Ecuador's capital city is unique in every way. Quito is located 2,850 meters above sea level, giving it the title of the highest capital city on the globe. It is also the closest to the Equator, and visitors can even go to the places where the Equator has historically been thought to be. Giving visitors the feeling of being thrown back in time, the gorgeous historical centre is a huge draw, as it offers one of the largest and best-preserved historic sites in the Americas and was declared one of the first UNESCO heritage sites in 1978. Quito's origins date back to the first millennium and the city as it is known today was founded in 1534, after the Spanish Invasion - an incredible history that offers a variety of opportunities to learn about traditions, culture and the peoples that have called Ecuador home over the centuries.
Millions of visitors flock every year to Quito and find themselves immersed in hundreds of years of rich history and the surrounding natural beauty. Apart from exploring the amazing historical centre, there are tours that visit the nearby Pichincha, an active volcano which also gives Quito the dubious honour of being the only capital city in the world under threat of a volcanic eruption. There are also plenty of Plazas, churches, parks and amazing food to discover. The more adventurous can visit the Basílica del Voto Nacional, the largest neo-gothic church in the Americas, and climb the 115-meter-high towers for an incredible view of the city.
For those visiting in February, Carnival is the biggest festival on the Ecuadorian calendar. This involves everyone joining together in a huge city-wide water fight. Inti Raymi, the Festival of the Sun, has been held in Ecuador since ancient times to celebrate the winter solstice (June); locals dress in traditional costume and parade through the square to represent the overcoming of oppression and their ancestor's rebellion. There are also many religious festivals held in Quito throughout the year, so be sure to check the calendar and join in the fun.
Things to do in Quito
Visitors to Quito often find themselves overwhelmed by the choice of things to see and do. There are things to interest everyone and capture the imagination of anyone who visits.
For the family
Families will love Guayllabamba Zoo. A place to see the Galapagos turtle, Andean bear, a jaguar and many of the incredible bird species found around South America, this zoo is perfect for a family day trip. The petting zoo is great for younger kids, while children and adults alike will enjoy being able to see the best of Ecuadorian wildlife together in such an educational place. Families will also find many parks and public spaces to enjoy. Carolina Park includes paddle boats, running paths, biking and even horse and pony rides on the weekend.
For active explorers
Be sure to check out the nearby Cotopaxi - one of the highest active volcanoes in the world. After hiking up to see the glaciers, you can hire a bike and ride back down - a sure-fire adrenaline rush. If you have 2 days, you can climb to the highest peak of the mountain. Another adventure is to climb the towers of the largest church in Quito, Basílica del Voto Nacional, not for the faint-hearted at 115 meters high! There is also the option for visitors to go rock-climbing, bungy-jumping, canyoning or rafting. After all, Quito is known as Ecuador's adventure capital.
For history lovers
The entire city is like one giant museum, and history buffs will find more than they can handle when it comes to historic sights, museums and colonial and pre-Hispanic architecture. Plaza de la Independencia is a must-do. It is a beautiful square bordered by Carondelet Palace and La Catedral Metropolitana. Nearby, La Ronda is said to be the oldest street in Ecuador and offers a great variety of cafes, bars and restaurants as well as boutique hotels and shops.
For those who love to explore the natural beauty of a city, a great option is to take the cable car and hike to Pichincha. Offering incredible views of the city, the cable car rises 800 meters during its 20 minute journey. From there, the hike to Pichincha takes you through an incredible and calm landscape to the top for a breath-taking view of the Ecuadorian countryside.
A trip to the centre of the earth
Another interesting trip is the short drive to the middle of the earth. Here you can see both where the equator was calculated to be in 1736 by a French scientist and a point 240 meters north where modern GPS has calculated the equator to be. At the original line, there is a monument and a yellow line where you can stand in both hemispheres at once. At the second equator line, there is a museum offering tours that teach visitors about the traditional Andean way of life in the surrounding area as well as showing you experiments about the unique location. Both equator points are very different but both are worth a visit.
Events in Quito
Several events attract visitors to Quito throughout the year. With Ecuador being a largely Catholic country, most of these are religious festivals but many also celebrate the culture and history of the people as well.
- Carnaval. Held the weekend before Ash Wednesday (usually February), Carnaval is the biggest event on the calendar. Celebrated by intense water fights that engulf the entire city, no one is exempt from participation, not even tourists, so get ready for some wet and wild fun!
- Inti Raymi. Known as the Festival of the Sun, this is an ancient festival held all over Ecuador and Quito is no exception. A celebration of the Winter Solstice (June), this festival honours the God Inti and celebrates winter with colorful costumes, traditional dance and the sharing of food.
- Holy Week occurs the week of Easter and is a collection of religious ceremonies that reenact the death of Christ. Many processions and parades line the streets, with families dressed in costume and singing their way to the church.
- All-Souls Day is celebrated in Quito in the first week of December and is marked by bullfights and celebrations at Plaza de Toros. This day is for commemorating the souls of loved one who have died.