Is a trip to Quito in your future and you’re looking for things to do there?
If you’re a visual learner, you might like to check out this hand-painted infographic from Illa Experience Hotel, the experiential place to stay in Ecuador’s capital. It will guide you through Quito’s attractions, showing you the main sites and attractions in each area of the historic center, including the UNESCO World Heritage area. Side one has the places to go in visual form:
Side 2 is the key, with the name and corresponding number for nearly 30 attractions, plus their picks for 16 restaurants and bars worth considering while on a sightseeing tour.
Pick an easier-to-read physical copy up at the Illa Experience Hotel if you’re staying in their lovely San Marcos neighborhood boutique hotel and explore the largest historic downtown in all of South America.
To get some more in-depth information on the attractions, check out this 126-page magazine with history and highlights from Quito Tourism. You can flip through it like it’s paper, with a magazine-style layout.
Here are a few things to do in Quito that we would recommend from our several visits there:
1) The Panecillo
This hill, visible from the historic center of Quito, contains the Virgin of Legarda statue, taller than the Christ the Redeemer one in Rio and supposedly the largest aluminum sculpture in the world. The statue is the destination, but it has actually only been here since 1975 and the view back to the city is worth going for. Plus it’s a good place to find Ecuadoran street food for sale and watch the foreign and domestic tourists mingle.
The name means “bread bun,” supposedly because of the shape of the hill as the conquistadors saw it. Take it easy here and don’t go bounding up staircases: you’re at nearly 10,000 feet above sea level at the Panecillo viewpoint.
2) Quito’s Plaza Grande
Nearly every Spanish Colonial city has a main plaza, what was the original center for government administration. The one in Quito, officially Plaza de Independencia, is especially grand. There are five primary buildings on the four sides: Carondelet Palace, the Metropolitan Cathedral, the Archbishop’s Palace, the Municipal Palace, and the Plaza Grande Hotel.
Carondelet Palace, named after the baron who oversaw the original work, has housed most of Ecuador’s leaders and all of them have worked out of offices here. It’s open to the public though, so you can take a tour and get a great view of the plaza from the balcony.
3) La Compañía
This Baroque, neo-Classical and Churrigueresque gleaming gold church interior is the epitome of over-the-top Latin American colonial Catholicism. It’s best to first soak in all the design elements, the natural lighting, and the symmetry of what took 160 years to complete. Then walk slowly to catch the details of the extensive paintings, carvings, and statues—all embued with symbolism and multiple meanings. It’ll all make more sense if you go with a good guide.
4) San Francisco Plaza and Church in Quito
If you want to check out another impressive church of gold, with some even stranger sights inside, plan a visit to San Francisco Church and Convent, the oldest in the city. The Spanish started building it just a month after they took over and 100 years later, those who made the plans were long dead. One of the most interesting aspects is the integration of local symbols to tie in the sun god and other important aspects (like angels with indigenous features) to make the Catholic faith seem less radical and different.
If you don’t want to go inside, it’s worth strolling the plaza anyway and seeing it from the outside.
5) Casa del Alabado Museum
I’ve probably visited 100 museums in Latin America since I first started traveling to the region 20 years ago, but this is one of my favorites. It contains a selection of fully restored pre-Colombian art pieces from what is now South America, from the museum’s collection of around 5,000 pieces. They date as far back as 7,000 B.C. and span the time up until the era of Spanish rule.
Most are pottery pieces or stone, but others are in textiles, woven reeds, or wood. It’s a fascinating, well-curated exhibition with good lighting in a historic mission building and is a mere $6 for admission. See more info here.
6) The Shops of La Ronda
One of Quito’s most interesting areas for shopping and dining is La Ronda, a cobblestone pedestrian street that has transformed over the last couple of decades to become a delightfully eclectic place to stroll. It’s now one of the top things to do in Quito.
Many of the craftspeople who have shops here also have a workspace on site where you can see their process in action. These range from a tinsmith to a wooden toy maker to a chocolate maker, plus several artists’ studios are in the mix as well.
Stay at Illa Experience With Your Galapagos Booking
Heading to the Galapagos Islands while you are in Ecuador? Then you can get a room at Illa Experience for free if you take off soon. Book a trip on the newly renovated Galapagos Sea Star journey for the months of January through March of 2020 and a night in Quito at Illa Experience will be included. See more information here and contact them at the phone number listed or at travel (at) latintrails.com.
Get a feel for what it’s like on board and back at the hotel in this video: