Nestled in the foothills of the Andes, Quito is one of the highest capital cities in the world. It is also considered one of the best-preserved historic cities in South America. Quito served as our base before and after our trip to the Galapagos (Destinations // Galapagos). Without having done too much research we chose to spend a couple days in the capital city before heading further south through Patagonia – and I am glad that we did.
Interested in making the most of our time, we booked a private tour with a lovely local tour guide who took us not only around the city itself, but also to the outskirts of town. Coincidentally we ventured out during the Day of the Dead celebration – so got to see the city prepare and head to the cemetery as they took time to honor their late friends and family. It was a jam-packed day but an awesome way to get better acquainted with the “City of the Heavens.”
Looking to explore Quito for yourself? Be sure to check out our pit stops below.
// El PANECILLO
We started our day on the top of El Panecillo, a massive hilltop just south of Quito’s Old Town. It offered a great panorama of the city and is a perfect introduction to what we would be exploring throughout the day. A the top of the hill sits the famous La Virgen de Quito – one of the only depictions of the Virgin Mary with wings (eagle wings to be exact).
// OLD TOWN
As one of the best preserved cities in South America, no trip to Quito is complete without a stroll through it’s Old Town. We stopped in Independence Square to check out the Day of the Dead celebrations. Offerings such as bread, fruit and guinea pigs were left on the steps as music was being played by.
Just off the square is the Carondelet Palace – the presidential palace and seat of government of Ecuador. We got the opportunity to access the palace and check out the various staterooms. There is a fun room that houses all of the gifts given to the president by other global political leaders. Plates, gold, watches, etc. were all over the place. There is even a crystal bowl gifted by the US with an etching of Hilary Clinton’s autograph on it.
There are quite a few churches that are worth visiting as well. We popped into the Basílica del Voto Nacional – which at first glance looks like Notre Dame. Take a closer look and you’ll see the animals of the Galapagos and Amazon Jungle replace the typical Gargoyles of it’s French cousin.
Be sure to check out the over-the-top gold leaf plated Compañía de Jesús. Photography isn’t allowed inside, but when you go in you will quickly see why it is considered one of Quito’s most ornate and beautiful churches.
Another church in the Old Town that shouldn’t be missed is the Iglesia de San Francisco. Keep your eyes peeled as you walk through as there are over 3,500 pieces of colonial art inside.
// PULULAHUA GEOBOTANIC RESERVE
After grabbing an empanada, we hopped in the car and made our way outside of town to the Pululahua Geobotanic Reserve to check out the Pululahua Volcano. It’s not an active volcano, but it’s last eruption over 2000 years ago left a massive, fertile crater. Pululahua is one of the only inhabited craters in the world that cultivated by those that live there. There is a nice viewpoint a few minutes walk from the parking lot that lets you check out the caldera. For a fee you can also choose to go further into the reserve to check it out and even camp there overnight.
While a bit cheesy, the Intinan Museum is worth a visit as you make your way around the Middle of the Earth. There are various exhibits that give you a bit of info on the area and the native tribes of Ecuador. Ever see a shrunken head? You will be able to here. You’ll be able to take a picture on the (real) equator line and see the sundial at work. We even got to put some of our high school science lessons to work with various experiments on and around the equator line. I’m thrilled to say that I am the proud owner of the “I-Can-Balance-An-Egg-On-A-Nail” certificate.
//MITAD DEL MUNDO CITY
Located around the corner from the Intinan Museum, we made our way to MITAD DEL MUNDO CITY. There are obviously many cities that sit on the equator line, but Quito is known for it. On the grounds you will see the monument surrounded by a little village and smaller monuments. While technically 250 meters off of the real equator line, it’s a fun place to get creative with your camera skills to show people that you can be on the northern and southern hemisphere at the same time.
We worked up quite an appetite on our day out and decided to pop into Fiambre’s for lunch. If you are a fan of George Zimmern, then you may have heard of this place on his show Bizzare Foods. What was for lunch? Cuy (also known as Guinea Pig). I’ve had it before in Peru, but since it was years ago I thought I would give the local delicacy a try again. When in Rome, right?
Perfect pit stop before making the drive back into the city.