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Quito, Ecuador is a city brimming with history, culture, and natural beauty. While most travelers are familiar with the must-see attractions like the well-known historic center and famous landmarks, Quito offers an abundance of lesser-known experiences just waiting to be discovered. In this article, we will journey beyond the typical tourist spots to uncover some of the city’s hidden treasures.
As the capital of Ecuador and a UNESCO World Heritage site, Quito offers a rich blend of history, heritage, and diverse cultural experiences perfect for the seasoned traveler seeking something fresh and exciting. Whether it’s exploring local crafts and traditions or venturing into the natural wonders of the surrounding landscapes, this exceptional city has gems hidden in plain sight for the curious and adventurous tourist.
- Quito’s lesser-known attractions offer visitors unique and memorable experiences
- The city boasts a blend of historical and cultural sites, as well as natural beauty and adventure
- Exploring hidden treasures in Quito can enhance any traveler’s experience of the city
History and Heritage
As a travel enthusiast, I have always been fascinated by the rich history and heritage of various places. Ecuador’s capital, Quito, is one such place that I have had the privilege to explore. In this section, I will be sharing some of the most notable historical sites and experiences I found in Quito.
UNESCO World Heritage Site
Quito was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1978, and for good reason. The city boasts one of the best-preserved and least altered historic centers in Latin America, which is a testament to its rich cultural and architectural heritage. I found this aspect of Quito to be an integral part of understanding the city’s historical significance.
Historic City Center
The historic city center of Quito is home to an impressive concentration of colonial architecture and important landmarks. As I wandered through its cobblestone streets, I was constantly reminded of the city’s long and complex history dating back to the early 16th century. I learned that the Spanish influence is evident throughout the Historic Center, with key sites such as the San Francisco Church and Plaza Grande standing as testaments to this historical period.
Quito’s colonial architecture is one of the city’s most striking features. I was particularly drawn to the beautifully preserved churches, convents, and monasteries that are prominent in the city. This architectural style was a unique blend of Spanish and indigenous influences, which can be seen in the intricate baroque designs and indigenous symbols used in the buildings’ construction.
San Juan de Dios
During my exploration of Quito, I discovered San Juan de Dios, a lesser-known church that dates back to the 17th century. This hidden treasure doesn’t receive the same attention as the more popular churches like La Compañía de Jesús, but I found it to be an equally fascinating example of Quito’s colonial architecture and history.
La Compañía de Jesús
One of the most breathtaking sites I visited was La Compañía de Jesús, a Jesuit church that’s considered one of the best examples of Latin American Baroque architecture. Its ornate interiors and gilded walls are just as impressive as its history, which dates back to the 16th century.
Palacio de Gobierno
Finally, I had the opportunity to visit the Palacio de Gobierno, which is the seat of the Ecuadorian government. This impressive building, located in the heart of the historic district, boasts a beautiful courtyard and an equally stunning interior where the history of Ecuador can be traced through its various art collections and artifacts. This visit provided me with a greater understanding of the city’s political past and its continued importance in present-day Ecuador.
I recommend exploring the various art museums in Quito to truly immerse yourself in the local culture. One of the most notable is the Museo de la Ciudad, which tells the story of Quito’s history and culture through its comprehensive collection of exhibits. It is a great way to appreciate the city’s artistic and historical heritage.
For those interested in pre-Columbian art, the Museo Casa del Alabado is a must-visit. This small museum showcases a fascinating collection of pre-Columbian art and artifacts, offering a unique insight into the region’s ancient civilizations.
Contemporary art lovers will find plenty to enjoy in Quito as well. The Museo Nacional is an excellent place to explore modern Ecuadorian art. This museum features works by both emerging and established artists, providing an overview of the contemporary art scene in Ecuador.
In addition to museums, Quito is home to an impressive variety of street art. As you stroll through the city, keep an eye out for vibrant murals and graffiti that reflect the city’s dynamic cultural landscape. These works often provide a glimpse into the current social and political issues in Ecuador, making them a thought-provoking aspect of Quito’s artistic scene.
Another great way to experience Quito’s culture is by visiting the famous Otavalo Market, where you can find local crafts, such as the renowned Panama Hat, and a diverse selection of artisan products. This lively market is an excellent opportunity to engage with local artisans and learn about their traditional crafts. Don’t forget to pick up some souvenirs to commemorate your time in Quito!
One of the most captivating natural wonders near Quito is the Pichincha Volcano. This massive volcano dominates the skyline and offers breathtaking views of the city. I recommend taking the TelefériQo, a cable car ride, which ascends nearly 2.5 miles to the top of the volcano. At the summit, you’ll find yourself at an altitude of over 13,000 feet, so make sure to take it easy and acclimate to the thinner air. There’s a variety of hiking trails that lead to spectacular viewpoints or even further to the summit of the volcano if you’re up for a challenge.
