Quito is well known as a heritage city that offers a variety of cultural activities and sightseeing. Nevertheless, most of the travelers use Quito as a stopover before or after their trip to the amazing Galapagos Islands. There is plenty to explore for the most avid traveler to plan to spend a few nights in this beautiful Andean city.
Quito has many places, activities, and experiences to offer. Each traveler can focus on their interests in planning their trip. Here is our list of 7 reasons for extending your stay in Quito either before or after traveling to the Galapagos Islands and within Ecuador.
1. Visit the Middle of the World
Ecuador´s name comes from the Equator that crosses the country. The Middle of the World monument is twenty-seven kilometers away from the financial district and heritage city center of Quito. I’ll bet you didn’t know there are two sites marked as Middle of the World? There are the park and monument built in the site marked by the geodesic expedition in the 18th century. The second site is the actual site measured by GPS as 0°0´0”, but don´t worry it is only a few feet away from the park!
This iconic site was dedicated in 1979,; after more than 200 years the Ecuadorian Government built a small monument that represents the place marked by the geodesic group. Visiting the Middle of the World Park is a must for worldwide travelers who can also learn more about the Ecuadorian culture through its restaurants, artistic shows with traditional dances, and museums such as the history and details of the geodesic expedition lead by France and Spain.
The right place marked as 0°0´0” by GPS measures is the Intiñan Museum. This museum not only provides the experience of being right in the middle of the world surrounded by indigenous history and culture such as the Quitu Caras tribe and the importance of the sun for them. In this place, travelers are invited to try and keep their balance while walking right in the line that divides the northern and southern hemisphere of the world. Another fun experiment is to try and swing an egg on the tip of a nail.
2. Awaken your senses in Quito’s heritage city center
Quito was the first city declared by UNESCO as a World Heritage Site. Walking along the ancient streets amongst colonial and republican buildings will take you back to the past. Visitors must also seek to understand the history and culture on Quito.
First of all, you should visit La Ronda Street twice. Why? This artistic and picturesque neighborhood offers you a different atmosphere during the day and at night. La Ronda Street hosts many artisans´ workshops in which visitors can interact with each artist while you watch them crafting their art pieces. If you join them in the process, you will make memories much more significantly than numbers and years! Visiting La Ronda during the day offers a better introduction to local culture and art; at night this street becomes as the party district in the city center. Travelers can experience the local ambiance of party accompanied by traditional live music, dance floors, and drinks such as Canelazo.
The other neighborhood that visitors mustn´t miss is San Marcos. This parish is one of the few residential areas in the city center. It is very close to Santo Domingo church and square beside La Ronda, and five minutes walking away from the Independence Square.
San Marcos, in comparison with La Ronda, it is ideal for experiencing the family and artistic ambiance. San Marcos is the traditional home of many artists, and for decades was connected with the city center only with one entrance. In this area, you will find ancient houses from the Colonial and Republican period which have been inhabited by many generations of the same family. Also, it has its church and a square, ideal for sitting and enjoying the routine of locals among the shops. For example, in front of the square, it is possible to meet Mrs. Angelita and his restaurant, which has been running for 70 years. All the locals and visitors stop by and let Angelita spoil them with her fritada (deep fried pork served with corn, and sweet plantain) or her Cevichocho which is an interpretation of a Ceviche made with local vegetables.
These neighborhoods offering both commercial and residential areas are surrounded by traditions, local customs, and the Ecuadorian atmosphere. While La Ronda offers artisanal shops and nightlife, San Marcos exudes family traditions, calmness, and picturesque ambiance.
3. Watch the city from the Pichincha volcano
Quito is a big valley that is surrounded by many volcanoes, but the most iconic is the Ruco and Guagua Pichincha. It is in this volcanic mountain where the cable car station of Quito is based.
From the Pichincha volcano visitors will have an amazing view of Quito, and with luck and good weather, it is possible to watch also the Cotopaxi and Antisana Volcanos from here. For those looking for an adventure, it is possible to do a variety of activities such as horseback ride, trekking, cycling, camping, and paragliding.
The cable car can satisfy not only the thirsty of adrenaline that some people may have but also be the eye candy for those that would like to contemplate or photograph the beauty of the city.
4. Let the Cotopaxi volcano take your breath away
As we have mentioned before, Quito is surrounded by volcanoes and some of them are still active like the Cotopaxi volcano. This is the second highest volcano in Ecuador (5.897 m / 19.347 ft) after the Chimborazo, and it is the second highest active volcano in the world.
