10 Cultural Experiences You Must Try in Quito
With a little over 2,6 million people as the population, the city of Quito is the second largest city in Ecuador after Guayaquil. Known as San Francisco de Quito many years ago, the town is now bustling with life, day and night, welcoming a huge number of tourists every year, who make the city even more full of energy. If you are planning to come to Ecuador and stay a day or more in this vibrant town, you will not regret it!
Quito has a lot to offer from ancient history and architecture to modern buildings and lifestyle, tiny restaurants around each corner and their special dishes, to artisan markets and traditional dances at the Plaza Foch during Carnival week. All of those combined make Quito a proud cultural capital of Ecuador and a great place to explore for many who visit it. The team of Gulliver Expeditions has prepared the top 10 cultural experiences which are a must and will make you fall in love with this mesmerizing town!
Quito’s Old Town
What more cultural experience to start with other than the older and historical area of the city? The vibrant colors of the streets and the smells of the street food in the big plazas make you want to spend hours exploring them. Having been declared a part of UNESCO’s heritage, Quito has several places that represent the country’s culture and history. One of the most famous squares in this part of the city is the Plaza Grande. There you can visit the Presidential palace and do the tour at the Metropolitan Cathedral which will cost you only $3! If you are not a person who is interested in visiting churches, you can simply enjoy the beautiful scenery of the plaza by sitting down at the park which is situated right in the center while enjoying a small treat from the food stands around. If you would like to take another stroll around the old town, you can visit the Museum of the City or Museo del Carmen Alto where you can learn more about the history of the town, see different artifacts and understand a deeper aspect of the Quiteño culture.
Just a short walking distance from the Plaza Grande, you can find the popular La Ronda street, this is the hot spot for all of those who want to immerse themselves in the Ecuadorian magic. The street is famous for its traditional architecture and beautifully colored houses, bright flowers on many of the windows, the aromas of Ecuadorian coffee being blended, and the songs of street musicians performing. Experience the culture in many different ways through the eyes, sounds, and flavors of the locals and become a part of them on this busy, yet beautiful street.
Mitad del Mundo
The middle of the world, or Mitad del Mundo, is another top attraction, in the outskirts of Quito. You can easily arrive for a few dollars with a local bus or take an Uber for a few more dollars. Either way, your journey to this magical place will take between 45 minutes to an hour, depending on where you are in the city. Mitad del Mundo is like a small town and it encompasses different areas such as small souvenir shops, a few restaurants, the main Mitad del Mundo Museum with the large monument or the Intiñan Museum with solar and equator line activities, and showcases of the different types of houses in Ecuador in different regions and cultures. Either by yourself or with a guide, every single part of the two above-mentioned museums is very well explained through information stands and guides. At the main museum with the large monument, you can take the popular picture standing with one foot in each hemisphere, isn’t that just amazing! While making your way through these complexes, you can visit shops and buy small figures of an alpaca, the museum, or even a poncho from an alpaca’s wool. You can also go to the top of the museum and enjoy the marvelous 360-degree view of the surrounding mountains. On your way to the bottom, discover more about every part of Ecuador and its culture. Do not forget to take pictures in front of the tall monument or on the stairs behind it where ‘Mitad del Mundo’ is written down!
Next door to this is the Intiñan Museum. You can explore on your own or join a guided tour. You will be able to understand the story behind every object you see. Visiting the traditional houses within will allow you to see where and how people in the Sierra (mountains), Costa (coast), and the Amazon live and what their daily life looks like. Here you can participate in experiments that can only be done on the real equator line! Bring your passport so they can stamp your time at the equator line!
This wonderful cable car lift takes you up above the ridges and slopes of the Pichincha Volcano that lies right above Quito. The ride is a little over 15 minutes with a scenic view over the city. Although this is a combination between culture and nature, the TelefériQo is a great place to enjoy the beautiful capital and the mountain of Pichincha. It is perfect for families with children, backpackers, and even animal lovers as dogs are allowed to ride the lift as well. As you get off the cable car, you would have already reached 4100m so be sure to walk slowly and rest if you have issues with breathing due to the altitude! A small store offers some handmade products such as keychains, t-shirts, and notebooks for you to take as a souvenir. Just above the store, a café is situated where you can try some delicious sweet delicacies and a cup of hot coffee, all while savoring the view in front of you. Outside the building, make your way along the only path available, which will lead you to explore the valley a bit further. You can stop to take pictures with llamas, do a horse riding trip further up Pichincha for only 10 dollars, and even swing just above the edge of the valley like you are flying above the city! For more extreme hikers, you can follow the trail to the peak of Pichincha, however, a guide is always suggested!
Basilica del Voto Nacional
Being in Quito gives you the best opportunity to visit the Basilica del Voto Nacional, which is not just beautiful, but also special in a way, as it is the largest neo-Gothic in the Americas. Standing at 30m in height, the church is a great place to visit and explore through its passages, steep stairs, and tall towers looking over the city of Quito. The fee to enter is only $2, allowing you to see every single part of the basilica. In the central area, you can pray or also take a small walk around where different exhibits are placed such as icons, figures from Jesus’s birth, and people involved with the monument throughout its history. You can climb to the towers by following the stairs to the top and also visit the few small shops selling souvenirs or the restaurant where you can refresh with a nice cold drink! Before reaching the highest point of the basilica, you will walk through the small wooden bridge and passageway that will lead you to the towers. Enjoy the mesmerizing landscape from the top facing different parts of the town, even the statue El Panecillo. A gentle reminder for those who have some fear of heights: some of the stairs can be very narrow and steep, so do not panic, but walk slowly and make sure you are holding onto the rails firmly to ensure you get up and down safely!
