By Nancy Schretter
Many cruisers heading to the Galapagos Islands connect through Quito on their way to their ship. Rather than stopping for a brief overnight stay, experienced travelers know that Quito is a place to linger and explore. Ecuador’s capital city is a UNESCO World Heritage Site filled with Baroque churches, monasteries, art museums, superb shopping and memorable dining options. In addition, Quito’s surrounding Andes Highlands areas offer abundant opportunities for shopping, hiking, cultural interaction, wildlife viewing and more.
There’s much to see in Quito, so cruise vacationers should plan to spend several days exploring. While the regions surrounding Quito have much to offer, the city of Quito itself offers many delights. Here are five attractions and places to sample while you’re there:
1. Admire Quito’s Colonial Heritage. Designated by UNESCO as a World Heritage Site, Quito has a rich past. Visitors will want to spend plenty of time visiting Iglesia de San Francisco and La Compañía de Jesús, a spectacular example of Baroque architecture with gold leaf completely covering its arches, domes and pillars. The El Panecillo viewpoint, the buildings and plaza of Quito’s Independence Square, and the charming La Ronda area are additional highlights.
2. Ride the TelefériQo. Don’t miss this popular tourist attraction, providing a breathtaking view of the Quito itself as well as the massive peaks of the Andean Highlands. Opened in 2005 using technology from France, the TelefériQo is one of the world’s highest cable car rides, ascending from 10,226 feet to 12,943 feet up Volcán Pichincha. Passengers are seated in six-person cars and the ride takes approximately 8-10 minutes to complete.
3. Stand at the Center of the Earth. At La Mitad del Mundo – The Middle of the World – travelers can straddle the Equator (or very close to it) and visit the Intinan Museum with its scientific and cultural exhibits. Visitors will find a large monument here, as well as a number of shops, restaurants, museums, and unique photo opportunities.
4. Shop ‘Till You Drop. Don’t dismay if you can’t get to Otavalo’s famed market during your visit. Quito has lots of places to shop for local Ecuadorian crafts. El Quinde and the Ecuador Gourmet Gallery are two of the best spots to buy unique artisan handicrafts and variety of other specialty products. The shops at La Mitad del Mundo and La Mariscal Crafts Market offer a large selection of souvenirs at bargain prices, but search carefully to find good quality items. When only the best will do regardless of price, Folklore Olga Fisch sells high end crafts, rugs and artwork from indigenous Ecuadorian artisans.
5. Take the Train. Enjoy some of Ecuador’s most spectacular vistas while taking a personally narrated tour on one of tren Ecuador’s comfortable historic cars. Ecuador’s rail service was launched in the late 1800’s and many of its routes have been revitalized as a tourist attraction. Routes from Quito through the Avenue of Volcanoes and to the Cotopaxi National Park vicinity are very popular. For more information, visit www.ecuadorbytrain.com.
If You Go:
* For more information about planning a trip to Quito, visit the Quito Turismo website at www.quito.com.ec. Visitors to Quito’s city center can also stop at El Quinde, located in Independence Square, for complete tourist information, free Internet and lockers, clean restrooms, complimentary coffee, and more.
* There are many excellent upscale hotels and boutique properties in Quito. If you’d like to stay within walking distance of many of Old Town’s attractions, check out the La Casona de la Ronda Hotel – a renovated old mansion with 23 rooms. For those who crave spacious guest rooms, superb service, and the full range of modern amenities, the JW Marriott Hotel Quito is sure to please. Located adjacent to Quito’s World Trade Center, the Radisson Royal Quito Hotel is another top option.
* Ecuadorian food is delicious and Quito’s restaurants are some of the best in South America, serving a variety of dishes from many regions of Ecuador as well as international fare. Sample a selection of ceviches, fresh trout, lamb stew, pistachio-encrusted tuna, breast of pork, sundried tomato risotto, and a bowl of the region’s ever-popular potato soup. Some of my favorites restaurants in the area include La Choza, Zazu, Ventanal Restaurant, Hasta La Vuelta Señor, and El Cráter Restaurant near La Mitad del Mundo.
* Side trips from Quito to places such as Otavalo, Cotopaxi National Park and Mindo are available through many major hotels and tour companies. Local tour guides, such as Marco Toscano’s Tours Unlimited, provide insider information, tips, and destination insights that can help make visits to Quito particularly memorable.
* Quito is located at slightly over 9200 feet in the Andes Mountains. The air is thinner here and a small percentage of visitors may experience some altitude sickness issues. If you’re concerned, talk with your doctor before traveling for input, drink plenty of water to stay hydrated, and pace yourself throughout the day.
Nancy Schretter is the Managing Editor of the Family Travel Network.