The Cotopaxi is only 33 km (20 miles) away from Quito, so it takes approximately 1 hour to reach the entrance of the National Park in the Latacunga Province. Many climbers come to challenge themselves climbing the Cotopaxi, but for those who are not so adventurous or don´t have the physical conditions or experience for climbing this volcano, it is possible to visit its snowy peak up to the first shelter.
It’s also possible to stay in some of the haciendas surrounding the volcano which allows guests to feel the experience of waking up and watch this impressive snow-capped mountain very closely.
For those with a generous budget and looking for a unique experience, it is possible to take a helicopter tour that overflies the volcano, with the possibility to watch the impressive crater from above while passing over the valleys that surround Quito.
5. Enjoy the proximity to the cloud forest and other Andean towns
Quito is privileged for being very close to some of the attractions that the highlands have to offer, such as Otavalo, Mindo, and Papallacta, just to mention some interesting sites.
For example, Otavalo is the biggest indigenous market in South America, and it catches the eye of both locals and foreigners because of the handicrafts that Otavalenos make. It is a colorful experience that all travelers will love. For those looking for a more authentic experience, you can stay on a Friday night near the town and visit very early in the morning, before sunrise, the Saturday’s animal market where locals bring goats, rabbits, chickens, turkeys, cuy (guinea pigs), and more to market them.
Additionally, there is Mindo cloud forest with its butterflies, hummingbirds, cocoa, and adventure activities. Mindo it is just 3 hours approximately away from Quito, on the way to the coast. In fact, it is the border between the coast and the Andes where the humid and warm winds from the Pacific Coast are stopped by the Andes mountain range. That´s why the clouds formed this cloud forest. You can visit it either on a day tour or stay one night here. Visiting Mindo is worth it!
Papallacta, on the other hand, is in the border between the Andes and the rainforest, also approximately 3 hours away from Quito. This town is very well known for its hot springs, and that´s why many visitors decide to spend a day among hot volcanic waters and wellness therapies that complement the experience. Why not relax while receiving a mineral mood massage therapy.
6. Discover the Ecuadorian train and its many routes through the Andes
Ecuador built one of the most daring and impressive train routes that connect the Pacific Coast with the Andes. It took many years, and hard work to build it. The Devil´s Nose route was especially difficult due to the steep and rugged inclines that had to pass through a very narrow mountain in order to reach the Andes.
Nowadays, the train offers tourist services for domestic and international visitors by offering a series of experiences in the train and in each stop with local communities.
This award-winning attraction is catching the attention to those travelers that would like to experience something unique yet cultural at the same time. Some routes are day tours that start at the Chimbacalle Train Station at the south of Quito, while others start in other cities.
Depending on the length of the trip, budget, and interests it is possible to take a 5-day journey on board the Tren Crucero Gold which allows passengers move from Quito to Guayaquil or vice versa, staying in local haciendas for 4 nights. On the other hand, it is possible to take the day tour to the Devil´s Nose or the Ice Train that starts in Riobamba.
Staying in Quito and not experiencing its train routes and services is unforgettable!
7. Complement your experience discovering Quito’s artisanal beer selection
In the recent years, Quito has grown to be the home of many artisanal breweries that have been established in this Andean city. The spring waters, the rise of worldwide immigration, and the interest to combine foreign traditions with the locals are the driving forces behind this growth. In fact, it is not a new trend because of the first brewers in Quito where the Franciscan Congregation that brought the barley and produced beer for the internal consumptions of the monastery.
Nowadays, the Franciscan Brewery is no longer operating however it is open and restored for those visitors that love this golden drink. On the other hand, the newest breweries are using antiques and new techniques brought from Belgium, Germany, USA, among others.
The variety is quite impressive because it is possible to find IPAs, Ales, Lagers, and Stouts. As a result, it is possible to visit some of this breweries as well as enjoying them in local bars specializing in this famous drink.
If you love beer and you´re looking for the local taste of fun, you can ask and try some of these artisanal beers. For example, Amsel Bräu, Santana Brewing Company, Santa Rosa, Doggerlander, Bandido Brewering, Los 3 Monjes, Django, among others.
There are many other reasons, but we encourage you to experience and live Quito more in-depth because in that way you will get a better understanding of the city, its people, its culture, and why not considering to return to broaden your experience in this Andean city.
Marcel Perkins is CEO at Latin Trails. Latin Trails is an incoming destination management company specialized in bespoke tours, with a focus on offering unique experiences throughout Ecuador, the Galapagos Islands, and Peru.