If you’re planning a trip to Quito, the capital city of Ecuador and bearer of the best-preserved Historic Center in South America, you’re in for a treat! The city bustles with life, history, culture, gastronomy, and so much more! Nevertheless, before embarking on the great adventures that are waiting for you in Quito, you need to read a thing or two about its unique Andean weather!
There are a number of factors that affect Quito’s weather and climate, including its high altitude, equatorial position, and surrounding mountain ranges. Despite that, the temperature doesn’t fluctuate much throughout the year –during the day it averages a comfortable 70°F (21°C), generally falling to around 50°F (10°C) at night. What does change is the climate throughout the day. It’s not uncommon for Quito to experience four seasons in a single day, which can affect your plans if you’re not prepared for it. The most important advice we can give you is to dress for all seasons and carry anything you may need.
Due to its unique position so close to the equator, Ecuador doesn’t have four seasons like many places around the world. It really only has two seasons: a rainy season and a dry season. For the most part, the drier months run from June to September, and the rainy season begins in October and stretches into May. Although many of us would expect the rainy season to be like winter, this is actually the time when the country is the warmest.
However, Quito generally follows slightly different rules. One reason is that it is only 16 miles (26 km) from the equator. Another is because it generally has low winds and therefore can experience the traditional four seasons in one day: sunshine, rain, hail, thunderstorms, and then back to sunshine. As well as the sudden change in weather, temperature variations can feel abrupt because of Quito’s exposed position and proximity to the sun. If wind speed suddenly increases or the sun ducks behind the clouds, it can feel like the temperature has dropped. Strangely enough, this normally isn’t true, but our bodies don’t know that. That’s why it’s always best to be prepared no matter the season or the forecast.
If you stay at Casa Gangotena...
… You’ll never have to worry about bad weather ruining your plans! Apart from our privileged location in Quito’s Historic Center (right across from the wonderful San Francisco Plaza) that allows our guests to walk to the most incredible churches and plazas, we host some great indoor guest-exclusive activities! They’re completely free of cost. You just need to sign up!
The altitude of Quito averages 9,350 ft (2,850 m) so it’s no surprise that this historic and beautiful city can often feel like the middle of the desert. It also means that the sun’s rays beat down on the city more directly than most other cities, so it tends to be a little more ferocious than in other warm places. On some days, it can feel like you are melting into the pavement! It’s important to always apply and reapply sunscreen throughout the day. Stay hydrated by always carrying a full water bottle with you, and always wear a sun hat and sunglasses.
Some popular visitor points, such as El Teleferico, take you even higher up into the mountains. Remember that at higher altitudes the temperatures can drop dramatically. Always wear warmer clothes and carry a warm jacket on any of these excursions.
This capital city lies between the volcanoes of the soaring Andes mountains, and therefore has a climate that can be a little temperamental -after all, mountains attract clouds. This means that it’s not uncommon to have surprise thunderstorms and even hail. Although the temperature doesn’t fluctuate a lot, the weather throughout the day can change without warning. It’s common for the sun to be scorching hot one second and then a thunderstorm can roll in, causing torrents of water to run down the streets.
Yes, the torrents are due to a combination of poor draining and steep hills in some areas of the Old Town. They are also caused by the gigantic raindrops that are commonly formed by the surrounding mountains. As the air reaches a mountain it rises, and as it rises, it cools. If the air is carrying a lot of moisture it will cause precipitation (or rain) because cool air carries less moisture.
But don’t let that scare you! For the most part, Quito has an extremely comfortable climate that is perfect for exploring and sightseeing. The main thing is to always be prepared and carry everything you may need on every day excursion you go on.
How to pack for Quito’s climate
So how do you work with this unpredictable weather? When traveling around Quito, it’s always a good idea to wear layers. Put on a breathable T-shirt, then a light sweater, and then a rain jacket on top. Of course, this means that you should always take a backpack to share between your group for any day excursions. You don’t want to get caught in the pouring rain or burning in the sun! In this backpack, each person should also pack:
Are you interested in a complete packing checklist for your adventure in Quito?
Remember: If you are traveling to a higher elevation, pack extra-warm clothes and some chocolate to nibble on to help with the altitude.
A trip to Quito is spectacular any time during the year. The stable temperatures mean that you won’t experience snow or soaring desert temperatures during any month of the year. However, you should be prepared for any change in the weather on your day excursions, and take any local weather forecast with a grain of salt. Sometimes we think blue skies mean we’ll have a beautiful day ahead of us, but that’s not always the case in Quito. It’s not just the incredible sights and adventures that can surprise you in this city – the weather likes to play, too!
Quito is a dynamic and diverse city with many neighborhoods and sectors that have their own lodging and restaurant options. However, while you will always enjoy your time in the capital, not every area is equal, and not every location will optimize your time in Quito. As we already know, the specific place and the neighborhood where we choose to stay can make or break our trip, as many things can affect how much we get out of our visit. Come on a journey with us as we explore the advantages and disadvantages of several options, including their location within Quito, the logistics of staying there, and surrounding tourist attractions.
La Floresta is known as Quito’s most chic parish thanks to its many brightly painted, mosaic-covered walls that demonstrate an appreciation for modern art and food. During the day, you can wander down picturesque, tree-lined streets and enjoy the local galleries and cafés that seem to appear around every corner. On Fridays and Saturdays, there are a couple of small farmers’ markets that give residents and visitors the chance to pick up locally grown fruit and vegetables from nearby farms. There is also a huge concentration of restaurants ranging from the quintessential American burger joint to the upmarket sushi restaurant. All eateries are within walking distance as long as you aren’t venturing out too late at night. While your taste buds will definitely be satisfied with the options in this neighborhood, you should be aware that there are very few tourist attractions or daily activities that you can experience close to this stylish neighborhood.
González Suárez abuts La Floresta to the north and rests along the eastern side of the city’s central valley, overlooking both Quito and the valley of Cumbayá – as long as you choose a hotel with a good view. This neighborhood is a little more reserved and quiet in comparison with La Floresta, allowing visitors to get a good night’s sleep. A number of restaurants can be found scattered amongst the buildings and homes that occupy this relatively young residential area, including some delicatessens, breweries, cafés, and cozy specialty restaurants. González Suárez is situated close to one of the most beautiful metropolitan parks in Quito, which, on a clear day, offers park-goers exquisite views of the city and surrounding mountains.
La Mariscal is famous for being the nightlife hotspot of Quito, especially around Plaza Foch. Many bars, clubs, and restaurants are found in this vicinity, which inevitably means that getting to sleep at a reasonable hour isn’t always possible. Although this area can be described as the best nightlife in the city, caution should be taken while walking around at night. During the day, you can walk to the Artisanal Market, where you can haggle and acquire all the handcrafted souvenirs you can fit into your bag or, if the weather is nice, take a walk to El Ejido Park, where many artists gather to display and sell their paintings. Many visitors like to purchase an original piece of art to take home with them.
Despite its difficult pronunciation (Gwan-gwil-TA-gua), visitors and residents appreciate that this neighborhood offers some of the best views of Northern Quito. It is situated north of González Suárez and just below Metropolitan Park, also along the eastern bank of the valley, which means that you can take an early morning stroll alongside the park’s formidable trees while being mesmerized by a breathtaking sunrise over the Andes. This area is also known for its hip bars and various restaurants that line the length of the main street.
