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Travel Guide to the Capital of Ecuador: Attractions in Quito
Colonial charm, cute craft markets, and a moderate climate make Ecuador's capital city a captivating destination all year-round. Quito was founded during the 16th Century over Incan ruins and astoundingly, the city's historic center looks like it's been untouched since. These are some of the attributes that helped the city earn the prestigious title of "World Heritage City". Pretty neat! I was lucky to experience this beautiful ancient city with a good friend's family whose native city is Quito, along with three friends and my boyfriend for a week during New Year's Eve 2009. As I came to find out, New Year's has to definitely be the most fun time to visit this exciting city!
Churches of QuitoClick thumbnail to view full-size
Top Things To Do While in Quito
Quito is a city filled with beautiful colonial churches, cobblestones streets, cool crafts, and stunning natural beauty.
Below is a list of not to miss things in Quito:
- Take the Teleferico de Quito (a cable car) up to Pichincha Volcano. To catch some amazing views of Quito, take the Teleferico de Quito (cable car) from the city center to the lookout Cruz Loma, on the side of Pichincha Volcano. It's one of the highest lifts in the world! Once you get to the top, there are restaurants, cafes, and stores. Also if you're more the outdoorsy type, there are some great hiking trails up there. Don't forget to bring a jacket with you because it's a lot cooler up at the summit.
- Visit the religious sites. There are many really breathtaking churches and monasteries in Quito. The most noteworthy and certainly worth a visit are: Monastery of San Francisco, Monastery of Santo Domingo, and the Church, the Jesuit College of La Compañía, Catedral Metropolitana and Basílica del Voto Nacional.
- Walk around Old Town. Quito's Centro Histórico, aka Old Town is known as the best preserved colonial town in the world. It is here that you will find the religious sites worth visiting, quaint little squares, narrow cobble-stoned streets and a really chill vibe.
- Go to the Central Bank National Museum. Quito's Central Bank National Museum has an impressive collection of art pieces from the country's rich past. There are Inca artifacts, colonial era art, as well as contemporary Ecuadorian art.
- Stand in the center of the world. Located just about 8 miles (13 km) outside of Quito, el Mitad del Mundo (the Center of the World), is a monument to a very special place where the North and the South hemispheres meet and the coordinates read 0 0 0!
Restaurants in Quito
I was fortunate for having stayed in the La Mariscal neighborhood which is really fun and full of restaurants with outdoor seating, bars, and clubs so we didn't have to venture very far. We usually just strolled to Plaza Foch and went into one of the restaurants there and luckily for us, some of the best restaurants are located right there.
- Magic Bean is probably one of the most popular are best restaurants amongst tourists for pancake breakfast - located at Plaza Foch in La Mariscal.
- Zócalo is a Mexican-style restaurant also located in Plaza Foch. It's a really fun spot, with good food, and an extensive drink menu (including great Mojitos!). My friends and I ended up here daily and have some great memories from this place.
- ChaCha is a cheap eatery that's also pretty popular amongst travelers. The menu consists of pizza, pasta and empanadas. And there's outdoor seating. This one's also located in La Mariscal (two blocks away from Plaza Foch).
- If you want to try traditional Ecuadorian food, go to Mama Clorinda. My friends and I went here once and ordered a bunch of local specialties like guinea pig, humitas, and buch of delicious ceviche varieties.
Shopping in Quito
If you're looking for some awesome crafts, then Quito is the place for you. There are a number of craft markets in the city and below is a list of the ones you should check out.
- If you're looking for crafts, llama rungs or jewelry, then La Mariscal Craft Market is the place for you.
- For a traditional Ecuadorian straw hat (aka panama hat), stop by Homero Ortega P & Hijos in La Mariscal.
- For fair trade woven mats, carved bowls and other Amazonian goods, go to Sinchi Sacha Foundation.
One of Ecuador’s biggest sellers of Ecuadorian straw hats (aka panama hats), offering a small but versatile selection of its famous Cuenca brand.
Ecuadorian New Year's Eve Traditions
Arriving in Ecuador a couple of days before New Year's Eve, my friends and I quickly realized what an awesome experience it is to be in Quito during this special time. It turns out that there are lots of exciting traditions that Ecuadorians partake in before and during New Year's Eve and there is a general sense of excitement in the air. We were invited to my friend's family's house where we partied in the front yard while toasting to the new year, eating, dancing, and burning the Año Viejo to bring in good luck for the new year.
- Each individual family creates an Año Viejo, a large dummy symbolizing the past year a couple of days before New Year's and puts a mask, usually of a disliked politician on the dummy. At midnight, each family burns their Año Viejos outside of their house, right on the street to bid a farewell to the old year and any bad things from the past year, welcoming in the new. It was a really fascinating sight to see all these burning dummies laying in the middle of the street. Not only that, guys jump over the dummies, apparently for good luck.
- Masks are sold practically on every corner, beginning a couple of days before New Year's.
- On New Year's Eve, people wear masks or costumes on the streets and there's a really festive atmosphere!