There are infinite reasons why you would want to bring your family to Quito Old Town while you are on holiday in Ecuador: the engrossing culture and history, the fresh Andean air, and the spectacular natural world that lingers just beyond the city limits, to name just a few. Here we share our Quito exploration tips for families: activities around the Old Town!
Quito for children is a city of magic, where glistening white colonial buildings loom up like enchanted palaces and great squares unfold like chessboards, filled with characters who seem to have jumped straight from the pages of a storybook. And it’s not just churches and museums here; Quito Old Town is filled with experiences to delight, surprise and inspire your children.
From odd culinary traditions to interactive museums, hunting for ghosts and marvelling at colourful military displays, dressing up in costumes and flying kites at the top of the world, there are all sorts of adventures to be had in Quito Old Town.
Read on for the best family experiences in Quito Old Town that will create happy memories that last a lifetime.
It’s made of sweetened roasted corn it bears an uncanny resemblance – in appearance that is – to something that you’d usually try to avoid stepping in. It’s a mixture of sweet and salty, crunchy and moreish, and all the more hilarious due to its icky name. You can find it sold in the front of shops leading off from your Quito hotel, especially Benalcazar Street, or from street vendors on Plaza Grande. If the sight of it is too off-putting, there are dozens of varieties of typical sweets to try, from neon-coloured baubles to cola drops.
Cool down (or not) with an espumilla
When you step out of your Quito hotel, one of the most iconic sights in the Historic Centre are the sellers espumilla, pastel-coloured and soft like ice cream, heaped onto pretty plates and scattered with hundreds-and-thousands, to be piled into cones and splodged with blackberry jam. But with no ice in sight, how does it stay cold? Appearances are deceiving: this is not ice cream. Made of blackberry and sugar whipped with eggs whites, then guayaba fruit and yet more sugar, this is more meringue than Mr Whippy. You can find espumilla on the outskirts of Plaza Grande. Prepare for a tooth-ache.
Feast on chocolate people
What is it that fascinates children so much about foods that resemble things? Caterpillar cakes, cola-bottle sweets, chocolate eggs, bunnies, oranges, cigarettes… But is eating little humans a step too far? If you’ve tried the organic cacao, artisan chocolate people of Chez Tiff on La Ronda you won’t think so. You would think it wasn’t far enough. Modelled on the typical personalities around Quito Old Town with 65 and 75% and white chocolate and natural colourings, the figures include a chef, an indigenous woman in traditional dress, and a cucurucho, a dark, hooded character from the Good Friday parades. For the disapproving, Chef Tiff also provides little chocolate exotic fruits and paintings etched in chocolate.
Would you chomp a child (made of bread)?
Named after the Quechua word for “child”, these sweet bread figures known as guagas de pan resemble swaddled babies and are given to children to celebrate the Day of the Deceased on November 2. Eaten alongside a sweet, purple drink called Colada Morada, the tradition honours friends and family who have passed away.
Be a scientist at the Museo Interactivo de Ciencia
Whoever said that museums are for looking and not touching has not been to the Museo Interactivo de Ciencia. This impressive complex high up on the eastern flank of the city is full of roll-up-your-sleeves, engage-the-brain, hands-on experiences, with experiments to try in matters of the mind, old industrial machinery, and mind-bending physics. There’s also an entire hall devoted to smaller children, where little ones can see life-like models of Ecuadorian animals, play with a miniature volcano, learn how to milk a cow, and weigh fruit and vegetables. It’s the ultimate boredom-buster and rainy-day activity with activities for all to get involved in.
Run like water at the Yaku Museo del Agua
Located on the slopes of the Pichincha Volcano (you can just about see it from Casa Gangotena’s third-floor panoramic terrace), the Yaku Museo del Agua is built on a site where ancestral societies had ceremonial baths. Fittingly, Yaku, which means “water” in Kichwa, is a celebration of the value of water to the various aboriginal communities of Quito, and educates on ways to protect the environment. In an ultra-modern and stylish steel-framed building, the museum has hands-on, water-based activities and experiments for children and a pathway through a magical forest displaying the wonder of water in Andean wildlife. Lookout for the dance, music and theatre shows performed on Sundays at midday.
Go ghost-busting in the Museo de la Ciudad
If there’s something strange, in the neighbourhood, who you gonna call? Your kids!
Located in Quito’s oldest public building which functioned as the city’s hospital from 1565 until 1974, there are more than enough lost souls to give the place a chilly feel indeed. And while the children go off in search of spooks, you can enjoy the permanent exhibitions on Quito’s ancient societies, the city’s Spanish colonial regime, and the museum’s origins as Quito’s first hospital. There are also temporary exhibitions and programs, celebrating the idiosyncrasies of the city, as well as showcases of contemporary and traditional art.