A visit to the Cloud Forest surrounding Quito is an enchanting experience where I’ve enjoyed discovering the unique flora and fauna that thrive in this misty ecosystem. The dense, lush vegetation set among rolling hills and valleys creates a serene and otherworldly landscape. The Cloud Forest is home to countless species of birds, including the iconic Andean cock-of-the-rock and over 400 species of orchids. It’s an ideal destination for birdwatchers, nature lovers, and those seeking a peaceful retreat.
Quito’s location within the Andes Mountains makes it a hub for exploring the diverse landscapes of South America’s longest mountain range. My adventures in the Andes have led me to experience everything from snow-capped peaks and crystalline lakes to historical towns and indigenous cultures.
In particular, one of my favorite spots is the Quilotoa Crater, part of the Andes’ volcanic region, which can be visited on a day trip from Quito. The crater contains a turquoise lake formed inside it, creating a breathtaking view for those who hike down to its shore.
By exploring Quito’s natural wonders like the Pichincha Volcano, Cloud Forest, and Andes Mountains, I’ve had the chance to fully appreciate the stunning environment and vibrant wildlife that Ecuador has to offer. Whether you’re an avid hiker, birdwatcher, or simply seeking a unique South American experience, these destinations should not be missed.
Exploration and Adventure
As an adventurous traveler, I’ve discovered some exciting and lesser-known experiences in Quito. In this section, I’ll share my personal favorites that will take you off the beaten path.
When it comes to hiking trails, Quito has an abundance to offer. One great option is the Parque Metropolitano Guanguiltagua. This large park boasts numerous trails accompanied by stunning views of the city. Another lesser-known trail worth exploring is the El Chaquiñán Trail, a scenic route that runs along an old railway track, providing visitors with a unique glimpse into the past.
Quito’s surrounding areas also offer fantastic kayaking opportunities. Just two hours from the city is the picturesque San Rafael Waterfall along the scenic Quijos River. Kayakers can experience the thrill of navigating Class III and IV rapids while also soaking in the breathtaking beauty of the waterfall and lush surroundings. For a more leisurely experience, consider kayaking on Lake Cuicocha, where you can explore its azure waters and two crater islands at your own pace.
A trip to Quito wouldn’t be complete without a ride on the TeleferiQo. This cable car whisks visitors to an altitude of 4,100 meters, providing them with unparalleled views of Quito, the Andes Mountains, and the surrounding valleys. The summit also has several hiking trails, such as the Pichincha Volcano trail, which offers a challenging yet rewarding excursion.
Finally, if you’re looking to venture outside the city, there are several exciting day trips to consider. A visit to the Cotopaxi National Park allows you to explore the breathtaking landscape surrounding the volcano, with opportunities for hiking, horseback riding, and even biking. Another great option is the Mindo Cloud Forest, a haven of biodiversity where you can observe unique flora and fauna, go ziplining, or explore the numerous cascading waterfalls.
Middle of the World
The Middle of the World is a must-visit attraction in Quito. It is the location of the Equator, marked by a prominent monument. I enjoy visiting this site and participating in various activities that showcase the unique phenomena related to the Earth’s equator.
Basilica del Voto Nacional
One of my favorite architectural marvels in Quito is the Basilica del Voto Nacional. This neo-Gothic church offers a stunning view of the city, especially from its towers. On Mondays, I like to catch the Changing of the Guard ceremony nearby, which is attended by the President of Ecuador.
Itchimbia Park is a beautiful urban park situated on a hill overlooking Quito. Its panoramic views are astonishing, and it’s a perfect place for a leisurely stroll or a picnic in the midst of nature.
Capilla Del Hombre
Another fascinating place I like to visit is the Capilla del Hombre. This museum and cultural center is a tribute to the late Ecuadorian artist Oswaldo Guayasamín. The stunning architecture and expressive art exhibits offer a deep insight into Ecuador’s history, culture, and indigenous identity.
La Virgen de Quito
High on the hills of El Panecillo, the statue of La Virgen de Quito watches over the city. I appreciate the peaceful atmosphere and breathtaking views of Quito from this spot, making it a must-visit for those looking to experience the city’s spiritual side.
Iglesia de la Compañía de Jesús
Finally, the Iglesia de la Compañía de Jesús is a remarkable example of colonial Baroque architecture. Its lavish gold-leaf interior is a sight to behold and a great testament to the artistic heritage of Quito. I always recommend this church to anyone interested in art, history, or simply admiring grand architectural works.
