Quito Guide



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Quito, the capital city, is the central hub of Ecuador and the starting point for all other destinations in the country. In a beautiful setting at an altitude of 9,350ft (2,850m), nestled in the Andes Mountains and the snow-capped 15,728ft (4,794m) Pichincha volcano, the city of Quito is a vibrant amalgam of modern business executives and the traditional culture of the 'indígenas', or local Andean people.

The city is divided into two areas: the Old Town, declared a World Cultural Heritage Site by UNESCO, with its history and the architectural influence of the Spanish evident in the red-tiled roofs and balconies of the houses lining steep, cobblestone streets; and the more tourist-oriented New Town with its shopping centres, hotels, embassies and travel agencies.

Quito is the cultural centre of the country. Indígenas make up a large proportion of the population and evidence of their culture is all over the city, from the handicrafts displayed on street corners and ramshackle shops selling traditional everyday goods, to the women in thick woollen clothing and felt hats queuing for bus tickets; the Quechuan language pervades the streets and central plazas (squares) throughout the city.

A city rich in historical churches, monasteries, convents and museums containing a wealth of religious paintings and sculpture dating back to the 16th century, there are also a few museums worth visiting in Quito, like the Museo del Banco Central with beautiful pre-Colombian artefacts, the ethno-historical Museo Mindalae, and the contemporary art museum Museo Guayasamin.

Quito is a beautiful city with natural settings to enjoy, like the tranquillity of the Botanical Gardens with their glassed orchid houses; and the magnificent views from the Pichincha Volcano, which can be accessed by hiking or via the Telerifico, the world's second-highest cable car.



Quito has several museums dedicated to Colonial art and history including the City Museum, the Metropolitan Cultural Center and the Museum of the Convent of St Francis, all located in Old Town.

In New Town, The Museo del Banco Central is another renowned museum - a showcase of Ecuadorian art, history and culture which includes an extensive collection of pre-colonial (including pre-Incaic) potteries, sculptures, gold and lithics; Colonial art and contemporary Ecuadorian artists.


Quito has numerous parks thoughout the city covering a combined area of over 6km² (as a reference, New York's huge Central Park is 3.4 km²).

You can join Quiteños as they walk, hike, run or bike in the eucalyptus forests of Parque Metropolitano; enjoy a game of fútbol, básket or ecua-volley in Parque La Carolina or peruse the wide variety of arts and handicrafts available for sale at the open-air market held every weekend in Parque El Ejido. You can even visit the oldest astronomical observatory in South America, located in the middle of La Alameda park.

Old Town

The "centro histórico", historical center, was appointed as the first UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1978. Old Town is home to many appealing plazas and manierist and baroque churches, including the convent and church of St. Francis (the largest building of the Colonial era built by the Spaniards in South America); the church of El Sagrario, the convent and churches of Santo Domingo and of the Society of Jesus, or "La Compañía." Stroll the streets and soak up the surrounding colonial architecture.

La Ronda Street in Old Town Quito

One of the oldest and most historic streets in Quito, La Ronda is a peek into the colonial past of the city. This quaint street offers the city's best in one place. Walking down La Ronda is like walking into eighteenth century Quito, the capital city of Ecuador. The narrow, pedestrian-only road is lined by remnants of the city’s Spanish influence - narrow wooden doors opening into homes built around interior stone patios, wrought-iron balconies where geraniums hang from window baskets and whitewashed walls.

Plaza de la Independencia

The square, also known as Plaza Grande, has always been the heart of the city, and as the hub of the old centre it is the best place to sit and people-watch. Around the square are the Cathedral, the City Hall, the Government Palace and the Archbishop's Palace, the most notable municipal and religious buildings in the city. The cathedral, the oldest church in South America, is one of the city's most impressive historical and architectural sites. Both the Government Palace and the cathedral were scenes of shocking murders; in 1875 President García Moreno was murdered by machete, and in 1877 Bishop of Quito was poisoned during a Good Friday Mass.

