Quito Travel Guide
Introduction to Quito
Although many travelers in South America would beg to differ, it is actually Quito, Ecuador and not La Paz, Bolivia (Sucre is actually the constitutional capital of Bolivia, despite many important governmental functions being located in La Paz) that is the highest capital in the world.
At 9,300 feet, the air here may not be as breathtaking (literally) as its bigger cousin in Bolivia might be, but its old world architecture and the surrounding mountains and volcanoes most certainly are. So take some Advil to ward off that high altitude headache and throw on an alpaca sweater, because you will be spending a great deal of time exploring this deliciously charming city in Ecuador.
Cultural Attractions in Quito
There are many places to see in Quito’s old quarter, but the first place you should check out if you are on a tight schedule is Compania de Jesus.
A Jesuit church that took over 160 years to build, it turned out to be well worth the wait, as its unique architectural features and its gold coated interior has made it a highlight for walking tours in Quito.
A baroque influenced church that drew inspiration from the Moorish style of construction, it is a gem that will dazzle even the most jaded traveler.
Another work of architectural art that you cannot afford to miss while in Quito is none other than the Basilica del Voto Nacional. Famed for its intricate detail work on its exterior facade, It is also famous for being the largest neo-gothic cathedral in the Americas.
While it seems complete to the untrained eye, technically, it is not finished. Work on the structure remains drawn out, as a locally held superstition states that when this masterpiece is finally complete, the world will come to an end.
While entrance to this building is not free, the beauty of an interior makes it paying the modest $3 entrance fee, especially when you consider that it comes with access to the church tower, which is an excellent place to take a panoramic picture of the surrounding old quarter of Quito.
If you’re looking for a good art museum while in the Quito area, you owe it to yourself to pay a visit to La Capilla del Hombre.
An institution dedicated to the life’s work of Ecuadorian painter and sculptor Oswaldo Guayasamin, this modern structure contains variety of artwork that honors the lives of poor and working people from around the nation of Ecuador.
Situated atop a lofty hilltop with excellent views of the city below, both art lovers and photographers will love this stop on their tour of this city.
Other Attractions in Quito
Recognized by UNESCO as having one of the best-preserved old quarters in the Americas, the Old Town of Quito is well worth a full day of exploration and wandering.
With many narrow cobblestone streets, plenty of brightly colored houses, and massive cathedrals (most notably, Basílica del Voto Nacional), surrounding volcanoes and mountains looming above you, it will be a day that you won’t soon forget.
While there are many day trips that you can take from Quito, make sure that you make time to head north of the city to Ciudad Mitad del Mundo. It is at this point roughly where the equator passes through the country, although the placement of the official monument was actually off by about 240 meters when it was estimated many decades ago.
For those that want to legitimately straddle the midpoint of the Earth, there is a smaller and less audacious sign that signifies the official location of the Equator so that you can take that selfie with one foot in the Southern Hemisphere, and the other in the Northern Hemisphere.
Want to test the limits of your lung capacity without leaving Quito city limits? Line up for the tram at Teleferico Quito, which will take you from 9,300 feet to a dizzying 13,400 feet.
While the air up here is quite a bit thinner than it is below in the city, a brief exposure to this altitude is basically harmless, so take your photos, take a deep breath of the fresh cool mountain air, and then head down as soon as you start experiencing headaches.
If you are adequately acclimatized, and have brought adequate food and water, a climb to the summit of the Pichincha Volcano will take you to 15,400 feet, which will be a feat that will impress all your friends and family back home.