Located in a long, narrow valley in the heart of the Andes, the city’s surroundings alone will make you gasp.
To the west, are the lush slopes of Pichincha – just one of Ecuador’s many volcanoes. And if you head just one hour north of the city by road, you can visit the equator which is marked by a monument and a museum at Ciudad Mitad del Mundo, offering visitors to stand with one foot in the northern hemisphere and the other foot in the southern.
Then there is the city itself – a complex mixture of colonial plazas and modern architecture. The Old Town, watched over by the silver-winged Virgin of Quito atop the hill of El Panecillo, is a UNESCO World Heritage Site for, despite the 1917 earthquake, the city is said to have the best-preserved historic centre in the whole of Latin America. Here you’ll find examples of Quito’s unique baroque style – a fusion of Spanish, Italian, Moorish, Flemish and indigenous art which can be seen in the monasteries of San Francisco and Santo Domingo, along with the Jesuit College of La Compana. Take a walking tour to discover all the fascinating nooks and crannies.
Considered Ecuador’s cultural capital, the city bursts with museums, restaurants and nightlife. But many travellers head straight for the Mariscal neighbourhood thanks to its offer of abundant accommodation and plenty of choices among its bars and eateries.
Places to Visit in Quito
- Old Town
- El Panecillo
Unique Things to See and Do in Quito
- Explore the UNESCO World Heritage listed Old Town
- Take a sky tram up the slopes of the Pichincha volcano
- Discover Ecuadorian art at the Museo Nacional
- Admire the views across the city at Cerro Pancenillo
- Watch Ecuadorian performing arts at the Teatro Bolivar
Quito – a City of the Incas
Before the arrival of the Spanish colonisers in 1526, Quito was already a thriving Inca city. The Incas had made their advance north into the Andes during the 15th century when, despite fierce resistance from the local people, they arrived at the site of modern Quito.
But it wasn’t until the reign of Atahualpa, one of the Inca leaders that came head to head during the Inca Civil War of the 16th century, that Quito became the main capital of the Inca Empire.
However, upon the arrival of the Spanish conquistadors, Francisco Pizarro sprang a trap on Atahualpa on November 16, 1532. After inviting the Incan emperor to a feast in his honour, the Spaniards opened fire on the unarmed Incas, massacring them. Atahualpa was taken into captivity, forced to convert to Christianity and then killed.
But rather than let the Spanish take the treasured city of Quito, Atahualpa’s general Rumiñahui burnt the city to the ground as they approached. As a result, there are sadly no traces left of the former Inca settlement.
Undeterred, Spanish lieutenant Sebastián de Benalcázar built the new city on top of the ruins, founded on December 6, 1534. Many buildings from this time still remain in the Old Town.
Getting Around Quito
If you’re sticking to the main tourist sights in the Old Town, you’ll be able to get around simply using your feet. For any slightly longer journeys, the buses are a good option being both cheap and reliable on the whole.
But taxis are very cheap and you’ll come across plenty of them packed into the narrow streets.
A slightly more touristy way of doing some sightseeing of the volcanic variety is to hope on the Tren de Ecuador and take a journey along the Avenue of Volcanoes to check out some of the 20 plus highly strung mountains in the area.
Then there’s the Teleferico – a great way of admiring the views of the city and its spectacular setting.
Work is also underway on Quito’s first metro system. This has hit a few hurdles along the way but is now expected to open in 2016.
Did you know…?
Although Quito is the capital of Ecuador, Guyaquil is actually the country’s largest city.
Did you ALSO know…?
One of the first art schools in South America was established in Quito in 1552 – the start of a religious art movement that thrived during the Spanish colonial period.
Best Time of Year to Travel to Quito
The winter months of June, July and August are widely considered the best time to visit Quito. At this time of year, the temperatures are pleasant with sun and little wind or rain.
Although the summer doesn’t see temperatures hit unpleasant heights thanks to Quito’s high altitude position, this time of year is the wet season and so the rains may make exploring the city a less enjoyable option.
Ready to plan your visit to Quito? Check out these popular guides and trips.