Top Things To Do and See in Quito, Ecuador

Ecuador's capital is a mix of colonial history and modern enterprise, a city at the middle of the world, and a delight to visitors. Enclosed by mountains, Quito, named a World Heritage site, is divided into five zones. The most frequented by visitors are North, where you'll find the modern city, business, restaurants and hotels; Central-North, famed for the nightlife; and the Historical Center, also called Old Town. The South and Valleys areas also have their attractions.

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    Old Town

    Quito and Pichincha seen from El Panecillo
    ••• Jeremy Woodhouse / Getty Images

    Most visitors concentrate their time in Old Town, for which UNESCO named Quito a cultural heritage site in 1978. Here you'll find the city laid out according to Spanish planning requirements, with the central plaza as the heart of the community. The plaza is bordered by the Palacio de Gobierno, the Cathedral and religious buildings, and the Palacio Presidencial. The Cathedral is the oldest cathedral in South America, and has been repaired and remodeled countless times due to earthquake damage. Heroes of the Independence are honored and several presidents are buried here.

    This view from the Panecillo Mirador looks across the city to Pichincha volcano.

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    Monastery of San Francisco

    Plaza and Monastery of San Francisco
    ••• UNESCO

    The oldest colonial building in Quito houses the Museo Franciscano where paintings, art and furniture are on display. Also on the Plaza San Francisco is the ornate, gold decorated La Compañia church There are many churches in the Old Town area, most built in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. Be sure to visit El Sagario, recently renovated, Santo Domingo, La Merced and the monasteries of San Augustín and San Diego for their museums.

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    Colonial Homes

    Colonial Arch
    ••• ClipArt.com

    Most of the colonial houses were built of adobe around an enclosed patio. The best preserved houses, complete with traditional balconies, are on an alley called La Ronda or Juan de Dios Morales. Some of the houses are open during daylight hours, and sell souvenir crafts. You can tour two historical homes, Casa de Benalcázar, the founder's home, and Casa de Sucre, where Field Marshall José de Antonio de Sucre, a hero of Latin American battles for independence, lived.​

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    Mitad del Mundo

    Mitad del Mundo
    ••• ArtToday.com
    The Middle of the World Monument straddles the equator 22 km north of Quito. There is also a planetarium and an excellent scale model of Quito.

    The globe at the top of the monument indicates your location at the middle of the world.

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    Market Days

    Otavalo Market Crowd
    ••• ArtToday.com
    The excursions from Quito to the market towns of Otavalo and Cotacachi are more than shopping trips. With everything for sale from household furnishings, food, clothing, meats, handcrafted woolens and textiles, Panama hats (yes, they are made in Ecuador), fine leather goods, toys and more, it seems all of Ecuador converges on market days.
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    Cotopaxi seen from Hacienda Yanahurco
    ••• Ing.Fernando Cobo P, Hacienda Yanahurco

    South of Quito, in Volcano Alley, Cotopaxi National Park is located on the eastern plain of Patate, in the center of the country, Cotopaxi's climate varies from 12 to 17 degrees centigrade. At 19,400 feet, Cotopaxi volcano is the second highest mountain in Ecuador, and a favorite with mountain climbers and hikers.

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    Tour the Haciendas

    Ecuador
    ••• ArtToday.com
    Enjoy Ecuadorian hospitality, history, cuisine and attractions at these haciendas, also called hosterías. Some are rustic, some are three, four and five star luxury establishments.

    Some of the inns, also called hosterías, offer activities such as horse back riding, wild-life viewing and birding, hiking, swimming, biking, and private tours on their own land. Others offers tours to nearby attractions,

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    Visit the Oriente

    Waterfall near Mindo
    ••• Jacqueline Garcia

    Ecuador is a compact country, with most of the Oriente rainforest area easiy reached within hours from Quito. Transportation is not the lengthy process it can be in other rainforest areas of South America, making the cloud forest and the river systems an experience at the reach of most visitors.

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  • 09 of 12

    Virgin of the Americas

    Virgen de las Americas
    ••• ClipArt.com
    The statue of the Virgin Mary stands on a hill overlooking Quito, on the Mirador de Panecillo affording panoramic views of the city.

    Visible from most of the city, and based on a colonial statue of the Virgin of Quito, the 134½ foot (41 m) tall aluminum monument was erected in 1976. Note the wings of an angel, an unusual feature in statuary of the Virgin Mary.

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    Parks

    Enjoy Parque Metropolitano, the largest urban park in South America, for mountain biking, walking, running, sculptures, picnicking and great views. Soccer (futbol), volleyball, kite-flying and running are popular in La Carolina Park, or you can rent a paddle boat there and at La Alameda Park, site of the oldest astronomical observatory in South America.

    For a change of pace, check out the weekend display of handicrafts and arts at El Ejido.

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    Quito Panorama
    ••• Jacqueline Garcia
    Take the teleférico, the aerial tramway, from the city center to Cruz Loma on the east side of Pichincha, for splendid views of the city.

    You'll see Old Town on the northern side of the city with its colonial roofs and old streets and buildings. In the south, New City has modern office buildings, hotels, resturants, language schools and shops.

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    Jaguar, Ecuador
    ••• ClipArt.com

    Acutally located in Guayllabamba north of the city, the zoo has the biggest collection of native fauna in Ecuador, including 45 species of native fauna, from the different regions of Ecuador, from the paramos up to the tropical rain forest of the Coast and Amazon Jungle and from the Galapagos Islands.​

    Many species on the endangered list and the zoo is dedicated to the conservation and preservation of native fauna.