Ecuador definitely changed my opinion of South America. It’s a vibrant and positive place which was friendly and accessible.
We used Quito as a based for our mountaineering trip but there’s plenty in the city which must be seen too. I loved having some free time to explore, especially getting off the beaten path.
Here’s some places you must seek out while in the city. Bear in mind Quito is a massive city, covering 370 square km. This means taxis can be essential to getting around.
1. Pululahua Geobotanic Nature Reserve
A half hour taxi drive out of the city centre the Pululahua Reserve is a great place to start acclimatisation if you’re planning on hiking here. More importantly it’s also a great place to experience the ‘cloud’ forests, if you’re not going to be able to head into the rainforests here.
Despite its proximity to Quito, Pululahua wasn’t too busy nor touristy. You arrive at the entrance to the reserve and then descent 250m into the crater of the dormant volcano. The crater is only one of two in the world with a population living there and every afternoon around 1pm the cloud rolls in from the Pacific and hugs the crater rim, creating the ‘cloud forest’.
2. Basilica Voto del Nacional
This Roman Catholic Basilica is not one of the oldest in Quito as it held its first mass in 1924. However it does provide a fantastic view point across the old part of the city and as the largest Neo-gothic church in Latin America, it is definitely worth a visit.
3. Mitad del Mundo
There’s a number of places in Ecuador where you can stand on the equator, and while this national museum is allegedly not quite on the equator, it’s still worth a visit for learning about the country, its history and variety of habitats. There’s also a great chocolate museum inside with tasting and a cafe.
4. Virgin of the Panecillo
This hill top statue of the Virgin is relatively modern having been built in 1975, but is the tallest statue in Quito and even the tallest in Latin America (yes it’s taller than Rio’s Christ the Redeemer!). It also has the title of the tallest aluminium statue in the world.
We had been warned not to walk here despite its close proximity to the historic centre, so while we got a taxi I felt like it was quite safe there.
5. Historic centre
Quito’s historic centre is one of the best colonial centres and the most important in all of Latin America. A reputation confirmed in 1978 when it was designed a UNESCO World Heritage site.
With its old colonial churches and museums, narrow streets to wander through. I found the area to feel safe to wander around, compared to other places I’ve been and while I’m sure pick pocketing happens, a friend left a mobile phone in an Uber and the driver came back to find us. Good people exist everywhere.
6. Guanguiltagua Park
A fair hike uphill through some a quiet and affluent part of the city, Guanguiltagua Park felt like an oasis. A hilltop forest easily accessible but large enough to find peace and quiet.
I was aware I was alone when I headed here and seemed to take an obscure path into the woods which felt a bit dodgy but once into the woodland, it opened up to have a number of well managed paths, route ways and statues up there. It was popular with runners, dog walkers, families and bikers – so it was actually safe. I even found alpacas!
7. Quito Botanic Gardens
Situated in Park Carolina, the Botanic Gardens was surprisingly quiet despite the main park being very busy on a national holiday. It’s worth a visit to learn about the different habitats and see an impressive collection of orchids.
8. Museum de la Cuidad
Time to flex your Spanish skills! This museum is fantastic for learning about Ecuadorian culture and Quito’s history. However everything is in Spanish. Don’t let that deter you if yours is rudimentary as my friends managed to enjoy it anyway.
9. Just wander
As I said, I found Quito to be really friendly (though it helps if you’ve some Spanish skills!) and I never once felt unsafe. Even alone.
There’s some hidden gems if you wander around and get off the beaten track.