Even though I had stayed in Quito, Ecuador for two months, I condensed my experiences down to a day to focus on the must-see tourist destinations of this city. Quito is a gorgeous historical city that cannot be fully enjoyed in a single day, but there’s no shame in trying! This city has so much to offer, and it was hard to pick my favorite places. While my time exploring the city was limited due to school work, I still managed to find some incredible sites and highly recommend these to anyone looking to get the most out of Quito.
Where to Eat
Quito offers many affordable dining options, along with more expensive dining that is comparable to pricing in the United States. If getting a cheap and delicious meal is the goal then definitely grab lunch somewhere in Centro Histórico (the Historic Center). You can find a meal for less than $5! It is also right in the center of some of the most beautiful architecture in the city. In fact, this historic center was officially declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1978 for its large and highly-preserved architecture, which includes 16th- and 17th-century churches and many colonial buildings.
If you’re looking for a more extravagant experience, there are other restaurants that offer a more elegant environment. One of the places I’ve been to and recommend is Vista Hermosa (there are two locations – one in Centro Histórico and another in Itchimbia) and they both offer delicious Ecuadorian food options and some gorgeous views of the city – guaranteed. Another option I’ve heard of is Cafe Mosaico, which also offers spectacular views, but with a menu that is more Americanized.
I have a shameless sweet tooth and found that it was not very expensive to indulge every now and again while in Quito. There are many heladerías (ice cream shops) scattered across the city and they all offer cones for $3 or less. Because Quito’s climate allows for the same temperatures year-round, you can be guaranteed that it will always be warm enough to enjoy an ice cream cone. My favorite heladería was Corfú, an ice cream shop that focuses on gourmet flavors. It was one of those elegant eateries that makes you really enjoy your stay there. I was a fan of all the windows everywhere which gave it a bright and happy ambiance. And once you add this double scoop of mango and blackberry sorbet, you’ll never want to leave.
Where to Explore
If you need to choose the very best of the city to visit in a day, I recommend two places that really steal the show. They’re not very close to each other which is why I didn’t pick other destinations to see, but they’re both worth the trip.
Basilica del Voto Nacional
La Basilica del Voto Nacional is a Roman Catholic church and is the largest neo-Gothic basilica in the Americas. Admission to this church costs $2 and it grants you entrance to the many floors that each offer their own amazing views of the city. On the day I went, the escalators were not functioning, so we had to get to the top using the stairwells, as well as a ladder! If you are not able to climb stairs, it may be best to call ahead to ensure the elevators are working that day, because it is a bit of a trek to get to the highest point of this church.
This is definitely one of the most beautiful churches I’ve ever seen. The plaza outside of one of the entrances was immense and had a refreshing, open feel to it. Once you get inside, however, it is much darker. The first floor is where the services are held and has a huge open area with many rows lined up for the church-goers. The second floor has a humongous stained-glass window that gives the rooms a colorful tone to them. On this floor, you can also look down at the floor below and better enjoy the grandeur of that floor.
To get to the next levels is trickier, but they offer breathtaking views of Quito, so they should not be skipped. You have to cross a slightly rickety wooden bridge to access one of these levels, which offers a balcony to look out over Quito. You then have to climb a thin metal ladder to reach the highest level. If you’re afraid of heights, it might be best to skip climbing up the ladder because it’s not the most pleasant experience. However, once you do reach the highest point, you’ll find a small, open room that gives you a 360-degree view of the city and the famous view of the twin clock towers that the basilica is known for. You can also spot the Panecillo from this viewpoint. The Panecillo is a large hill in the Historic Center that is home to Quito’s Virgin statue and with a height of 45-meters, it is actually larger than Rio de Janeiro’s famous Christ the Redeemer statue.
This was definitely one of those places you visit that leaves an impact on you. To reach this location, you need to take a gondola lift up Pichincha Mountain. This costs about $8 for adult foreigners. The ride itself is very enjoyable and comfortable. It may be a little scary for anyone who has a fear of heights, so if you would prefer to opt out of it, there is also the option to hike up the mountain (for free). Be warned, however, that it won’t be an easy hike, especially if you aren’t accustomed to the higher altitude – and, therefore, the lack of oxygen – that Quito is known for.
Because of the potential complications involved with hiking, it would be safer and more convenient to take the lift. When you reach the top, you can explore this little village laid out with the most spectacular views. There are a few cafés located on top, along with some souvenir vendors. There’s even the opportunity to take your picture with an alpaca! I chose to opt out of that last option since they do charge a small fee and you could look for alpacas elsewhere, but if you’re not planning to go anywhere else, a photo with one of these cuties would make for a nice memento.
There is also a huge swing at the top of the mountain. It’s a little hidden from the other places, but you can find it by climbing up this dirt path that looks a little sketchy (you’ll know when you see it). You have to climb uphill for about 5 to 10 minutes before you reach it. Hopefully, there won’t be a line to get on. To avoid that, it would be better to go in the mornings. I found that there is a lot more traffic to this place once the afternoon hits, and it’s always more enjoyable to be able to swing without an audience around.