A Day in Quito, Ecuador: Exploring the Old Town
We walked through the doors of Quito’s “Gold Church” (La Iglesia de la Compañía de Jesús) and were immediately surrounded by a golden glow. We found the church version of El Dorado, but the fact that photography is forbidden left us a bit frustrated. We took a few anyway (sorry Jesus, if you exist) and continued walking the streets of Quito’s old town, one of the most impressive colonial centres in Latin America. Here are some of the things we found.
The “Gold Church” isn’t the only must see place of worship in Quito’s old town. One of the highlights of our time in Quito was visiting the Basilica (Basílica del Voto Nacional). There’s a lift which takes people most of the way up, but the final climb to the top of is a little dodgy (steep, narrow steel steps with a huge drop below). Once at the top, Quito spreads out before your eyes while the dual church towers provide an interesting foreground. Make sure you look around the rest of the Basilica as well — there are lots of stained glass windows and the gargoyles on the outside are animals you can find in Ecuador.
Further reading (or looking): Check out these photos of the gold church — I wish they would let people openly take photos!
The old town streets
I can wander for hours in cities like Quito — there’s always something around the next corner. We saw so many picture perfect streets lined with ancient houses and there are lots of nice little cafes where you rest your legs and eat some strawberries and cream.
La Ronda is a small area in the old town where you’ll find lots of restaurants, guesthouses and even a gourmet chocolate shop. This is one of the classy sides of Quito, and it contrasts nicely with the chaotic streets nearby.
You’ll come across lots of plazas while walking the streets of the old town. They are great places to sit for a while and watch local life go by. Our favourite was probably Plaza de San Francisco — Plaza Grande was also nice but some of the atmosphere was eroded by the hundreds of policemen stationed there (there was apparently a riot going on at the time).
Where to stay in Quito
A lot of people choose to stay in La Mariscal, AKA the new town, but we enjoyed staying in the heart of the old town. We stayed at two different hostels close to Plaza San Blas and I think it’s the perfect area to stay in. There are lots of hostels, it feels safe and there are some good eating options nearby. After getting a bit sick of local set meals in Colombia and Ecuador, it was nice to find some good (and affordable) Chinese and Italian food.
A free walking tour
We saw so many signs for free walking tours around the world but never actually did one — I always suspected that I wouldn’t really enjoy them. The guide in Quito was pretty good and told us some interesting things about the city, but I’ve decided I’m not a fan of the free walking tour phenomenon. The pace was slow and we didn’t go into any of the churches or spend much time in the plazas. The tour also didn’t go to La Ronda, one of the nicest parts of Quito’s old town. We had to retrace most of our steps in order to visit the churches, so if you only have a few hours to explore the old town you’re probably better off doing it by yourself (and they aren’t free either, tips are expected!).
Be careful when arriving in Quito by bus
Gia had her Gopro stolen on a bus travelling from Otavalo to Quito. Her bag was on the floor next to her leg and the person behind us cut the bag open. Luckily that was all that was stolen — my DSLR camera was in there too along with a couple of hundred dollars and our passports. We felt safe everywhere else we had been in Latin America but it was a good wake-up call.
There is so much more to do in Quito than explore the old town but we didn’t get time to do anything else. We went on an Amazon jungle tour and were exhausted when we got back. From Quito we headed south to Quilotoa, Banos and Cuenca before eventually crossing the border into Peru.
Further reading: Interested in visiting the Amazon Rainforest in Ecuador? Check out my post.
Have you been to Quito old town? What is your favourite city in South America? Let me know!