Ecuador’s capital, Quito, offers a wealth of deep cultural experiences that you won’t find anywhere else. Founded on the ruins of an Inca settlement, this 16th-century city is filled with incredibly beautiful and ornate churches, palatial homes turned into boutique hotels, and winding cobblestone streets. Wandering through them, it’s easy to see why Quito was the first city to receive UNESCO World Heritage status in 1978.
Here are 10 ways to sample what this incredible destination offers visitors.
Admire the glory of the Iglesia de la Compañía de Jesús
Known locally as the “golden church” because nearly every inch of the interior of this baroque masterpiece is gilded, this church is filled with art and artifacts that will leave you in awe. Construction here began in 1605, in the early years of the Spanish occupation. It took over 150 years to complete. On a guided tour, you can climb onto the roof, which offers fantastic views of the city and access inside the ornate dome.
Dine at fabulous Urko
With the creative vision of chefs Daniel Maldonado, Andrés de la Torres and Cristhian Hernandez, Urko’s tasting menus draw from Ecuador’s rich biodiversity to serve incredible dishes, with ingredients sourced from the Andes Mountains, the coast, the Galapagos Islands and the jungle. amazon. This might include Amazonian fish paiche with potato foam on a bed of lacto-fermented tomato gel or a pickled watermelon and blackcurrant ceviche dish with caramelized plantain broth. Urko’s vibe is fun, with art depicting local shamanic rituals and local crafts displayed among plants and flowers. All seats overlook the large open kitchen, where Maldonado and his team create culinary magic.
Climb the east side of the Pichincha volcano on a TelefériQo cable car
At over 9,000 feet above sea level, Quito holds the title of second highest city in the world. (La Paz, Bolivia takes the top spot.) Want to go higher? Take a ride on the TelefériQo cable car, which takes you nearly 13,000 feet above sea level. Your ears will pop as you take in the epic views of the city. Climbing the east side of Pichincha from the cable car is a popular activity. If you do, you’ll be at an altitude of over 15,000 feet. Pichincha is an active volcano, whose last eruption took place in 2002.
Walk through the super cool neighborhood of La Floresta
As the artistic heart of Quito, La Floresta is the perfect place to spend an afternoon eating regional food and admiring street murals. Here, you’ll find tiny boutiques, pop-up shops and galleries, as well as people selling delicious bowls of pork stew and corn fritters outside their doors.
Buy local handicrafts at Mercado Artesanal La Mariscal
Definitely a fun souvenir shopping destination, at Mercado Artesanal La Mariscal, you’ll find rows of stalls selling the softest baby llama blankets, cashmere scarves and stylish Panama hats. Prices in this market are ridiculously cheap and you are expected to haggle. If you’re a fan of more sophisticated art and souvenirs, head to the more upscale shop Olga Fisch Folklore, which works with local women’s cooperatives and sells beautiful jewelry, handicrafts and clothing.
Climb to the top of the Basilica del Voto Nacional
After feeling the burn climbing inside the basilica’s towers, you step out onto the roof to find narrower stairs. At the top of the stairs, enjoy sweeping views of the city and volcanoes beyond a small perch.
Pursue a spiritual experience at the San Francisco Market
The local markets are always fun, but beyond the meat and vegetables, you’ll find a lineup of traditional healers, offering to cleanse your spirit or bring you love, luck or money. Hand over your money and you’ll be taken to a back room, where you’ll be prayed for while you’re spanked with handfuls of herbs and massaged with rose petals. It’s a fun, if not confusing, experience.
Stay at latitude 0 in the middle of the world
While it’s about as touristy as things get in Ecuador — complete with a village-like facade and shops selling T-shirts and crafts at inflated prices — the Middle of the World is worth a visit to learn the origin story of the Earth’s division into hemispheres.
Taste traditional Ecuadorian spirits at Casa Agave
When Casa Agave founder Diego Mora started making miske, a traditional agave-based brandy used ceremonially since pre-Columbian times, few people had heard of it. You certainly couldn’t find it in bars. However, Mora breathed new life into the spirit, and many distillers followed him across Ecuador. Soak up its refined spirit at Casa Agave, which offers a distillery tour that ends with a tasting and cocktail experience.
Explore the Guayasamín House Museum
The private home-museum of one of Ecuador’s most acclaimed painters, Oswaldo Guayasamín, is an art-lover’s delight. If you’ve never heard of Guayasamín, you’ll surely become a fan of his haunting portraits and abstract landscapes after visiting this Spanish-style village he once called home. In addition to Guayasamín’s work, the museum houses an impressive collection of pre-Columbian and 15th-century religious artifacts.
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