museum houses one of the country’s largest collections of Ecuadorian art, with works that date as far back as pre-Hispanic times. Some highlights from the museum include a magnificent golden sun mask, ‘whistle bottles’ from the Chorrera culture, figures showing skull deformation practiced by the Machalilla culture, ceramic representations of tzantzas (shrunken heads), ceremonial stone chairs of the Manteños, and the Colonial Art Room, which showcases works of art that originated from the Quito School. Even reading this now, this list sounds super cool and I hope you get to check this place out and tell me what I’m missing. I mean seriously, they had me at “shrunken heads”. LoL.