Quito, the capital of Ecuador, has an extraordinary geographical location. Surrounded by green mountains, it is known for being located almost on the zero latitude. This city of the center of the world has a very rich architectural heritage. There are countless monuments to see, in addition to its historical center which is one of the most impressive and best preserved in South America. Both traditional and modern, Quito is a city that delights lovers of architecture, culture, gastronomy and history. Not to mention its parks to stroll through and its surroundings to explore. Because if the center of Quito has a thousand treasures to reveal, you should not miss the opportunity to explore its surroundings and escape the fervor of the city for a few moments. The nature around the Ecuadorian capital is beautiful and offers a glimpse of what makes Ecuador one of the most fascinating countries in South America.
Quito, a city to explore from both sides
Once the suitcases are put down in one of the accommodations of Quito, one has immediately in heart to go to stroll in the streets and alleys of its various districts. Indeed, it is difficult not to fall under the charm of its historical center, whose architecture immediately evokes the Spanish colonization of the past centuries. We marvel here and there at the pastel-colored facades, with blue, pink, yellow, green... It is enough to put feet in the Ronda, one of the oldest streets of the city, to feel the atmosphere of the traditional Quito. Frequented by artists and intellectuals at the beginning of the 20th century, its houses with flowered balconies attract the eye, as well as its artisans' workshops, cafes and stores that open their doors to walkers.
A stroll through the center of Quito inevitably takes you to the famous Plaza de la Independencia, where you will find the seat of government, the Palacio de Carondelet, as well as other remarkable buildings such as the Metropolitan Cathedral, the Independence Monument and the Municipal and Archbishop's Palaces.
Quito is also endowed with neighborhoods with particular atmospheres. The Floresta district has a bohemian and hipster atmosphere. Independent cafes, small restaurants, including vegetarian and vegan, trendy stores, the place is a must to enjoy the simple pleasures of life. In the evening, you can also go to the Mariscal district to party, with a multitude of places that invite you to relax: bars with live music, gourmet addresses and other clubs. If Quito does not fail to reveal its traditional face, it is also a metropolis in constant evolution and which knew how to modernize itself. It is a true international business center, with several places open to the business world. Visitors can also go to modern neighborhoods such as Carolina, where they can sit down at the table of great international restaurants in the middle of modern buildings. Cumbayá is also a contemporary neighborhood, where large shopping malls make the happiness of shopping enthusiasts
Moreover, to come back to gastronomy for a moment, a visit to the historical center and to the different districts of Quito is a permanent invitation to stop on a terrace, or out of sight, to discover the local specialties. You can enjoy empanadas, ceviche, generous soups, meat dishes, sauces and plantains or quinoa. You should also try the fritada, pork meat cooked for several hours and accompanied by maduro banana, grilled corn and fried potatoes or the pollo a la brasa, roasted chicken with French fries. This dish is a kind of national emblem. Gastronomy also means markets. And the one in Iñaquito is a must to find local products and to enjoy the cuisine at very good prices!
Quito, from religious monuments to museums
Quito is a South American city with a wonderful religious heritage. Saint Francis Square is home to an impressive eponymous complex with church, convent, chapels, 13 cloisters and a large courtyard. It is quite simply the largest colonial architectural complex in Latin America! The church houses 3,500 works of colonial art, including the sculpture of the Virgin of Quito. Another superb religious building is the Church of the Society of Jesus, an impressive 16th century Jesuit building and a jewel of the Latin American Baroque style. Its walls and ceilings are covered with frescoes and its altars with gold leaf. Its beauty has earned it the nickname of the "Sistine Chapel of Quito". Other places worth seeing are the San Augustin convent and the Basilica of the National Vow, in neo-Gothic style. The latter is the largest neo-Gothic basilica in the Americas, with the added bonus of stairs that lead up to the bell tower to reveal a breathtaking view of the Ecuadorian capital.
Quito is also home to museums that help to better understand its history, such as the City Museum. It is part of the Saint John of God Hospital. For art lovers, there is nothing like going to the Guayasamín Museum, dedicated to this renowned Ecuadorian artist. His beautiful home houses a fine collection of his work, as well as works from his personal collection: vases, ceramics, funerary masks and other archaeological elements dating from the pre-Columbian era. There are also more than 5,000 pieces from pre-Columbian cultures at the Casa del Alabado, a museum housed in a beautiful 17th-century colonial house.
These other must-sees in the city
Quito has a hill that is more than 3,000 meters above the sea. It is therefore visible from both sides of the capital. This is where the Virgin of Panecillo stands, the emblem of Quito. This work of the Spanish artist Agustín de la Herron Matorras is the highest aluminum statue in the world. It also offers a superb view of the city, allowing to distinguish its different monuments and neighborhoods.
Before going to explore the nature around Quito, let's not forget to mention its parks and gardens where you can go green. El Ejido Park is a kind of border between the old and the new city. It has 1,400 species of local plants, century-old trees, children's games and a market that brings it to life on weekends. La Carolina is another green lung that is a must-see. There is a botanical garden with species from all over Ecuador, orchids, bonsai trees, fruit trees and medicinal plants. It is also a great playground for those who wish to play soccer, volleyball or pedal boats on the water basin.
Excursions around Quito
A stay in Quito is an opportunity to explore its surroundings. The first excursion leads to the unmissable Mitad del Mundo. Located 22 km north of Quito, it is on this tourist site that the imaginary line of the equator passes and which separates the Earth in two. There is also the Intiñan open-air museum, which presents the indigenous cultures of Ecuador and offers fun experiences such as the water flowing without swirling in the sink and other tests of body balance.
Since Quito is located in the heart of the Andes, its surrounding nature is rich with an incredible biodiversity. One of the experiences to be had is to take the TeleferiQo. This cable car takes visitors from the city center to the slopes of the Pichincha volcano, at an altitude of 4,000 meters. The ride offers exceptional views of the Cotopaxi and Cayambe volcanoes. Once there, trails welcome hikers and bikers. You can even camp and ride horses!
Not far from Quito, there is also El Pahuma Orchid Reserve, an incredible place to walk in a tropical forest, surrounded by orchids and many birds. And then, one hour from Quito, the Yunguilla Reserve is another territory to join to discover community tourism. The local people work for the preservation of nature and agricultural practices. We go there to walk in a green nature and discover the ecosystem of the "cloud forest". Local families host visitors and offer to participate in daily activities: harvesting in organic gardens and making jams or cheese.