Nestled high in the Andes Mountains, Quito, Ecuador, is known as an essential gateway to the Galapagos Islands. Since would-be adventurers can’t fly direct to the Galapagos, Quito – the country’s capital city – welcomes throngs of travelers each year. Yet, simultaneously, the city stands on its own as a bustling tourist destination, with bragging rights that include being among the first-ever UNESCO World Heritage city. Let these things to do in Quito Ecuador inspire you.
1. Mountains Set The Scene
Keep in mind, the landscape surrounding Quito is about as dramatic as it gets – 9,350 ft up in the Andes and tucked amidst the towering Pichincha Volcano and the hills of Panecillo and Ichimbia. Add to that; it’s in the center of Ecuador, which adds to the feeling that time has
2. Unique Artistic Influences
Quito is the oldest South American capital, and its well-preserved Old Town area, in particular, is renowned for its Baroque school of Quito, an artistic style that UNESCO describes as a melding together of “Spanish, Italian, Moorish, Flemish, and indigenous art.” All of this — the landscape and the artistic style alike — give way to architectural masterpieces in the form of the area’s art and buildings, including over 200 houses of worship, convents, and monasteries.
3. Consider The Altitude
Before arriving in Quito, travelers must be aware of and prepare for traveling at altitude. Its elevation in the Andes – at over 9,000 feet above sea level – means a lower oxygen concentration in the air, which might cause a touch of altitude sickness. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) advise travelers to try to ease into traveling at elevation by ascending slowly over a few days. Unfortunately, that’s not possible if you’re flying directly into Quito.
4. How To Avoid Altitude Sickness in Quito
Altitude sickness doesn’t affect everyone, but some people may experience headaches, shortness of breath, fatigue, or nausea. Plus, if you’ve ever seen movies like Everest that feature extreme mountain expeditions, you’ve also noticed that extreme cases of altitude illness can cause dizziness or loss of coordination. The good news is that most tourists can avoid the effects by staying legitimately hydrated and avoiding alcohol and intense workouts for the first 48 hours at elevation.
5. Hotels Welcome Guests With Medicinal Herbs
Knowing that some tourists might be prone to a touch of altitude sickness upon arrival, some Quito hotels offer herbal elixirs upon arrival. Consider, for example, ILLA Experience Hotel & Spa, where, upon check-in, guests are handed freshly brewed lavender tea. The soothing lavender is a welcome cuppa calm after a day of travel.
Additionally, each guest is given a tiny glass bottle of dried guayusa leaves – a plant grown in the Amazonian forests of Ecuador. Locals have long believed it helps fend off the effects of altitude illness, plus it has a little kick of caffeine to add a little pep in your step as you explore Quito’s tourist sights.
6. Explore Quito’s Gorgeous Churches
Top on the list of Quito’s must-see sights is its many churches. With a hundred so densely packed into the area, it’s an unfathomable skyline of architectural wonders, gilded domes, and snow-dappled mountains. The Basilica of the National Vow is regarded as the preeminent example of a neo-gothic basilica in Latin America. The mammoth – and brilliantly ornate — structure houses 24 inner chapels – one for each of the county’s provinces. It is a great starting point since it offers sweeping city views.
7. Mountains Above & Catacombs Below
In like manner, Quito Metropolitan Cathedral is one of the city’s quintessential examples of the blended artistic styles that led to the honor of becoming a UNESCO World Heritage city. The arches of Quito Metropolitan Cathedral are late Gothic style, but you’ll find a beautiful contrast of styles throughout. Notably, though, Quito Metropolitan Cathedral also allows visitors to explore its underground catacombs. Those with claustrophobia should note, though, some of these areas are pretty snug.
8. 14,000 Pounds of Gilded Glamour
Those who’ve ever been accused of dragging their feet on a project will thoroughly enjoy the Church of the Society of Jesus. Construction began in 1605 and took 160 years – and many architects — to complete. Undoubtedly worth it, though, considering seven tons of gold were used in gilding its surfaces. Glamorous Instagram opportunities aside, the church houses incredible art – from oil paintings to sculptures. Its rare beauty is such that even Pope John Paul II held mass there in 1985, and Pope Francis visited in later years.
9. Indulge in a Luxury Chocolate Tasting
Across from another architectural triumph, the San Francisco Church, you’ll find the perfect opportunity to take a break from sightseeing and indulge in Ecuador’s famed chocolate. If you make a reservation in advance, Yumbos Chocolate Shop will lead you through an artisanal chocolate tasting.
The tasting brings Ecuador’s unique landscape further into focus since Yumbos uses cocoa varieties that are both rare and specific to Ecuador. The experience concludes with a small mug of steaming hot, homemade hot chocolate and the opportunity to stuff your daypack full of some of the world’s finest chocolate at a reasonable cost.
10. Get Your Geek On – Visit The Middle of The World
Perhaps the most unique and gloriously geeky site to visit in Quito is what’s known as the middle of the world – zero-degree latitude. What’s more, you can stand in both hemispheres – simultaneously! As odd as it may sound, that’s the least complicated part of this tourist attraction.
The thing is, the 18th-century expedition that painstakingly exacted the location did a great job – with the tools they had at the time. Unfortunately, once GPS technology came along, scientists determined the calculation was off by about 1,000 feet. The good news is that there’s now twice as much geekery to be had as a result.
11. An Epic Navigational Do-Over
There’s the government-run Middle of the World City, which marks the original site, and Museo de Sitio Intinan, a privately run, interactive site where the scientifically correct marker is located. Middle of the World City is a large park-like setting with plaza performers and row after row of food vendors.
Museo de Sitio Intinan is cozier, and the guides engage visitors with fun activities like trying to balance an egg on the equator – tough to accomplish with the gravitational differences. All in all – both are worthy outings and a lovely afternoon, considering they’re next door to one another.