An excellent place to visit while staying in this area is the La Capilla del Hombre Museum, which overlooks the city. This museum was originally created by Oswaldo Guayasamin, easily Ecuador’s most famous painter, and is dedicated to the people of Latin America.
La Carolina is located along the flattest part of Quito’s main valley, in the area known as Centro Norte. In the very center is one of Latin America’s largest urban parks, La Carolina, functions similarly to New York’s famed Central Park and includes dog walking areas, horseback riding, dozens of fields, and several courts designed for different sports. The southern edge of the park even has a paddle boat lagoon with water fountains and bridges.
La Carolina is also home to one of the continent’s top-ranked botanical gardens, which is host to an extensive and impressive orchid collection along with a tremendous variety of plants and flowers from around the world, plus an award-winning bonsai collection. This neighborhood is considered the city’s modern financial center and is therefore highly commercialized. The perimeter of the park features numerous shopping malls and plazas, interspersed amongst various restaurants and cafés.
Although Cumbayá offers little in terms of cultural attractions, it is a great place to chill. Located about 20 minutes from the center of Quito, it is situated at a lower altitude than the capital and partially sheltered by the surrounding mountains, making the climate somewhat warmer. Cumbayá’s center hosts a farmers’ market on Saturdays, while the town square is also home to conveniences like cafés and restaurants. Also, there are a number of movie theaters very close by.
For those who are a little more active, the Chaquiñán Trail, which runs along old railroad tracks from Cumbayá to the adjacent town of Puembo, located another 12 mi (20 km) east, gives hikers and bikers a scenic view of the countryside. Another great place for a relaxing walk is around the Reservoir, which has views of the surrounding valleys. La Esquina, which is a colorful group of shops, cafés, and restaurants is located opposite one of the corners of the Reservoir, can be the perfect spot to cool down and replenish your energy.
The Historic Center of Quito was the first to be named a UNESCO World Heritage Site. As the very place where Quito came into existence, the streets and buildings of the Historic Center speak of the world that once was. Not only was it one of the preeminent centers of the Inca Empire, in the 16th century when the Spanish first arrived, it was also the location of one of the region’s primary marketplaces, which is now known as San Francisco Plaza.
The Historic Center isn’t just home to countless stories and fascinating history; it also contains beautiful and extraordinary churches, galleries, and museums – all within walking distance.La Compañía de Jesús boasts one of the most intricately decorated church interiors in South America, almost entirely covered in gold leaf, and La Basilica del Voto Nacional(Basilica of the National Vow) represents the pride of Ecuador. This enormous cathedral features statues of animals native to Ecuador instead of more traditional gargoyles and a huge stained-glass window.
As well as churches and museums, the La Ronda area offers a small glimpse into old Quito, with its cobblestoned street and colorful colonial-style doors that lead into numerous artisanal shops, typical Quiteño restaurants and bars, and courtyards. In La Ronda, there’s a thriving nightlife of bars for those who just want to enjoy a drink and some live music, and nightclubs for those seeking a little more exercise.
Of course, the Historic Center also includes many plazas, such as the Plaza Grande, home to the majestic government palace, and the aforementioned San Francisco Plaza, home to the towering San Francisco Church and Convent. Choosing to stay in the Historic Center means that most of the city’s visitor sites will be within a short walk, and what better than to stay in a boutique hotel that caters to your every need? Casa Gangotena, for example, set along one edge of San Francisco Plaza, is a beautifully restored mansion originally belonging to some of the capital’s first aristocratic families. Steeped in history and offering unparalleled levels of service and luxury, staying at Casa Gangotena Boutique Hotel means that you will not only experience Quito as a destination but also as part of a family.
In general, the neighborhood in which you choose to stay will define your overall experience in Quito, either adding to or diminishing the enjoyment of your trip. Do you want to enjoy cafés and restaurants? Do you want to experience the city’s many tourist attractions? Do you want to be immersed in the culture and traditions of Quito? Or do you want all the above? Only one neighborhood is definitely able to offer you everything you want on a trip to Ecuador’s capital with the most well-preserved Historic Center in South America. It’s up to you! (And, should you decide to stay at Casa Gangotena in the Old Town, you’ll certainly be able to explore all those other neighborhoods we’ve mentioned.)
<div class="at-above-post-cat-page addthis_tool" data-url="https://www.casagangotena.com/what-types-of-spaces-does-casa-gangotena-have/"></div>At Casa Gangotena, numerous different spaces are available for guests looking to celebrate or enjoy any type of occasion. Discover them here!<!-- AddThis Advanced Settings above via filter on get_the_excerpt --><!-- AddThis Advanced Settings below via filter on get_the_excerpt --><!-- AddThis Advanced Settings generic via filter on get_the_excerpt --><!-- AddThis Share Buttons above via filter on get_the_excerpt --><!-- AddThis Share Buttons below via filter on get_the_excerpt --><div class="at-below-post-cat-page addthis_tool" data-url="https://www.casagangotena.com/what-types-of-spaces-does-casa-gangotena-have/"></div><!-- AddThis Share Buttons generic via filter on get_the_excerpt -->
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<div class="at-above-post-cat-page addthis_tool" data-url="https://www.casagangotena.com/what-should-i-see-in-quito/"></div>Quito's Historic Center is regarded as one of the best places to visit in all of South America, but why? In this blog, we invite you to find out!<!-- AddThis Advanced Settings above via filter on get_the_excerpt --><!-- AddThis Advanced Settings below via filter on get_the_excerpt --><!-- AddThis Advanced Settings generic via filter on get_the_excerpt --><!-- AddThis Share Buttons above via filter on get_the_excerpt --><!-- AddThis Share Buttons below via filter on get_the_excerpt --><div class="at-below-post-cat-page addthis_tool" data-url="https://www.casagangotena.com/what-should-i-see-in-quito/"></div><!-- AddThis Share Buttons generic via filter on get_the_excerpt -->
Nestled near the middle of Ecuador, Quito is an ideal jumping-off point for short trips to the surrounding provinces. Rather than spending a week in one place, explore some of Ecuador’s nearby cultural and natural attractions on the following day trips from Quito.
Note: When you’re planning your trip, consider staying in a central location. The boutique hotel in Quito, Casa Gangotena,is perfectly situated to explore Quito’s Old Town and access the main highways that would take you around and beyond the city.
Casa Gangotena can arrange day tours for you leaving directly from the hotel!
Half-day trips from Quito
Mitad del Mundo
Distance from Quito: 1 hour by car
What’s a visit to Ecuador without a visit to the actual equator?
Mitad del Mundo (Middle of the World) complex right on the Equator
Mitad del Mundo (the Middle of the World) is located just north of Quito and is best known for the enormous monument that sits (approximately) on the equator. The monument commemorates the French Geodesic Mission that came to study the equator in the 18th century and, at the time it was built, was thought to sit directly on the equatorial line. With the development of modern GPS technology, however, the equator was found to be about 240 meters (787 feet) north of the monument. Oops!
