With all the anticipation of the wonders of the Galapagos Islands, it might be tempting to skip Quito on your Ecuador vacation and head straight out on your safari adventure.
But as 2018 marks the 40th anniversary of the capital’s inscription as UNESCO World Heritage city and new things to do and restaurants are springing up each day, there has never been a better time to visit Ecuador’s city in the sky.
A new perspective of the Old Town
Some of the most classic sights in the largest and best-preserved centro histórico (historic center) in the Americas are what make it a timeless destination: the indigenous women in their traditional costume hawking vegetables on vibrant Plaza Grande, the La Compañía church lined top-to-tail in gold, and the colorful and eerie Good Friday parade – all top things to do in Quito.
This is a city of a thousand stories, where the creaking eatery Café Dios No Muere is rumored to have been where the body of a murdered president was stashed in the 19th century, where traditional medicine practitioners can cleanse your energy with sacred branches in a market stall, and where, should you wish, you can get your hair cut in a booth underneath the presidential palace.
And now this year, for the first time in its 500-year history, Quito icon San Francisco has opened its doors to allow visitors (although only guests of boutique mansion Hotel Casa Gangotena) to creep up a narrow back staircase behind a cloaked Franciscan monk and to emerge on the roof of the monastery. A spectacular sunset view, reaching across the city to the rolling Andes, is the reward for the climb, giving new meaning to the “top” things to do in Quito!
Quito’s break-out restaurants
What’s also new in Quito is the city’s restaurant scene, a constantly evolving offering of world-class restaurants and chefs who compete to catch the eye of an increasingly savvy foodie set.
There’s Shibumi, a tiny Japanese-Ecuadorian fusion restaurant where diners return to try the Galapagos halibut tataki and octopus kaburimaki.
There’s Laboratorio Diseño y Gastronomia, a fresh pop-up concept that sees new teams move into the industrial-chic kitchen every few months with an entirely new menu.
And there’s La Purísima, a feast of Ecuadorian nostalgia serving up traditional national dishes in thrilling new ways. The list goes on of restaurants that feature on the top things to do in Quito.
A world beyond the city
Although it is a city in constant metamorphosis, some of the top things to do in Quito lie outside the city walls. From within the confines of the metropolis, you won’t fail to notice the magnificent sentry of snow-capped, active volcanoes that guard it. To the most adventurous, they call like sirens. Cotopaxi, Pichincha, Ilaló and Cayambe are peaks to climb; some can be conquered in a morning, some must be left to the experts.
Two hours to the north of city lies Otavalo, a traditional Indian market town home to the finest textiles in the Andes, surrounded by glistening lakes and indigenous culture.
And for those who want to get a feel of the entire region in a single morning with a condor’s eye view, one of the top things to do in Quito is the new, exclusive helicopter tour that swoops over the volcanoes, the national parks, fields of crops, and over the sprawling south of the city.
The deal with safety
Recent reports have suggested that tourists’ safety is compromised in Quito due to the prevalence of petty crime, health scares and natural disasters. But, while it is always advisable to heed warnings, such reports can be misleading.
For example, the great majority of thefts happen on public transport or in busy, crowded areas, which guests of Galapapgos Safari Camp will almost certainly not visit. And although the reports rightly point out the dangers of natural disasters like earthquakes and poor healthcare, these rarely affect tourists.
Like in any large, busy, capital city, it is worth taking precautions and avoiding certain areas at certain times; accompanied by a reputable tour operator or hotel like Galapagos Safari Camp, you are very unlikely to put in a dangerous position.
A gateway to more
Quito is a gateway: a gateway to the Galapagos, the Amazon, the surrounding volcanoes, and cultural wonders beyond. But it’s more than that. It’s an ever-evolving, thriving metropolis where the past collides with the present in beautiful technicolor. Visit in 2018 before it reinvents itself again.
Like our safari trips to the Galapagos Islands, we tailor our trips to Quito, and can design an itinerary for you. Contact us for more details.
Plan your Galapagos Vacation
See our Safari Holidays for our suggested Galapagos itineraries and recommended activities.