Blend in with the waxworks at the Museo Alberto Mena Caamaño
Quito’s answer to Madame Tussauds might not have models of Madonna, the Queen, or Justin Beiber. But it does have a grisly installation of the massacre of August 2, 1810, in which rebels of the 1809 uprising were put to death by authorities as their compadres tried to liberate them. In macabre vividness, wax figures bring to life the grim scene in the very room where the event took place. Perhaps not suited to smaller children, this is a rather more engaging way to introduce your family to Quito’s liberation history than the average museum. The Museo Alberto Mena Caamaño is found tucked the side of the Centro Cultural Metropolitano, a fine cultural museum just off the bustling Plaza Grande.
Out and About
Watch tin soldiers in the Changing of the Guard
Not actually made of tin but living, breathing soldiers, the military squadron guarding the Presidential Palace are more than a little Nutcracker in their brilliant blue dress coats with golden chords, red epaulettes, white trousers, black boots, and tall blue helmets known as a morriónes. This is a ceremony of much pomp and tradition, performed every Monday at precisely 11 A.M. by the Granaderos de Tarqui. There are dressed up horses, banging drums, parading soldiers, and with luck, the president will put in an appearance on the balcony of the Palacio de Carandolet, waving to his adoring fans. The origins of the custom can be traced back to the early 19th century, when Ecuador gained its independence from Spanish colonialists after the Battle of Pichincha in 1812. Marking the moment that the military squadron guarding the presidential seat for the past week passes the baton to the next group, it is a great honour bestowed on the most senior and loyal soldiers. Make sure to arrive early to bag a spot, and to wear a sunhat!
Become a superhero at the fancy dress shops
Quito is a city fixated with costume, donning masks, wigs and cloaks at the first opportunity. That means that there are plenty of fancy dress shops where your family can have a hoot with all kinds of disguises. Located all along Cuenca Street, the shops are pack with all kinds of superhero, monster, and princess costumes and beyond, all at reassuring prices. The selection gets all the better around Halloween, Carnival, and New Year’s Eve, when dressing up is all but written in law. Even if it’s just a pink wig and an oversized pair of sunglasses, it has to be done.
Climb to the top of the Panecillo
Remember that bit in the Lion King when Simba’s dad says that “everything the light touches” belongs to him? Well, that’s what it feels like when you climb to the top of the Panecillo. The hill on which the winged Maria sits marks the division between the north and south of the city; from atop the statue the whole of the north unfolds before you like your very own kingdom. Spot the Old Town icons; the architecture becoming increasingly modern as Quito continues to flood away to the north. Climbing up the metal patchwork of the innards of Maria brings to life the explanations of the construction that take up the second floor of the exhibition. For those too little or tired to make the ascent, the view from the base is equally enticing, and there’s a park nearby to let off steam.
Go on safari at the Basilica
There’s something quite curious about the gargoyles hanging off the neo-Gothic Basilica del Voto Nacional. These aren’t the creepy, grotesque monsters of dark Victorian literature that come to life under the flash of lightning. No, these are wild, Ecuadorian animals, the creatures you’d encounter in the Andes, Amazon, and the Galapagos Islands, all frozen in stone, leaping out from the 20th-century rooftop. Walk around the circumference of the great church spotting iguanas and alligators, pumas and armadillos, turtles and tortoises, penguins and pelicans. When the family has exhausted all the animals (and there are many more besides those mentioned above) head inside to the choir of the church, from where you can climb up to the rafters and come out onto the roof, where the most tremendous view of the city and a splendid clock tower that never tells the right time await. Do bear in mind that a certain degree of balance is required for the latter part of this visit – small children would do better to stay on ground level.
Go fly a kite at Itchimbia
Flying a kite is one of those joyous childhood experiences where you whoop and cheer just to see an object fly, darting and jerking about on a string. And flying a kite in Parque Itchimbia takes the pure glee to new levels; the park towers over Quito at the top of the hill with a tremendous view of the entire city and the elevated location means that kites catch the wind like a dream. The acres of free, open, green space make a welcome change from the confines of the city for little ones, and a good run around might be just the ticket after all that sugary dog poo. At the weekend, you’ll be joined by local families in the same pursuit and will be able to buy a kite, known as a cometa, from vendors strolling around the park. For a kite of a little more quality, head to the toy shops around the Old Town – perhaps less likely to break off from their strings and fly away into the Andes!
A family holiday in Quito holds all sorts of good surprises. To avoid any nasty ones, contact us and we’ll talk you through all the family options.