While you’re at the Mitad del Mundo complex, you can visit the Ethnographic Museum, showcasing the territories and traditions of Ecuador’s indigenous people. At the nearby Cacao Museum, you can learn some cool facts about Ecuadorian cacao and the chocolate-making process.
You can also visit the arguably more fun visitor complex called Inti Ñan, located on the road that leads west from the large roundabout. This more down-to-earth and quirky attraction does in fact lie right on the equatorial line and includes more hands-on experiments that illustrate the physics at work here in the middle of the world.
The area around Mitad del Mundo is known for its staple dish, the fritada, or fried pork meat with a side of potatoes, corn, and cheese, which you can try at any nearby restaurants. If you’re feeling more adventurous, you’ll also find many restaurants serving roasted guinea pig – a local delicacy!
Opening hours: Monday to Sunday, 9:00 a.m. – 6:00 p.m.
Pichincha at dusk, seen from the east.
Teleférico and the Pichincha Volcano
Distance from Old Town Quito – 20 minutes by car
Looking northwest from Quito’s Old Town, you’ll notice an imposing mountain that rises above the rest. You’re looking at the Pichincha Volcano whose two summits, Guagua Pichincha and Rucu Pichincha, reach 4,794 meters (15,728 feet) and 4,698 meters (15,413 feet), respectively.
The TelefériQo cable car was built in 2005 and is one of the highest aerial lifts in the world. The cable car takes you up to 4,000 meters (13,123 feet) above sea level. Up top, you’ll find an information center, a chapel, and a small complex with small restaurants offering coffee, lunch, and a spectacular view of Quito’s valley.
From here, you can follow one of the hiking paths and get a feel for the paramo (the high-altitude ecosystem above the treeline), which is characterized by shrubs and grasses. Numerous bird species can be spotted here, including the Ecuadorian hillstar hummingbird and raptors like the Caracara. As you wander around, you might see a few llamas with their handlers. If you ever wanted a selfie with a llama, now’s your chance!
For avid hikers, a well-marked trail will lead you to the summit of Rucu Pichincha in about four hours. The fog begins to roll in at around noon, so make sure to start early and take plenty of provisions, especially water. To cope with the altitude, a few sugary snacks might ward off the dizziness.
The easiest way to escape the buzz of the city is by visiting Parque Metropolitano, a 750-hectare (1,853-acre) park, popular among locals due to its numerous hiking and biking paths, viewpoints and public BBQ areas. On a clear day, expect to get a view of the Cayambe volcano from the appropriately named Mirador Cayambe, one of four look-out points found in the park.
Nearly the whole of Parque Metropolitano is densely forested, providing shade from the sun’s aggressive rays at 2,988 meters (9,803 feet) above sea level. Within the park, there are a few smaller areas and playgrounds designed specifically for children, and stalls closer to the main entrance offer traditional snacks such as chochos (Andean lupin beans), ice cream, and freshly squeezed juices. For a larger meal, walk down from the park’s main entrance to Calle Guanguiltagua where you’ll find a number of restaurants and snack bars.
When you visit Parque Metropolitano, remember to apply sunscreen and take plenty of water.
Opening hours: Open all day, every day. Note: Walking in the park after dark is not recommended.
Parque Arqueológico Rumipamba
Distance from Quito: 15 minutes by car
Within the valley of Quito, and only a short distance away from the historic center, lies an archeological site called the Rumipamba Archaeological Park. The ruins and artifacts at Rumipamba date back to a period estimated to range from 1500 BC to 1500 AD and belong to civilizations like the Quitu-Cara – the pre-Columbian founders of Quito. The name “rumipamba” is Kichwa for rocky plane or field, and it is believed that the Quitu-Cara settled here, above the lake which once spread over the valley below, where the present neighborhood of Iñaquito is located.
The Rumipamba ruins are still being excavated today and the park takes a rather hands-on, participatory approach to excavation. Groups of school children are often seen at the site, learning about the history behind the objects that are being uncovered. As a visitor, you may find small remnants of pottery along the path.
As you explore the park, you’ll see circular, thatched houses and adobe homes that once belonged to the Quitu-Cara. You’ll also see mossy tunnels built out of tree roots which were made by the Yumbos, another civilization that once lived in the area. For more on the Yumbo people, check out our next Day Trip below.
The Rumipamba Archaeological Park is open from Wednesday through Sunday, from 9:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m. and the guided tour takes about 90 minutes to complete. We suggest having your hotel concierge call the park beforehand to double-check opening hours and whether English interpretation is available when you want to visit.
Opening hours: Wednesday to Sunday, 9:00 a.m. – 4:00 p.m., ask hotel to double check opening hours.
Tulipe Site Museum
Distance from Quito: 2 hours by car
The Tulipe Site Museum is an archaeological site and museum that gives you a glimpse into the daily life, history and traditions of the Yumbo civilization. The Yumbo were a nomadic tribe that lived in the area between around 800 – 1660 AD, up until the majority were killed by a volcanic eruption. Those that survived, fled.
The ruins at Tulipe are thought to be sacred water temples that were once used by shamans for their purification rituals pertaining to the sun and moon. The pools may have also been used as mirrors to observe the night sky and its constellations. Unfortunately, the pools have since dried out due to volcanic alterations in the area.
Tulipe is located two hours outside of Quito in the cloud forest that spreads out along the western flank of the Andes. The vegetation here is incredibly lush and you can learn more about the native, medicinal plants and trees on a short walk through the museum’s garden. If the cool, cloud forest air entices you to extend your visit, consider staying at Mashpi Lodge, an award-winning and exclusive ecolodge that just two hours northwest from the museum.
Opening hours: Wednesday to Sunday, 9:00 a.m. – 5:30 p.m., ask hotel to double check opening hours.
Full-day trips from Quito
Train Ride to Cotopaxi
Distance from Quito: 15 minutes to the Central Train Station by car
Tren Ecuador gives visitors the chance to explore the country aboard heritage tourist trains. There are over eight available routes that take you across Ecuador’s Northern, Central and Southern Andes, as well as one route that takes you all the way to the Pacific Coast. The train tracks are in excellent condition and the main train station in Quito is located only 15 minutes from Casa Gangotena by car.
As one of your day trips from Quito, we recommend taking the Train of the Volcanoes, or Tren de los Volcanes, which takes you from southern Quito to El Boliche, Machachi, and then back to Quito. This route winds through a network of valleys, past a number of dormant volcanoes like Pichincha, Atacazo, Pasochoa and Rumiñahui and brings you that much closer to the splendor and enormity of the Cotopaxi Volcano. The sweeping views of Ecuador’s lush landscapes alone are well worth the $39 train ticket.
And there is so much more to see! As part of the Train of the Volcanoes route, you’ll stop at Tambillo and Machachi, two small towns where you can get a taste of some local dishes, appreciate the chagras’ (Ecuadorian cowboys’) traditional dance and song, and buy souvenirs.
Opening hours: Monday to Friday from 08:30 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. | Saturday, Sunday & Holidays from 08:30 a.m. to 12:00 p.m.
Papallacta Thermal Baths
Distance from Quito: 1 hour 40 minutes by car
A Quiteño favorite, Papallacta is a small, high-altitude (3,250 meters / 10,663 feet) village located between the Andes and Amazon, best known for its healing and incredibly relaxing hot springs.