One of my favorite places to experience authentic local cuisine in Quito is the bustling Mercado Central. This market is filled with food stalls serving a variety of Ecuadorian dishes as well as fresh fruits and vegetables. I love strolling through the market, not only to taste delicious local foods but also to connect with the friendly vendors who make me feel welcome.
At Mercado Central, you’ll find an array of traditional Ecuadorian dishes like ceviches, llapingachos, and fritadas. Make sure to try out some exotic fruits while you’re there, like the tangy naranjilla, rich in vitamin C or the custard apple-like chirimoya, which has a silky smooth texture.
A must-try food in Quito is the beloved empanada, a tasty pastry turnover that is filled with a variety of savory ingredients. You can find empanadas all over the city, but I particularly enjoy looking for them at local bakeries.
There are two main types of empanadas in Quito: Empanadas de Viento and Empanadas de Morocho. Empanadas de Viento are made with a fluffy, slightly sweet dough, and typically filled with cheese and sometimes onions. My personal favorite is the Empanada de Morocho, which has a unique corn-based dough filled with seasoned meat, onions, and peppers. They’re hand-held delights that will leave you craving more.
In conclusion, the local cuisine in Quito is as diverse and exciting as the city itself. Whether you choose to explore the Mercado Central or indulge in the city’s famous empanadas, you’ll undoubtedly be captivated by the deliciousness of the Ecuadorian flavors.
Accommodations: Quito Hotels
In Quito, there are several historic hotels that offer a blend of rich history and modern comforts. One such hotel is Villa Colonna, located in the heart of the city’s historic center. The colonial-style building boasts beautiful interiors and custom-designed suites, equipped with flat-screen TVs and rain showers.
Another noteworthy historic hotel is Casa Gangotena, which stands on the beautiful Plaza San Francisco. This luxurious establishment is housed in a restored mansion and offers elegantly decorated rooms filled with antiques and artwork, providing an immersive experience of Quito’s past.
There are also some charming boutique hotels that offer a more intimate and personalized experience. The Vista del Angel Boutique Hotel, for instance, is a cozy and stylish option with a stunning view of both the city and the mountains.
For those seeking an environmentally conscious stay, Hotel Carlota is a top choice. This chic and modern hotel is set in a restored 19th-century house and features energy-efficient rooms, a rooftop terrace, and even an on-site organic garden.
As for international chains, the Wyndham Garden Quito is a reliable option, offering comfortable accommodations and a prime location for exploring the city.
Overall, these Quito hotels provide unique experiences and comfortable accommodations that will make your stay in this historic city unforgettable.
Frequently Asked Questions
What are some off-the-beaten-path activities in Quito?
I enjoy wandering through the less touristy parts of the Centro Historico, where beautiful colonial buildings, local markets, and talented street performers create a unique experience. For those interested in learning about Quito’s ancient history, visiting lesser-known museums like the Museo de la Ciudad is another great activity to indulge in.
Some of the hidden attractions near Quito include the Quilotoa Crater – a beautiful blue lake nestled within a volcanic crater – and hiking several trails within the Pululahua Geobotanical Reserve, which boasts stunning landscapes and unique flora and fauna.
Where can I find unique day trips from Quito?
For a culturally-rich day trip, I would recommend visiting the town of Otavalo, known for its vibrant handicraft markets and indigenous traditions. Additionally, exploring the beautiful cloud forests of Mindo offers an incredible experience with several eco-adventures such as ziplining, bird watching, and trekking through unique landscapes.
In Quito’s Old Town, some must-visit hidden spots include the picturesque Plaza San Marcos, La Ronda – a street buzzing with local art and culture -, and the lesser-known Monastery of San Francisco, which provides an excellent opportunity to appreciate Quito’s historic religious architecture.
Which lesser-known places should I visit during a week in Quito?
During a week in Quito, I would suggest visiting lesser-known places like the Itchimbia Cultural Center, part of a once-abandoned glass factory turned into an artistic and cultural hub. Additionally, consider venturing to the El Panecillo viewpoint for a panoramic view of the city’s skyline.
What are some indoor activities to do in Quito during rainy days?
On rainy days in Quito, some indoor activities I would recommend are visiting eclectic art galleries like the Guayasamin Museum, exploring different flavors at Kallari Chocolate Factory, or attending a traditional cooking class to learn about Ecuadorian gastronomy.
About the Author
Liane, Lars, and BoB
Liane, Lars, and their unique travel companion, BoB, are the adventurous trio behind the hit travel blog, "BoB around the world." With over 2 years on the road, they've embraced diverse cultures, witnessed breathtaking landscapes, and shared their tales with the world. Their passion for travel and storytelling led them to join the staff of writers at TraveLover Planet, further amplifying their inspiring stories.