Plaza San Francisco

The plaza is a large cobbled square with the western side completely dominated by the enormous façade of the Iglesia de San Francisco and its belltower, and the Monastery of the same name. It is a peaceful place, without the shady benches full of people and the business of Plaza de la Independencia. Inside the church are chapels gilded in gold, splendid altars and many religious paintings and carvings produced by the Quito School. The Monastery holds some priceless examples of Spanish sculpture and art. It is the biggest religious compound in South America with seven courtyards and buildings stretching behind the church, which only become evident once the visitor has ventured through the stone doorway of the main entrance.

Museo del Banco Central

One of the few sights in the New City is the round walled Casa de la Cultura. It houses a theatre, a cinema and two museums, the more impressive being the Museo del Banco Central. Ecuador's premiere museum, it contains an astonishing collection of religious art, Columbian ceramics and pre-Hispanic gold, and a huge archaeological repertoire. Of interest are the ceramics of the La Tolita society (600 BC to 400 AD), the Gigantes de Bahía, the Sala de Oro filled with gold, and the Sala de Arte Colonial, packed with religious paintings and sculpture.

La Virgen del Panecillo

In 1976, the Spanish artist Agustín de la Herrán Matorras was commissioned by the religious order of the Oblates to build a 41 m tall aluminum monument of a madonna to be assembled on a high pedestal on the top of Panecillo, a hill overlooking all of Quito. The monument was inaugurated on March 28, 1976, by the 11th archbishop of Quito, Pablo Muñoz Vega.
The people of Quito proudly claim that their virigin is the only one in the world with wings like an angel. The monument was inspired by the famous "Virgen de Quito" (Quito's Madonna) also known as "the dancer", sculpted by Bernardo de Legarda in 1734, which now decorates the main altar at the Church of St. Francisco.

Telefériqo (cable car)

Quito's cable car, known as the "Telefériqo," travels from the city center to the hill known as Cruz Loma on the east side of the Pichincha volcano. The ride takes visitors to an altitude of about 4100 m and to a number of restaurants, coffee shops and stores in addition to numerous hiking trails.
Besides the cable car to Cruz Loma, the Telefériqo also houses an amusement park (Vulqano Park), restaurants, Go Karting, Paint Ball, shopping malls and other attractions.

El Mitad del Mundo

(The Middle of the World) is a purpose-built complex of museums and shops that was constructed to mark the equator, the line that gives the country its name. The 96-foot (30m) high Equator Monument is the focus of the square, topped by a brass sphere representing the world, from where a painted line stretches out on either side marking the equator that divides the world, and the complex, into northern and southern hemispheres. Also on the square is a set of weighing scales to illustrate the fact that one loses a bit of weight on the equator, being further from the centre of the planet's gravity than usual. An anthropological museum has interesting displays of Ecuador's indigenous populations and their customs, and there is a scenic lookout at the top.


Mercado Artesanal La Mariscal. This well-known and much visited market in Quito is a small but well organized market filled with several permanent stalls that is especially buzzing on Saturday afternoons. Strikingly colorful pottery, rugs and eye-catching Incanesque jewelry made by indigenous artisans from across Ecuador are sold in independent boutiques, many of which support local groups. You can find plenty of craft items including handmade woolen clothing, wood carvings, jewelry, hand manufactured wind instruments and more. This is the place to go for souvenirs and gifts in Quito.

Nightlife and Entertainment

Locals and tourists alike throng to the Andean and folkloric dance performances in Quito's many theaters and cultural centers. Opera, ballet and music grace the white-pillared Teatro Nacional Sucre and the Teatro Bolívar, and the Ecuador National Symphony Orchestra hops between different venues every week. Shake your hips to salsa or infectious reggaeton music in the jam-packed bars and clubs of the La Mariscal neighborhood, where a night of dancing can last until daybreak.

Restaurants and Dining

Sample the warming (some say soporific) Ecuadorean home cooking, where lamb stew, creamy cheese and potato soup and avocado- and corn-heavy plates of grilled chicken and fried pork ensure contented, sleepy smiles. Otherwise, you'll have no trouble finding pasta, pizza, and other international flavors. Dine out in elegant courtyard restaurants and converted colonial houses in the Old Town or more casually in the New Town's international eateries. North of New Town, many upmarket favorites serve everything from French to Japanese.