Visit any of the numerous spas and pools that have opened over the years to offer local and foreign tourists alike the chance to unwind in the thermal water that springs from the surrounding mountains. The water is known for its rich minerals which are said to be beneficial to the skin and internal organs.
The Termas de Papallacta is the most popular baths, located at the top of the hill above the village. You can either visit their upscale spa to access exclusive pools, massage, facial and aromatherapy services, or you can opt for the regular pools at the Balneario. At both locations, you’ll find pools of varying temperatures, including a pool filled with frigid water from the adjacent mountain stream. A dip in this pool is sure to get your blood pumping!
If you’re planning to go on a full-day trip from Quito, we suggest leaving early to experience the cool, mountain mist, and spectacular views of Volcano Antisana. Once the late-morning sun appears, the baths start to feel a little too hot and sunburn becomes a risk. After an hour or two in the baths, you can enjoy local delicacies such as smoked freshwater trout or a warm locro de papa (thick potato soup). If you’re feeling energetic, there are also a number of hiking paths in the area that take you along the nearby mountains.
When planning your trip, keep in mind that the baths tend to get crowded on weekends! Monday to Wednesday is the best time to visit Papallacta for some well-deserved rest and relaxation.
Opening hours: Opening hours will vary depending on which baths you choose.
Las Termas de Papallacta Spa is open Sunday to Thursday: 09:00 a.m. – 8:00 p.m. Friday, Saturday & Holidays: 9:00 am – 9:00 pm. The Balneario is open every day from 6:00 a.m. – 10:30 p.m.
Distance from Quito: 1 hour by car to the entrance
Pululahua is a magnificent volcanic crater or caldera, that formed 2,500 years ago when the volcano collapsed. Located just north of Quito, a trip to Pululahua can be easily combined with a stop at Mitad del Mundo.
Although not nearly as impressive as the Quilotoa Crater (located a three-hour drive southwest of the capital), Pululahua is much closer to Quito and offers numerous outdoor activities, like hiking, horseback riding, and birdwatching. Due to its unique ecosystem, Pululahua was named a Geobotanical Reserve in 1966.
There are two ways to get to Pululahua: You can either get a ride to the Café Mirador, a small café with a breathtaking view of the crater from its rim, and hike down into the crater itself. Alternatively, you can get a ride that takes you directly into the crater.
There’s a small population that lives inside the crater that depends predominantly on agriculture for subsistence. There are also a few hostels and restaurants where you can grab a bite to eat. While hiking the crater’s trails, birdwatchers should keep their eyes out for the Rusty-breasted Antpitta and the rare White-tailed Shrike-Tyrant, as well as other wildlife, like foxes, deer, and rabbits. According to locals, even pumas prowl the crater.
Pululahua offers a dazzling escape from Quito and can easily be visited over the course of a day. If you have the time, make sure to add this one to your bucket list!
Opening hours: Every day, 8:00 a.m. – 5:00 p.m.
Pasochoa Forest Reserve
Distance from Quito: 1 hour 40 minutes by car
After the Pichincha Volcano, Pasochoa is the nearest volcano that you can summit close to Quito. Located only 40 km (25 miles) away from the city, a visit to Pasochoa is ideal for hikers and nature lovers and is an excellent climb for mountaineers preparing to summit higher peaks (dare we say, Cotopaxi?).
Pasochoa Volcano, now dormant, is 4,200 meters (13,780 feet) high and hosts one of the last high-altitude inter-Andean cloud forests around Quito. This unique ecosystem, home to over 100 bird species and 50 native tree species, provides an interesting window into what Quito’s original forests might have once looked like.
Pasochoa is also one of the best places to spot the Andean Condor – Ecuador’s national bird and one of the largest birds in the world. Exceptionally striking in flight, the Andean Condor takes full advantage of the thermals above the volcano. Keep your eyes open to see if you can spot one of these spectacular birds soaring overhead.
A hike to the summit and back takes around three to five hours. The journey will take you through stunning paramo grasslands and humid mountain forests. Depending on how high you want to climb, we suggest taking provisions and starting early in the day. Get in touch with us for further information!
Opening hours: Every day, 8:00 a.m. – 5:00 p.m.
Cotopaxi National Park
Distance from Quito: 3 hours 25 minutes
Cotopaxi National Park, one of Ecuador’s main highlights, is only a short drive away and the perfect destination for a full-day trip from Quito.
Among the world’s highest volcanoes, Cotopaxi Volcano reaches 5,897 meters (19,347 feet) and is Ecuador’s second-highest summit after the Chimborazo Volcano. On a clear morning, the conic, snow-capped Cotopaxi Volcano is truly a sight to behold.
Cotopaxi is an active volcano and came back to life between 2015-2016, leading to a temporary park closure for safety reasons. Once experts determined that volcanic activity had diminished, it was reopened in 2017 for visitors. Park officials carefully monitor the situation and a warning system is in place to ensure that both visitors and the local population are safe.
While the main incentive for visiting Cotopaxi National Park is seeing the volcano itself, summiting the volcano may be the ultimate outdoor activity you’ll do during your entire Ecuador adventure.
Hundreds of visitors attempt to summit Cotopaxi on a monthly basis, but only half of them succeed. The climb takes around six hours and is non-technical, though you’ll need to pass a glacier skills class before attempting the climb. If you’re seriously considering the climb, we suggest attempting one of Ecuador’s smaller peaks first and, when you’re ready, you’ll need to hire a guide. Inquire at your hotel or one of the numerous tour operators in Quito for more information.
For those of you with no interest in gasping for breath at 5,000 meters (16,404 feet) on an active volcano, there are a number of easier outdoor activities to enjoy in Cotopaxi National Park, like horseback riding, hiking, and birdwatching. If the volcano beckons you closer, you can drive to a parking lot and continue on foot up to the refuge. At this elevation, altitude sickness is a risk. Be sure to walk slowly and have a sugary snack at hand in case you begin to get dizzy.
Opening hours: Monday to Sunday, 8:00 a.m. – 8:00 p.m., though hours may vary between the different entrances to the park. Ask your hotel to double-check or go with a touring agency.
Most tourists that travel to Ecuador will typically only stop in Quito to give themselves a bit of time before heading off to other destinations like the Amazon or the Galapagos Islands. If only they knew just how much there was to see in and around this incredible city!
Take advantage and add a few extra nights to your Ecuador journey at a conveniently-located hotel and venture out to one of these nearby destinations to experience the city’s surroundings in a less conventional way. And if you have even more time to spare, well, keep an eye out for our upcoming post on 2-day trips from Quito!
The best way to discover Quito is by walking around. As you explore on foot, you’ll get to absorb the city’s atmosphere, history, traditions, and people. Picturesque squares, baroque churches, and snow-covered peaks form the backdrop to this vibrant city. You’ll see indigenous people wearing delicately embroidered shirts and traditional hats cross paths with tourists amid the shouts of street vendors and shoe-shiners. All of this as whiffs of delicious Andean cuisine and its aromas spill out through the windows of restaurants that line the streets of Quito’s Old Town. Due to its excellent location in our boutique hotel in Quito, Casa Gangotena is the ideal place to begin your walk to encounter the best activities to do in Quito and start exploring thousands of years of history.
