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8 Things To Do While Visiting Quito

ECUADOR | Monday, 30 November 2015 | Views [353]

Quito is an incredible city. Guarded by the Cotopaxi volcano and the madonna atop El Panecillo hill, the city is teeming with Old World architecture and a thriving local culture. At nearly two miles above sea level, the people of Quito quite literally live with their heads in the clouds, and the slower way of life that permeates the city is infectious.


From wandering the cobbled streets and marveling at the stunning buildings surrounding you to dancing the night away learning to salsa at one of the city’s discotecas, you’ll find plenty of things to occupy you during your trip.


But if you’re planning your first escapade to this Andean city, there are a few things you should definitely include on your Quito bucket list. Some are pretty touristy, but all are well worth it. So lace up your adventure shoes and get ready to explore one of the highest capitals in the world.


  1. Practice your Spanish


You don’t need to be fluent in Spanish to visit Ecuador, but knowing a few key phrases can certainly help you get around town, especially if you find yourself outside the city in the more rural areas. It’s also a sign of respect for the locals and their culture; even if you butcher it, they’ll appreciate you taking the time to try and communicate in their language.


Make sure you learn how to ask for directions, how much something costs, and the basic pleasantries like hello/goodbye, how to introduce yourself, and ask how someone is doing. Practice with people in restaurants and shops — they’ll be more used to non-Spanish speakers and usually don’t mind helping you out with translations and pronunciation.


  1. Learn to salsa


The nightlife in Quito can vary depending on where you are in the city, or if you’ve ventured just outside of it, but it’s fairly easy to find modern bars and discotecas to dance the night away at. Head to La Mariscal, Quito’s main nightlife district, for plenty of options for both dining and dancing.


But when in Quito, you have to head to a salsa bar and learn how to dance like a local. You’ll easily find a partner who can show you the ropes — most of the movement in salsa comes from your hips, and you can expect quite a lot of turning and spinning across the dance floor.


  1. Travel via camioneta


Public transportation in Quito looks much like it does in other parts of the world, and you’ll find plenty of opportunities to take city buses, trams and taxis. But if you’re looking for something more adventurous, particularly if you’re heading outside the city and out into the mountains, take a trip via camioneta.


A camioneta is a pickup truck, and you’ll be riding in the bed. If it sounds like an accident waiting to happen, don’t fret — oftentimes you’re traveling over unpaved or cobblestone roads, so there’s only so fast you can travel. Heading into the mountains, you’ll fill your lungs with fresh air and have the best view imaginable. Trust me, it’s worth the bumpy ride.


  1. Try some llapingachos


Street food is big in Quito. And while not all of it is sanitary by typical standards (no way to refrigerate meat, and flies are common guests at roadside stands), that doesn’t mean you can’t safely eat a snack or two without getting sick.


Llapingachos are fried potato cakes and a traditional Ecuadorian food. Many of the street food vendors you’ll come across will be frying them up, and they’re extra delicious when served with a typical peanut sauce. Just watch out for anyone offering you some cuy to try — unless you’re itching to eat guinea pig.


  1. Visit the madonna on El Panecillo hill


If you’re looking for one of the best views of the city, head up El Panecillo. The giant mound is an old hill of volcanic origin, and it’ll take you an additional 300 meters above sea level. The view from atop the hill is astounding — you can see all of Quito stretched out in front of you, with the mountains off in the distance.


At the top of El Panecillo, you won’t be able to miss the giant madonna statue. Said to be the only one in the world with angel wings and standing at 45 meters tall, it’s a sight to behold.  


  1. Stroll through Old Town


I’ve already mentioned that Quito is home to some beautiful architecture. Many would say it’s one of the best-preserved “Old Town” areas in the Americas, and I don’t doubt them. The old building facades have been renovated, but they still retain their charm. The streets are decorated with flowers, and you can tell the people of Quito take pride in this area of the city.


La Ronda street is full of cute cafés and restaurants to grab lunch, and you can always hear live music drifting into the streets in the evenings. But the real gem of Old Town is the Basilica del Voto Nacional. It’s the largest neo-Gothic basilica in the Americas, and it’s a can’t-miss. The gargoyles protecting the church come in all forms — monkeys, turtles, penguins, pumas, and more — and you can climb the 115-meter high towers to have another stunning view of Quito.


  1. Hike to the Pichincha volcano


Quito is located in the Andes Mountains, so naturally it’s surrounded by rolling mountain peaks and volcanoes. Cotopaxi is the beautiful snow-capped volcano you can easily see from the city on a clear day, but Pichincha is close enough to visit for a nice hike.


Take the cable car to the top, and on a clear day you’ll be able to have a wonderful view of Quito and the surrounding mountains from 4,100 meters. You can then take the trail leading from the visitor center (go straight when the path splits) for a relaxing hike through beautiful scenery. But be sure to go on a clear day, because heavy cloud cover will ruin your view and can even make the climb a little dangerous.


  1. Take a photo at Mitad del Mundo


When in Quito, you’ll find yourself in the Middle of the Earth at the Equator (well, 40 minutes outside the city you will be). Though there isn’t much to do or see at the Equator aside from a nice line on the ground, it’s a good place to go as a tourist, just to say you’ve been.


Though there are technically two different lines that mark the center of the world — one that was measured by a French scientist in 1736, and the actual GPS coordinates that place you 240 meters north — either is a great place to stop for a few photos of you standing in two different hemispheres.


The beauty of Quito lies not only in the things I’ve mentioned here, but in getting out and really exploring the city. Be wary of pickpockets (it’s a serious problem in the city), but otherwise there’s nothing stopping you from having an incredible time. Support the local artisans when shopping for souvenirs, and always make sure your camera battery is fully charged.

If you’ve been to Quito, do you have anything to add to my list? Let me know in the comments — I’m always looking for new places to see and things to try during my travels!

Tags: ecuador, quito, south america, travels

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