When it comes to South American cities, Ecuador’s capital is one of the most interesting for travelers. There are endless things to do in Quito, fantastic restaurants, friendly locals, and some interesting day trips from Quito as well.
With a sprawling UNESCO listed old town, and a modern new city, you can choose where to stay in Quito based on the things you want to see and do.
Arriving in Quito
Following 24 hours of travel, the Quito airport was one of the more pleasant experiences I’ve had with foreign arrivals. There was classical music playing through the entire terminal, which was a perfect representation of the Ecuadorian culture – welcoming and beautiful.
After a 45-minute windy taxi ride into town from the airport, we arrived at Sakti Hostel – a quaint and welcoming family ran bed and breakfast where we spent 4 nights to follow.
Although the time difference was nothing major coming from PST (3 hours ahead post daylight savings), the altitude difference coming from the coast inevitably hit me the following morning.
How to avoid altitude sickness…
I had taken a few minor precautions that I had read about, i.e. lots of water, no booze… but I suppose the exhaustion from staying up all night on an overnight flight to New York majorly contributed to weakening my immune system.
After some coffee and a comforting breakfast (fruit, yoghurt, and caprese on toast) prepared by the owners, I started to feel less incapacitated. Incapacitated may be a slight exaggeration, but I felt very weak and dehydrated. I had been warned, but I wanted to stay “au natural” without having to take altitude meds.
Instead, I opted for a more natural remedy – liquid chlorophyll. Don’t be scared, it WILL turn your water emerald green after adding just a few drops. Despite looking like you’re drinking a shamrock elixir, it’s a great solution for altitude sickness because it significantly improves the quality of your red blood cells, boosting your oxygen levels and detoxifying your blood!
*Té de Coca is another option to prevent altitude sickness, and is served in most cafes and mini marts.
Disclaimer: this is tea from the leaves of the Coca plant, which is what cocaine is made from. The amount of “coca” that you’re ingesting is very slim, but it is illegal to bring outside of South American countries.
Getting out and about is the only surefire cure, along with drinking a ton of water.
Explore the Neighborhoods of Quito…
We took a stroll outside of the B&B to explore Plaza Foch – a popular touristic district in the northern part of the city.
Albeit not the most historical part of Quito, this plaza in the heart of La Mariscal is fantastic for people watching, especially being that it was Halloween our first night on the town.
Now, I was under the impression that Halloween would not be widely celebrated in South America being that their major holiday is Dia de los Muertos, two days following, but I assumed wrong…
The main square was flocking with locals in costumes starting midday and wildly partying into the night.
Still slightly suffering from exhaustion, we did not participate in any Halloween festivities, but it sure was a hoot to watch the locals (and their dogs) parading around the plaza.
However, we did manage to stay out on the town long enough to have dinner at Red Hot Chili Peppers. Plaza Foch is known to be a more tourist-oriented center with lots of overpriced bars and restaurants, however, this place had an awesome atmosphere with delicious traditional guacamole and fajitas at a very reasonable price.
Another great place to check out in Plaza Foch is the Magic Bean Café – offering delicious comfort food and vegetarian options for breakfast and lunch, fresh smoothies, and delicious (real) coffee.
*We had quickly learned that coffee is not Quito’s strongest asset, as they mostly serve you a jar of instant grounds to add to hot water, but the Magic Bean is a gem… our daily go to for an Espresso or Café Americano.
Visit the Old Town
The old town of Quito was declared a UNESCO World Heritage in 1978 and is one of the best preserved capital cities in South America. The main street that runs through Quito is a part of the ancient Inca Trail, running from Northern Ecuador to the most Southern part of Chile.
We signed up for a 3 hour walking tour of Centro Historica using Strawberry Tours, and it was one of the best tours I’ve ever been on… oh, did I mention it was free?!
Our guide, Roberto, took us into the Iglesias de San Francisco – a major Catholic Church in the Plaza de San Francisco. This beautiful cobblestone plaza is backed by the mountainous backdrop of Volcán Pichincha, one of the many volcanos surrounding Quito.
Located in the plaza next to the Catholic Church is Casa Gangotena- a stunning old-world property that is now a boutique hotel, offering cozy dining and a rooftop bar with a 360 view of the city. Enjoy a couple of (mildly overpriced i.e. $12) cocktails here and you won’t regret it… it’s okay to splurge every once in a while in exchange for a photo op!
Head north of Mariscal Sucre and you’ll find La Carolina Park. There was the coolest dog park I’ve ever seen, equipped with a full training course in the middle of the trees.
Stroll a little further and you’ll find a giant skate-park and playground. The entire park was bustling and lively. Local and tourists alike were pedal-boating through the mote that ran through the park. For just $4 you can enjoy an hour of entertainment through the canals… It’s just like Venice! (Not quite).
There is also a Botanical Garden and a Japanese Garden open everyday until dark.
Eat like a local…
Quito’s restaurant scene has bloomed in the last decade and put the capital on the map as an international foodie destination. With that being said, there are many restaurants to try, but if you’re on a budget like me and enjoy eating the local food, check out one of the places below.
- Covina Ecuatoriana– a little ways from the Plaza, for as little as three dollars you can have a full course Ecuadorian lunch, featuring seco de chivo (braised goat stew) and other items. If you’re like me and on a budget, or as our tour guide called it, “economically eating” this is the place to go.
- Fray Francisco – a lively and bustling Ecuadorian diner located just outside the Plaza with prices to boot. $5 for an entrée lunch big enough to split? Yes, please!
- La Purisima – described as Ecuadorian finger food, this place did not disappoint. Creative cuisine of high quality that is surprisingly affordable – trout ceviche on homemade corn tortillas, chicken breast with plantains and yucca, and an Ecuadorian dessert of pumpkin jam and orange cake to finish it off. Located just past the plaza down on a twinkle-lit cobblestone road.
& last but not least…
Ride the Teleferico
A short taxi ride from the old town can get you to the foothills of the Pichincha volcano. Ride the cable car for $8.50 and go for a hike around the volcano, or sit and relax with one of the best views of the city below.
The top of the cable car reaches 4,500 meters – so stay hydrated beforehand and take it slow! There is the option of horseback riding, hanging out in a quaint little chapel on the mountain, or taking a little hike up to a giant set of swings where you can swing over the edge of the cliff!
Tip: Go in the morning when you have a better chance of clear weather – we waited until mid afternoon and ended up getting caught in a hailstorm, drenched from head to toe! There is a restaurant at the top of the volcano where you can have lunch, or, in our case, enjoy a place to dry off and have a cup of tea.
Quito was an amazing city with so much to offer. It is definitely worth checking out the highest capital in the world for a few days… it was the perfect starting point to our South American adventures!
The Traveling Yogi