Explore the wonders of Quito’s Old Town all within walking distance from Casa Gangotena!
Before venturing through the city, make sure to visit Calle Cuenca, an iconic street that best represents traditional Quiteño life. As soon as you step out beyond Casa Gangotena’s garden, you’ll begin perceiving an aroma of herbs and you’ll see colorful piñatas decorating the street. It’s impossible to ignore the scents emanating from the spice store facing Casa Gangotena. With spice-filled jars and wooden boxes brimming with delicacies, you won’t be able to avoid stepping in every time you leave the hotel.
Only a few meters from the hotel entrance you’ll find the Museum Casa del Alabado, which hosts an impressive collection of pre-Colombian pieces representing various Ecuadorian ethnic groups. Originally a Colonial house, the museum was built in 1611 and has been beautifully restored. It includes a patio where you can order a cappuccino and a delightful treat: chocolates made from figs that were harvested from the very trees that adorn the patio in the upper part of the museum.
Exit towards Calle Rocafuerte and you’ll come to the Santa Clara Plaza, where you can visit the monastery and church. Keep walking downhill along the street to reach the Museo de la Ciudad’s ancient walls. Instead of exhibiting archaeological pieces or works of art from a number of different time periods, the Museo de la Ciudad reveals the story and everyday Quiteño life from its aboriginal origins until the 19th century.
If you want to travel back to Quito in the 1800s, one of the best activities to do in Quito is to walk down La Ronda. This bohemian neighborhood winds its way along a pretty street lined with geraniums and colorful flags that hang from old, ornate balconies. Along the street, you’ll find an array of stores that display the essence of Quito cultures, such as the Zabalartes toy store, where you can find spinning tops, yo-yos, and wooden dolls. Enjoy a delicious plate of typical Ecuadorian food and warm canelazos in the bars that resonate with live music every night. Don’t miss visiting the República del Cacao and Chez Tiff stores to buy chocolate made from Ecuadorian cacao, the finest in the world.
As you leave la Ronda, via Calle Guayaquil, keep walking toward Plaza Santo Domingo, and continue left toward Calle Flores, where you’ll find a series of stores specialized in candle making. Since you’re already here, buy a set of hanging candles in the shape of a bouquet of flowers, available in a variety of colors.
When you reach the corner café, Dios No Muere, turn right on Calle Junín. Walk along a huge white wall belonging to the Santa Catalina Monastery, one of the five oldest female cloistered convents in the city. Before reaching Plaza San Marcos, you’ll come across many places to dine, such as Café Khipus (they make tequila and piña colada flavored chocolates) and the “hipster” bar, Sirka, which showcases murals and paintings by local artists.
From Plaza San Francisco to the Basílica
Exiting Casa Gangotena, a perfectly situated Quito Old Town hotel, you’ll find yourself before Plaza San Francisco, with a background of the majestic Pichincha and the massive stone bell towers of the oldest church in Ecuador. Under the arches of San Francisco’s atrium, you find Tianguez, a terrace café overlooking the domes of the surrounding churches. Tianguez means “market” in the ancient dialects of Quito and, as its name indicates, the café also contains a museum of handicrafts. In the tunnels built under the church of San Francisco, you can find all kinds of crafts, such as jewelry made out of tagua seed, detailed ceramics, and colorful animal masks.
As you walk downhill on Calle Sucre, you arrive at the Numismatic Museum, the former building occupied by the Central Bank of Ecuador. The museum recounts the story and evolution of Ecuador’s currency, the sucre, including periods in pre-Hispanic aboriginal societies, its impact on the colonial period, and the issuance of banknotes until dollarization.
On the opposite side of Calle Sucre, you reach the imposing façade of the Church of the Company of Jesus (Compañía de Jesús), made of Andean volcanic stone. Every surface of its interior is bathed in gold leaf and decorated with paintings by artists from the Quito School of Art and beyond. The church is considered the most beautiful in the country. Among the activities in Quito that you shouldn’t miss is climbing to the top of its dome.
Take a short break and sit on one of the stone benches in the Plaza Grande to catch your breath. In the center of the plaza stands a monument in honor of Ecuador’s Independence Day –
August 10, 1809. On the periphery of the plaza, you’ll see a series of historic buildings. To the North is the Archbishop’s Palace, where you can have lunch in one of the cozy restaurants. The Cathedral of Quito, one of the oldest churches on the continent, is located on the south side of the plaza. You can also admire the Government Palace, a white building crowned with a huge Ecuadorian flag. If you happen to be here on Monday at 11 am, you will catch the change of guards, a popular activity in Quito.
Continue north along with Calle Venezuela, where you’ll spot the silhouette of the Basilica’s gothic towers in the distance on the hill. A few steps away lies the Carmen Bajo Monastery. Be sure to admire its marvelous front door, carved by one of the few female artists of Quito’s Colonial period: Mother María Magdalena Dávalos. Up ahead, you come to the colonial façade belonging to the house of the Camilo Egas Museum. Here, you can enjoy the works and legacy of Ecuador’s forerunner of modern and contemporary art.
Façade of the Basílica
Continue along this street until you are at the foot of the Basilica, the largest neo-Gothic church in Latin America. What sets it apart from other churches of this style is that, instead of traditional gargoyles, this Basilica is decorated with turtles, iguanas and other creatures endemic to Ecuador. Inside, its gray walls are illuminated by the sun’s rays that shine through the stained-glass windows. The legends that surround the Basilica add intrigue and mystery to its history. The church isn’t yet finished, and there are many who believe that when the building is finally completed, the world will end. Many locals also believe that the heart of ex-president García Moreno lies within the corridors of the Basilica’s adjoining convent.
If you like adrenaline-filled adventure, the Basilica is the perfect place for one of the best activities to do in Quito. For the brave among you, make your way up the church’s northern towers. You’ll first have to navigate across a small wooden bridge before climbing steep metal steps to reach a platform on the tower where you can enjoy a 360 degree view of the Ecuadorian capital from a height of 79 meters (260 feet).
From Plaza San Francisco to the Central Market
Ecuador boasts an abundance of brilliant colors and exotic flavors. One activity you can’t miss is exploring a locals’ market; truly one of the more fascinating activities you can do in Quito.
Along the periphery of Plaza San Francisco, you will find a variety of shops. The Nua Ami craft shop sells Ariu jewelry that combines mystical and contemporary elements. Nearby, the Homero Ortega store has dedicated itself to making famous toquilla (straw)
“Panama” hats for more than five generations.
When you arrive at the intersection with García Moreno, turn left until you reach the Independence Square (Plaza de la Independencia), which is a shining example of the social and cultural pulse of the Andean capital. If you are impressed with how beautiful everything looks from below, you can’t leave without first venturing up to the ceramic domes of the Cathedral; the Old Town is best viewed from the domes of its churches and convents. Also, it’s fun! Dare to venture into the darkness of the church’s secret passages, where the stone stairs are very narrow and the corridors can be uncomfortable to navigate. It’s worth it. Once on top, you will be rewarded with an amazing view, where you can observe how colonial architecture and Andean nature merge.
