There are many reasons to visit Quito, Ecuador.
For globetrotters, escaping New York is a no-brainer – and inevitable to boot – especially when NYC gets to be too cold, too hectic, or too overwhelming. When I was invited to visit Quito, Ecuador in November, I was aching to take a few days away from New York, so the timing couldn’t have been more perfect.
Since I had not visited South America before, this city was an excellent place to start my journey. It is a major city, after all (home to more than 2.5 million people), the first city to be declared a World Heritage Site by UNESCO, and the town offers a wealth of art and culture, delicious food, luxury hotels, warm, engaging natives, not to mention a picturesque landscape with 30 volcanoes. In a nutshell, there are so many unique and entertaining things to do, and so many reasons to visit Quito, Ecuador.
Quito is a must-see for anyone who prefers to incorporate time in a big city in their Ecuador travel itinerary. These are but a few highlights (I could write pages and post dozens of images), and reasons why I think this Ecuadorian capital city is definitely worth a visit.
Of all the things to do in Quito, I recommend making time for La Ronda. This quaint cobblestone street in Old Town Quito boasts an array of shops, bars, and eateries. Friendly locals walk their dogs and children play street games. Grab a bite in one of the area’s tiny cafes, or skip the food and sip a canelazo (a hot, soothing drink, usually made from sugar alcohol, cinnamon, and orange juice). Yum.
Art lovers can peruse the galleries and retailers, and, like me, maybe even test out a few hats! I spent a short afternoon wandering up and down this charming “calle” and only wished I would’ve had more time, as I didn’t want to leave. La Ronda should be at the top of your list when traveling to Quito – these few blocks offer up a scrumptious taste of Latino lifestyle and the city’s traditions.
Yes, we all know about the Equator. It’s one of the reasons to visit Quito, Ecuador. It is the center of the world, right? Although this attraction draws a lot of tourists (like the Statue of Liberty), I had fun on my visit and recommend it.
I’d allow at last a half a day to go to Mitad del Mundo (the Middle of the World) and Museo Intiñan, (the Equator Museum). But here’s a secret (although probably not a secret to most any longer), the Mitad del Mundo is not actually the real Equator. Thanks to GPS, Ecuador discovered that the real Equator is indeed at the museum, which lies about 250 yards away. So, I suggest hitting both attractions on the same day and getting your Equator on in full force.
Be sure to walk the line at the Museo Intiñan, and jump for joy at the Mitad del Mundo (picture of me doing just that below, in the rain, no less), and get photos to document your experience. Don’t worry if you feel silly. I assure you that millions of others do it too, and some shenanigans are almost expected. I did both and even got a passport stamp to prove that I was, indeed, at the actual equator.
The Plaza Grande Hotel
Although there’s a variety of accommodations in Quito – including both budget and luxury hotels, guest houses, and hostels – I had the pleasure of staying in one of the city’s finest hotels, which also happened to be one of the finest hotels I’ve ever stayed in anywhere.
I knew I was in for a treat as soon as I arrived and was greeted by the staff, and immediately afterward, served an unbelievable breakfast before checking into my two-room suite. Besides the regal decor and magnificent view of the city through casements windows, the service at the Plaza Grande was stellar. And the food? Delicioso!
The Chapel of Man
This gallery-meets- monument showcases the work of famed Ecuadorian painter and sculptor, Oswaldo Guayasamin, whose art can readily be found all over Quito. The space is spectacular, and his work symbolizes the never-ending quest for peace and harmony and pays tribute to the indigenous people of South America. If the beauty and inspiration of this museum’s interior aren’t enough, the amazing view from the outside is also worth mentioning.
Tren Ecuador to Machachi
Off all the activities and sights that were part of my itinerary in Ecuador, Tren Ecuador was by far my favorite. The tour of the Chimbacalle Station (although interesting for history buffs) wasn’t the highlight for me, but rather the ride itself. On the way to Tambillo and Aloasi (south of Quito) – the city mingled with the country, and the landscape was spectacular. Cows grazed, and children played, and friendly Ecuadorians waved as we drove by.
We made several stops on our journey, learning local arts and crafts, watching a dance performance, visiting a farm and petting zoo, and, of course eating classic Ecuadorian food. This entire day was a treat.
I’ll be the first to say that New Yorkers are a helpful, likable bunch, so I was thrilled to find Ecuadorians to be as warm and inviting. Saying that the attitude toward Americans is positive would be an understatement. Whether we were perusing shops, taking a cooking lesson in the kitchen at Achiote in La Mariscal, or strolling around historic downtown Quito, we felt as if we belonged.
Our guide Jorge Castillo set the standard high! He was the most awesome guide we could’ve asked for, and by the end of our four days together, our group (six women!) and Jorge became lifelong friends. We’ve already promised tours of our specific neighborhoods when he visits New York City. Not only was he accommodating and patient, but he was uber-knowledgeable about Quito and the city’s history and culture, as well as fluent in Spanish and English. (He’s also one heck of a guitar player.) Thank you, Jorge for making my first trip to Ecuador one I will never forget!
TIPS for traveling to Quito, Ecuador
Getting to Quito
LAN Airlines offers connecting fights from JFK through Guayaquil to Quito. Mid-week fares start around $600 round trip. Flight times are approximately 10-11 hours. Flights offer complimentary meals and drinks as well as inflight entertainment. I loved this airline and would definitely fly LAN again.
Currency in Ecuador
Ecuador uses the US dollar, but be sure to carry ones, fives, and tens –– no twenties. Small bills are appreciated and almost required by many small business and street vendors as they can’t make change. Larger establishments accept credit cards.
Weather in Quito
If you hear that you can experience four seasons in just one day when you’re in Quito, listen! Be prepared to feel warm, if not hot when the sun shines, so bring sunscreen. But by the same token, clouds can take over in a minute and the winds will pick up, so you’ll need a coat or at least a lined jacket. Rain is common and can begin at a moment’s notice, so always carry an umbrella in Quito. And when you check weather.com before your trip, the forecast will say rain every day all day. Don’t fret! Although showers are common, constant rain isn’t likely.
Altitude in Ecuador
For the most part, I didn’t take issue with the altitude, but not everyone is so lucky. The city sits at over 9,000 feet, so depending on where you’re coming from, that elevation could be an adjustment. Headaches, nausea, and insomnia are less than desirable when you travel, so be sure to pack the appropriate remedies.
Safety in Quito
You’ll find a good bit of info about the crime in Quito if you do your research. That said, I did not feel unsafe at all while I was there, but I was traveling with a guide and a group. I didn’t do anything thoughtless like get drunk in public or carouse in the wee hours. I didn’t wear any flashy jewelry, and I carried a cross-body bag with my camera and iPad. I often wore my camera across my body as well, since I was constantly snapping photos. When I wasn’t using my iPhone, it stayed in my bag. I remained alert, like I do at all times when I am anywhere in New York City.
I say all of this because I wouldn’t allow what you read to discourage you from visiting Quito. This capital city has so much to offer and I would absolutely return.
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