Having mentioned the astonishing view from the top of the Basilica del Voto Nacional, from there the statue of El Panecillo can be seen as well. Making your way there is easy as you can do it with an Uber or also be a part of the Hop on – Hop off the bus, which passes through this sightseeing destination as well. The translation behind the name of El Panecillo is ‘The little bread loaf’ since it sits atop a small hill, similar to the popular bread loaves of Quito. It is a fantastic lookout point or “mirador” of Quito. It is a rather simple trip to El Panecillo and not the typical cultural one, yet it shows you the capital from a different point of view. Our recommendation is to visit the monument on a day when it is sunny and the sky is clear so you can enjoy the city in front of you!
This is one of the most artistic and culturally full plazas along with Plaza Grande and Plaza San Francisco. Plaza Foch is a dynamic, vibrant, and exciting place to be no matter what time of day. The square and the streets around it are bustling every single day with people going to work or school, or tourists and waiters trying to lure you into their restaurant so you can try delicious Ecuadorian food. The architecture constantly changes from old to modern, plain and very colorful, with graffiti or paintings on the walls. Experience the art culture in the main square through the Ecuador Image Gallery, a project created by our company Gulliver Expeditions. We support the artwork of a variety of photographers who present it in our open street gallery for everyone to enjoy. Another great perk for you as a tourist is that Plaza Foch is a great spot to meet other travelers as well, as most of the places are filled with people from all around the world. So maybe you can make a new friend here!
The culture in the capital is not only to be experienced during the daytime but also at night. Whether you are looking to have a few drinks or spend a whole night out, Quito has a lot to offer! The most popular place to have a nice fun get-together with some friends is La Mariscal, more specifically Plaza Foch. The bar Finn McCool’s is a popular hotspot for a lot of young people, coming not only from Ecuador but other nationalities as well. Every Tuesday, you can participate in the Pub’s Trivia Night, where different teams form and answer questions from a variety of categories such as Fashion, Music Titles, Actors, etc. Whichever team wins, they are given $50 to spend on drinks until the end of the night. What better than a fun game and a nice prize? However, if you would like to dance the night away, Bungalow 6, Xandu Bar Discoteca, and Selfie Club are some of the popular places to do so. Since the whole Plaza Foch and the area of La Mariscal are very busy at night, keep a close eye on your belongings inside and outside the discos!
The botanical gardens of Quito are a beautiful place with a large variety of plant species to be enjoyed for hours. They are situated in one of the biggest parks, La Carolina, where you can also take time to stroll around and see an old Ecuadorian Air Force plane, the Vivarium which houses several reptiles and amphibians, or just ride a bicycle with a friend and do some sports outdoors. Visiting the Botanical gardens will cost you only $4 which is a very cheap price for the huge number of flowers and plantations from almost every region of Ecuador which are present there. While walking through the paths, birds will sing their songs and make your experience an even more enjoyable one.
Although it has been mentioned several times that Quito is a city full of restaurants on almost every street and corner, Ecuadorian cuisine is indeed a must-try one for any “foodie” who visits the capital. Just like the country itself, the traditional food is as colorful and full of plenty of flavors and smells. The ‘ceviche’ is a popular dish made with seafood, which is one of the most amazing dishes. It is offered almost everywhere and even if it is not on the menu, you can ask the waiters if they make it. Another well-known and typical food is the empanada. Filled with cheese, minced meat, or vegetables, empanadas can be quite diverse when it comes to taste and you can find them either sweet or savory. The most popular empanada is the “empanada con queso”, or empanada with cheese.
Other foods that cannot be missed while visiting Ecuador are “Llapingachos”, potato pancakes that can be made a little bit spicier for the ones who love it and are usually eaten with meat or chicken, a light salad with beets, or soup on the side. Fried yucca or cassava and plantains are extremely popular as sides and can be found almost anywhere, even on the street stands, so you can try some along the way as you visit various sites in Quito. It is hard to mention the best restaurants in town as there are way too many, and it also depends on the price you are willing to pay. But remember that you can always ask the locals for a suggestion, they will most definitely know where the best places are located!
Craft Beer Tour
Do you love beer? Do you want to try different types of craft at some of the best bars? Then you need to join the Craft Beer Pub Crawl! The tour is organized with its very own beer guide, taking you through the history of Ecuadorian craft beer, and every single one you taste is unique. Despite its price of $44, the tour is definitely worth the experience. You will make your way through some of the most well-known brewpubs for approximately 3 hours and learn more about the places while sipping on your favorite draft.
We recommend you spend at least one day in Quito, if not more! We know you will love this astounding city. This city was built with such great detail, and with so much to do, our travel experts at Gulliver Expeditions can help you plan the perfect itinerary. Located in the heart of Quito, we at Gulliver know Quito well. Make the most of your Quito travel, and contact Gulliver Expeditions.