Follow Calle Chile downhill from the Archbishop’s Palace, and turn left onto Calle Guayaquil. Enter through Heladería San Agustín’s wooden doors, the same doors that you would have entered back in 1858. You will be greeted by the delicious smell of homemade food, prepared with ancestral recipes that continue to delight palates of both locals and visitors down the years. The atmosphere is quite unique: old radios and telephones are scattered around the red-walled premises, adorned with newspaper clippings that tell the Parlor’s story, as well as gold-framed mirrors. One glance toward the fresh humitas, giant empanadas, and figs, and you won’t be able to resist the temptation to taste a little bit of everything. It is, however, the artisanal ice creams that give San Agustín its name. The ice cream is completely handmade and all ingredients are directly sourced, from the harvest of the fruit to the ice collected from the mountains.
Following these traditional delicacies, go down Calle Mejía to reach Plaza Huerto San Agustín, an oasis of modern architecture in the middle of a Colonial world. The square, renovated in 2016, incorporates manicured green areas and pools of water with black, volcanic stone floors. Around these pools, you’ll find several wooden lizards representing an old legend about the square. It is said that, despite locals’ claims that there were thousands of lizards under the land of San Agustin, the owner refused to sell it. However, when a lizard appeared in his bed, he didn’t hesitate another moment to sell the land.
Finish your tour by walking down Calle Flores and then Olmedo Street. Once you reach Pichincha Avenue, go straight and cross underneath to reach the Central Market, one of the most visited markets in Quito since 1950.
If you enjoy tasting exquisite and exotic food, a visit to the Central Market is an activity in Quito that is not to be missed. There is no better way to discover the delights that define Ecuadorian cuisine than to explore the market and the plates served at the dozens of tables, brimming with traditionally prepared dishes. You can find all kinds of food, from llapingachos (stuffed potato patties), hornado (slow-roasted pork), and a variety of ceviches. Also, the fruit stands are impossible to ignore. Each one is a mosaic of colors and textures, with endemic fruits decorating the tables and the market’s cement floor. Thanks to Ecuador’s diverse climates, all kinds of fruit are grown here, from watermelon and pineapple to the more exotic naranjilla, taxo, and salaak, an Amazonian fruit known as “snakeskin”.
Here, Ecuadorians and tourists alike can explore decades of culinary tradition amidst brilliant colors and flavors.
One of the first things to do in Quito when you have arrived at Casa Gangotena is to explore its surrounding neighbourhood. The historic mansion isn’t just a luxury hotel, but an integral member of a buzzing and vibrant community, which happens to be one of the most fascinating and idiosyncratic ones in the Ecuadorian capital.
San Roque is one of the most traditional neighbourhoods in Quito’s Old Town. Here, you’ll find practitioners of traditional medicine, the last miller in the Historic Centre, fruit and chicha pedlars, all sorts of religious trades that you didn’t know existed, and makers of century-old sweets. Many of these colourful characters are part of the Guardianes del Patrimonio (Heritage Guardians) project. This project aims to preserve the customary trades that are dying out across the rest of the modernised country, all while introducing travellers to old Quiteño ways.
The beauty of this San Roque Walking Tour is that you barely need to set foot out of the hotel to begin. For guests of Casa Gangotena, it is one of the most rewarding things to do in Quito with minimum effort.
Before you begin:
Rise early and begin your tour in the morning – rain is more likely in the afternoon, making it more important to tick off your outdoor things to do in Quito before lunch
Wear comfortable shoes and get ready to walk
Bring a bottle of water
Put on plenty of sunscreen and wear a hat
Keep a rain mac or small umbrella in your bag
Bring small change to buy the herbs, juices, and treats you encounter along the way
Away We Go!
Setting out from Casa Gangotena’s garden, take some time to explore Calle Cuenca, inhaling the rich aroma of spices coming from the shops opposite the hotel. On this historic side street, you’ll find the Casa del Alabado museum of Pre-Columbian art – worthy of a couple of hours of exploration in its own right.
As you arrive at Calle Rocafuerte, across the road you will notice Santa Clara, a beautiful temple with altars from the late Renaissance and early Baroque period and an unusual number of sculptures from the Quito School of Art. Unfortunately, it remains closed most of the time (catch it open on Sunday mornings for mass).
Turning right and heading up the hill, you suddenly have the sensation of having stumbled into the real Quito, where day-to-day normalities for the residents might seem charming and exotic to visitors. This is the street on which Quiteños come to buy their groceries and necessities, to eat and socialise, and to run errands that are often dictated by the depth of their Catholic faith.
You’ll pass shops stuffed with herbs, tufting out as if they were growing from some inner forest. Colours are rich: purple amaranth, bright green lemon verbena, white and yellow chamomile, golden mashua (a wrinkly tuber in the same family as the potato and is beneficial for the prostate gland, as locals will often inform you), the deep green of guayusa leaves (a plant that from the Amazon which is traditionally made into a tea and acts as a stimulant).
The scene is clustered with meat in cabinets, puffed up empanadas, and a seafood café with fresh clams on a counter waiting for a scrub.
There’s a clutch of herbal pharmacies, shops set up like normal chemists, except that instead of pills and chemicals, the treatments for ailments are plants. The entrance displays bunches of flowers and herbs that you can buy to take away and make your own tea with, or drink there. Agüita de la vida, or the ‘water of life’ is a beverage made of 25 medicinal plants including linseed, oregano, valerian and “horse tail”. The innumerate health benefits listed on a shiny placard include soothing inflamed kidneys and the liver, purifying blood, and calming nervousness and stress. Imbibing one of these miracle drinks is a traditional and widespread thing to do in Quito – give it a shot and feel the healing effects.
Passing the party shops, selling unicorn piñatas and garish party decorations, step into El Buen Café, one of the most beloved traditional coffee shops, for a quick caffeine hit – you’ll need it to continue up the hill.
The Last Traditional Miller
Upon heading up the hill, you’ll reach Molino San Martin – the last traditional miller in the Old Town. The mill is a neighbourhood stalwart that has occupied the same spot for over 50 years and its customers include local families, bakeries and even Casa Gangotena (the hotel acquires ground maize and various flours for its daily baked bread from here).
The twin Calvopiña brothers – both grey, bearded with mischievous and twinkling eyes – are third generation millers, whose grandparents began the business in the middle of the last century. The great slab of a stone of their traditional mill machine is from Denmark. The motor is from Germany, a relic of World War II.
“It’s tricky to maintain antiques like these, but luckily my son is an electronic engineer who keeps it all running smoothly,” explains one of the twins. “But he’s pushing the family to update the equipment in line with technological advances. We’re going to have to modernise.”
One popular, exceptionally Quiteño product is machica, which consists of a mixture of ground barley and panela, traditionally given to children in milk and juices or on bananas to help with digestion. It’s also packed with calcium and iron for growing bones and, not to mention, incredibly delicious.
Quito’s First Covered Market
Up the street we go, pausing at the big beautiful roses that are worthy of any grand gesture and sold for a pittance, until you finally arrive at the market. Built in 1893, Santa Clara was the city’s first covered market. Its original roof, designed by Gustave Eiffel’s company, is now the striking art deco roof of the glass palace at Itchimbia park
San Francisco market might be one of the most eye-opening things to do in Quito for visitors, but it’s very much a functioning marketplace, where locals come to pick up their essentials and grab meals on the go. Here, vendors wear smart uniforms and the space is kept rigorously clean. Signs are trilingual: Spanish, English and Quechua. Many of the buyers and sellers are indigenous.
