Quito is a cheerful combination of ramshackle and elegant, traditional and new, and the streets of the old town feature a sumptuous display of colourful colonial buildings and elaborate churches. It would be easy to spend weeks here sucking up culture and the arts, but unfortunately we only had a couple of days. These are the 6 things I enjoyed most, and would therefore recommend…
Number 1: Visit the Guaysamín Museum
Guayasamín is one of the most famous contemporary artists in the Americas and you will notice his prints all over Ecuador. If you only do one thing in Quito make it this. During his life he has painted 1000’s of raw and touching works, mostly portraits that scream without sound and deliver important and confrontational messages about the history of human suffering and enslavement. Throughout his career he worked predominantly on 3 main collections. The 1st two can be found in his “Chapel of Man” gallery, Huacayñán is the first and is the Kichwa (native andean people who lived throughout the land that is now Ecuador, Peru and Argentina) word for “Road of Tears”. This collection was created after 2 years of travelling in South America, hearing stories from the poorest native american and black communities of slavery and suffering. The second collection is referred to as the Age of Wrath” and is a broader look at worldwide suffering, and focuses on war and how cruel man can be to his own kind. The 3rd is housed within Guaysamín’s own home and is called “The Age of Tenderness” and is a more bright and vivid collection dedicated to his mother and reflects the love between a mother and her child and the innocence of children. When he passed away he dedicated his entire life work as well as his home and personal art collection to the city of Quito. After a visit to his gallery “Chapel of Man” I felt moved beyond words by his raw and emotional collection of works. You must go if you are interested in feeling the history of this continent in a new context and looking at the glittering churches of Quito through a new perspective.
Number 2: Scale the Basílica del Voto Nacional
This is the oldest neo-gothic basilica in the Americas and is a real beauty! It’s lovely to appreciate from outside and the closer you look the more little creatures present themselves. Incorporated into the facade, traditional andean animals have been included as little gargoyles and as you sit and perhaps sip on an overpriced coffee from the cafe outside it’s fun to see how many you can spot. The real highlight of visiting the basilica is facing any fear of heights and climbing up the 115 metre high tower to enjoy the crazy views of the city. Make sure you come 1st thing in the morning DURING THE WEEK. During the weekend they sometimes close the towers if it gets too busy and the steps up to the top only hold one person at a time.
Number 3: Wander along La Ronda
La Ronda is a pretty and colourful street during the day, and on a Saturday night it comes to life in a whole new manner! Street performers, bars and cafes make this a great spot for people watching and sipping the night away.
Number 4: Enjoy the view from El Panacillo
People used to say not to walk up as it’s not safe however there are security guards along the way during the day and if you make sure you take the usual precautions to keep your self safe, walking up this 200 metre hill the views just keep getting better! It divides the downtown from the south and you can spot the hill from anywhere in Quito, just look for the giant aluminium monument of the Virgin Maria.
Number 5: Eat at the market
Mmmmmm the market food in Quito is very yummy! In Ecuador you will notice signs all over the country for “hornado” which is usually pork that has been cooked with a spit roast and served with delicious potato cakes and coleslaw and only costs $3usd. You can also get delicious juices for $1usd. Before we came to South America we would have never accepted a taste of pork from an old woman’s bare hands, but now we are those people and I’m delighted by it! So delicious and a real local experience.
Number 6: Wave to the President
This may sound difficult but it’s not! Every Monday at 11am the President and some of his ministers come out to wave from the balcony in the main plaza, and the ceremonial changing of the guard takes place. Lots of locals come out in force with their flags and babies, ready to sing the anthem and show support for their government. We wandered into this by accident but it was a lovely event to feel a part of.
There are sooooo many things to do in Quito, these were just 6 of our highlights. The contrast of history with current bright culture and kind locals is just another of Quito’s fabulous quirks. We love this city and hope to come back soon!
We stayed at Friends Hostel in the old town.