Anyone who has trekked to the Galápagos has likely made a quick pitstop in Quito, whether on the way to or from the islands. But this city is so, so far beyond just a quick stop-over.
After spending a full week in the “Capital in the Clouds” (Quito is situated at a high altitude at the top of a volcano), we can guarantee you there’s still much more to wander through and explore, food to delve into and locals to meet than you can do in a week. But at the very least, here are some reasons you’ll fall in love with this Ecuadorian city.
There’s a reason Quito is called the Capital in the Clouds. Winding streets travel up and down the side of a volcano (the peaks and craters may or may not be visible, depending on the hanging and lingering clouds). What this gives the city are amazing views of the streets and a climate that can change as quickly as a rainbow appears or disappears. The streets provide so many incredible views, as do restaurant and church rooftops.
There are a few things that you can count on eating in Quito: potatoes, seafood, ceviche, soup and corn … all of which are undeniably delicious. But the one thing you won’t want to pass up on is the soup. Ecuadorians love soup, and they make so many varieties–from their national dish, potato soup with cheese, to seafood, vegetable, and quinoa soups. Some are spicy, some are just all about the flavour, and some are hued with the bright red from achiote powder or paste. Another local delicacy you can’t miss is the ceviche–it’s more liquidy than what you would find in Peru, but equally as delicious. If you’re feeling like immersing yourself in the food culture of Quito, stop by Altamira Restaurant for a market tour and a cooking lesson so you can master the dishes yourself.
Both Quito and Ecuador translate to “middle earth” in ancient times. It was known long, long before we could equate it to today’s center-of-the-world concept that this part of the world was very significant. You can visit the middle of the world with an hour’s drive from the city (depending on traffic). See the line and jump from one side of the equator to the other, take a little tour (and do some cheesy, yet mind-blowing tests to see how the equator plays tricks on your mind and body).
The town of Otavalo
A little more than two hours from Quito is a small, yet significant town in Ecuador called Otavalo. What makes this town so important is the mainly indigenous population and its dedication to the crafts. When the Spanish settled in Ecuador, Otavalo maintained its traditional weaving, leather works, crafts and textile making. The main market is the Otavalo Market in the central Plaza de Ponchos. This is hands down the best market you will find if you’re looking to buy anything locally made. Don’t think of it as just another tourist hub. Locals from all over the country come to this town and market for traditional goods. We may have nabbed the chicest, warmest alpaca blanket, easily one of our best travel purchases ever.
Speaking of markets, South American markets are one of our favourite attractions to experience and get lost in. And some of the best ones (with true local finds and not just tourist-quality items) can be found either within Quito’s city limits or just outside the city. One of the most incredible markets also happens to be the oldest in the city. Situated next to the San Francisco Cathedral in the San Roque neighbourhood and focused mainly on food, the San Francisco Market dates back to 1897. Locals stop by this busy hub of the city to pick up fresh fruits and vegetables, select meats from butchers, and pay a visit to the local healers if in need of a treatment for some sort of ailment.
Sure, you can find chain hotels in Quito. But the real gems are the small, independently run boutique hotels perched precariously on tiny cobbled streets. They also offer the most breathtaking views of the city. And most will come with local hospitality in the form of home-cooked meals in quaint restaurants that locals also frequent. One of our favourite spots is the Hotel Castillo Vista del Ángel. It’s a roller-coaster of a ride through narrow streets to get to it, but its charm, food and views outshine anything you would find at a typical chain.
Did you know that most of the roses you will find around the world actually come from just outside Quito? It’s true. Ecuador is the third-largest exporter of cut flowers in the world, with the majority of those exports being roses. The climate and soil make it a prime spot for growing one of the most famous flowers in the world. If you have time, take a tour of a rose farm so you can literally stop and smell the roses.