Like alien pet shops, there are stalls of fruits of all textures, shapes and colours: spiky soursop (guanabana), hairy coconut, papery melon and golden taxo (banana passionfruit), shaped like a little banana.
You’ll find a beaming vendor standing on a podium behind her shrine of fruit. Opposite that, a woman stands behind a counter of chicken placed with their feet up in the air, a trick that local folklore suggests will make them taste better. It might even be a legend you yourself can put to the test as one of your things to do in Quito.
You might well bump into Pati, a sparky tour guide for Guardianes del Patrimonio. “There’s pretty much nothing going on in this neighbourhood that I don’t know about!” she says with a chuckle.
On the frontline of the battle to protect traditional jobs and crafts, she runs a stall selling juices and chicha de jora, a customary drink containing seven types of grains. The recipe and process, learned from her grandmother, involves leaving the mixture of ground grains in a dark, humid place to ferment, and then boiling it for six hours with roots, spices and herbs. This one’s not alcoholic (nor does it contain the saliva of the maker, unlike in the Amazon Basin) but there are dozens of variations of chicha found across Ecuador.
Love Potions and Medicinal Eggs
On the far side of the great hall, you find the Ancestral Medicine section of the market, a row of stalls bursting with bushy herbs that are often found competing with each other with their neon disco lights and dubious-looking love and heartbreak potions. At Mama Rosita’s stall, a baby is being cured of espanto, a state of shock and fear that the Andean indigenous community says is brought on by bad energies and spirits. Except that the baby doesn’t look very shocked or fearful, gurgling and bouncing as Mama Rosita runs a bunch of specially selected herbs and flowers over its chubby, little body.
A fourth-generation healer, Rosita makes a living from ridding people of all kinds of bad vibes via a process called a limpia, or spiritual cleansing. Helping with ailments that range from stress to envy, the process begins with being hit or brushed with stinging nettles. Then, bitter herbs such as Santa María and flowers like rose petals are used. Sweet herbs like mint and lemon verbena often conclude the session. Sometimes, she even uses eggs on older people.
“My limpias have an instant effect, people sometimes even get dizzy and start crying,” she says.
You can have your own limpia either here in the market or in the privacy of your bathroom at Casa Gangotena. It may very well be one of the things to do in Quito that will manage to connect you to local spirituality and beliefs. Tuesdays and Fridays are the most popular days, as the process is said to be most powerful on these days in particular.
Patience, Sweet Patience
With your alien fruit and love potions purchased, head back out into daylight and down the hill, cutting across Calle Chimborazo until you reach Calle Simón Bolívar. As you descend, stop at Colaciones Cruz Verde. Here, Luís Banda stands in the doorway of the shop that his family has owned for 103 years, his large copper pan hanging by a rope from the ceiling. In this great cauldron, peanuts and sugar roast over red hot coals, as is the process of making a favourite Quiteño snack, colaciones. It will take three hours to make a decent batch, but Luís is patient and has nothing he’d rather do than stand at his doorway, watching neighbourhood life go by. Behind him, a row of framed newspaper articles from the last century lines the walls.
A little way down, turn right onto Calle Imbabura, where you’ll find a shop selling religious statues of all sizes. The shop also fixes painted saints and figures of baby Jesus. The owner also paints the faces of ‘lastimados’ or injured people to improve the appearance and healing of wounds, some 60-70% faster, they say (it has something to do with the zinc in paint). If you’ve got a wound to heal or a blemish to hide, this is one of the more unusual things to do in Quito that few Quiteños will ever experience.
An Arch Beauty
When you reach Calle Rocafuerte again, head back down the hill until you come to the white and shining Carmen Alto church. Bridging both sides of the street, from the church to the Museo de la Ciudad, is the glorious Queen’s Arch, a majestic Colonial construction where locals seek shelter from the city’s frequent bursts of rain, as was intended when it was built in 1727. Running for cover from the rain is a classic thing to do in Quito.
The Queen that its name refers to is the Virgin of the Angels, an icon that is found in a chapel over in the former hospital where the City Museum now stands. She was worshipped by Mariana de Jesús, the country’s first saint, who happened to live on the same grounds where the church now stands. When Mariana died in 1645 and left her home to the Carmelite Nuns, the church they then erected in its place became so popular with worshippers that, during Saturday mass, people would spill out onto the street, getting drenched in the Quiteño showers. The arch was built to protect them, becoming a symbol of devotion for the city’s first saint.
The City Museum
If you turn right onto Calle García Moreno, set aside an hour-or-so to explore the Museo de la Ciudad, which was formerly Quito’s first hospital. It now acts as a monument to 500 years of the city’s rich and sometimes explosive history. Among the sunny yellow patios (over which the white towers of Santa Clara peep over, giving you a distinct sense of where you are) where the old pharmacy and operating room are preserved and displayed, you’ll find exceptional artworks, like the triptych in the staircase by contemporary Ecuadorian painter, Jaime Zapata. These three tortured paintings portraying the progression of the Spanish conquistadors depict beautiful indigenous warriors and hellish Spaniards, their skull faces contorted and grotesque.
There are also temporary exhibitions here, like the marvellous desMARCADOS, a tribute to indigenous protest, including a timeline, tapestries woven with revolutionary messages, and beautiful, moving photography.
In the back patio of the museum, a brilliant modern space that blends satisfyingly with the antique hospital, there’s an exit onto Avenida 24 de Mayo and on to La Ronda, another of the Old Town’s historic streets – exploring it is one of the unmissable things to do in Quito. Cross the metal bridge and take the stairs down onto the street to continue your adventure, or head back to the entrance to wind down your tour.
Back on Calle Rocafuerte, heading uphill now, spot the sweets, colaciones, and delightfully named caca de perro (dog poo), which is another peanut-based snack that will happily lead to tooth decay. On your right, you’ll pass a handful of shops selling opulent and elaborate robes, rich in the jewel tones of turquoise, mustard and scarlet, made in miniature, as if for a tiny pope.
These amazing outfits are destined to clothe the Niño Bendito, the Christ Child doll that Catholic families pass deferentially between members each Christmas. Though each family has its own specific traditions, each year has members buy brand new, dazzling garments. Some Christ Child dolls are dressed in military or police gear. These are bought by the religious armed forces, who have their own Christ Child displays.
Back to your Casa (Gangotena)
It’s only a short stretch before, once again, you come to Calle Cuenca where you can turn right and seek refuge in the oasis of calm right there in the hotel’s garden. Be sure to rest those weary feet and then quench your thirst with Casa Gangotena’s agua de frescos drink. It’s one of the most Quiteño things to do in Quito available!
Plaza San Francisco in Quito greets you in the morning when you open your curtains onto the sunny square; accompanies you to lunch in the restaurant; toasts to your day over cocktails on the roof terrace; and bids you goodnight as you soak in your bathtub. A solid and constant reminder of where you are, this plaza, and the entire San Francisco religious complex, is a symbol of the magnificence of Quito’s Old Town and serves as one of Ecuador’s most enchanting tourist attractions.
The great-grandfather of Catholic construction in Quito, San Francisco – with its twin white spires brilliant against the blue of the Andean sky – is not merely a religious monument, but a cornerstone of Quiteño consciousness. Casa Gangotena’s Plaza San Francisco neighbour is the birthplace of Catholicism in Quito, the host of numerous religious festivals, an architectural treasure, and one of the wonders that shrouds the Ecuadorian capital in legend.
Such greatness wasn’t achieved overnight: the mini-city of a structure took almost 150 years to build, from 1534 to 1680, founded by Franciscan missionary Jodoco Ricke. Once home to 160 monks (and now to some 27), today the complex is something of a Catholic wonderland; at over eight acres, it is the most expansive religious complex of its kind in the Americas, encompassing one main church and two chapels, an art museum, courtyards and patios, vegetable gardens, catacombs and not forgetting a football pitch, an old brewery and a radio station.
Once the royal palace of Huayna Cápac, the great Inca Emperor, it was also possibly a ceremonial temple for this pre-Columbian society before it became the headquarters of the Catholic Franciscan order. The San Francisco complex weaves together each of the threads of Quito’s cultural fabric: it’s a church, a museum, a home and a monument. This is why it merits hours of exploration during your stay at Casa Gangotena in the heart of Quito’s Old Town – it is one of Ecuador’s best tourist attractions.
In the past, the great doors of the main San Francisco church were strictly reserved for the very wealthy of the capital. The poor, slaves and indigenous people had to take the side entrance to the Chapel of Cantuña.
The church of San Francisco opens atop a curious staircase that is half concave and half convex, sweeping dramatically up from the square to the atrium. This staircase and parts of the façade show influence of Italian mannerisms.
The choir of the church is a gem, surrounded by a series of gruesome portraits of saints and their particular form of murder. Look up and admire the elaborate and beautiful wooden mudejar ceiling – built without using a single nail – that serves as a testament to the influence of Islamic art that was transported here to the heart of the Andes.
With Casa Gangotena, you can access an exclusive part of the church, normally only unlocked for brown-robed friars. Heading up a narrow staircase, you emerge onto the roof, eye-to-eye with the great bells themselves. For a moment, the entire city is yours.
The church itself is a baroque wonder, brimming with gold leaf ornament, canvases, sculptures, murals and retablos. It was subject to an extensive restoration project in the 2000’s that returned its many amazing pieces of art to their full glory. Masses are given throughout the morning and evening.
Chapel of Cantuña
Located a few steps to the left, the Chapel of Cantuña was once reserved for all those who didn’t make the cut in the main church. Despite being reserved for the most humble, the chapel is anything but simple – it is smothered in ornamental angels, garlands, mirrors and stars. The Chapel now stands as a precious example of the Quito School of Art.
There is some ambiguity over who, exactly, the chapel was named after. There were at least two indigenous men by the name of Cantuña who were connected to the complex, but only one of them was buried alongside his family in one of the altars, with a beautiful carving by Father Carlos.
The Cantuña that most Quiteños will be able to tell you about is Francisco de Cantuña, whose name is as legendary as his trickery of the Devil. You can discover more about this Old Town folklore with Casa Gangotena’s exclusive Devil’s Tour of the chapel, guided by Satan himself, a fun and alternative way to experience one of the tourist attractions of Ecuador’s capital – Quito.
Pedro Gocial Museum
The collection displayed in this charming art museum is a very small percentage of what is held within the cavernous vaults of the Franciscan monastery. Great mestizo sculptors like Pampite, Caspicara and Bernardo de Legarda share the space with Bernardo de Rodríguez and his huge canvases such as “San Antonio preaching to the fish.”
Some of these dramatic works have a way haunting the mind. Keep an eye out for the painting of the son of the last Incas (Francisco Atauchi) to be baptized by friars and the small, medium and large Winged Virgins by Legarda.
Quito is now famous for its craft beerwith small-time breweries becoming Ecuador tourist attractions in-and-of-themselves. But the city’s history of microbreweries began long ago, right there inside the monastery of San Francisco. In fact, the Flemish monks who founded the church and monastery in the 16th century were the first to brew beer in the Ecuadorian capital. Clearly, they obviously missed the creature comforts of their homeland!
Only recently opened to the public, San Francisco’s brewery was manned by beer-brewing monks until about 50 years ago. Now a museum, the space holds the great oak fermentation barrels and displays brilliant photos of the monks operating machines, wielding great wooden paddles in their modest brown cloaks that are belted with rope.
The monks weren’t even brewing the beer for profit or for entertainment. The 3-5% proof beverage was simply a safer alternative to water that the monks would drink themselves or give to the poor!
Quito’s Old Town is a treasure trove of historic, architectural, and cultural marvels, filled with century-old Colonial buildings, Baroque churches, and fascinating museums and galleries. And although you could spend days, weeks even, exploring the Historic Centre and discovering its secrets one by one, Casa Gangotena allows you to enjoy many of these Quito attractions without even leaving this boutique hotel in Quito.
The third-floor terrace offers a spectacular, panoramic view of the first ever UNESCO World Heritage site, allowing you to bask in each of these wonders over a morning tea, afternoon coffee, or sunset cocktail – it is the most romantic rooftop bar in the city. The best moment to see each of the sights is at dawn, when the rising sun casts a violet light over the city and the sky is free of clouds. But on a clear day, the brilliant Andean sky is the perfect backdrop to your tour from the terrace.
Where to stay in Quito? Choose Casa Gangotena and get the most wonderful view of Quito’s Old Town Hotel!
As you enter the terrace, turn left and walk around the edge of Casa Gangotena. Now, look up! Your eyes will immediately spot the dramatic and winged Virgin Mary statue, standing imperiously on the hill known as The Panecillo, the Spanish word for “little bread roll.” Made from 7,000 aluminium pieces that have been welded together like patchwork, her hands are the size of a person and her great wings are as big as cars. Even though this is a relatively new edition to the Quito skyline (the statue was officially unveiled in 1976), the Virgin serves as a vital pillar of Quiteño consciousness: her presence has spawned a myriad of legends and even inspired the Ecuadorian movie ‘A Tus Espaldas’ (‘Behind Your Back’).
Yaku Water Museum
Moving your gaze clockwise along the slopes of the mountain, you’ll find a striking, glass-fronted building tucked into its folds – a vision of utilitarian, modern architecture. This beautiful structure is perhaps one of the most family-friendly of Quito’s attractions and it is known as the Yaku Water Museum. Built on the site where ancestral societies had ceremonial baths in waterfalls, the museum celebrates the city’s connection with water. Specifically, it focuses on how it managed to obtain this vital resource throughout the centuries and how it has managed to maintain a healthy balance between civilization and thirst, aiming to never exploit this precious resource.
San Francisco Church & Plaza
Impossible to ignore is the San Francisco church and plaza. Built in the 16th century by one of the first Catholic orders in the country, this beautiful religious structure is home to one main church and two chapels, complete with courtyards and patios, vegetable gardens, catacombs and even a football pitch and an old brewery. It once housed some 160 monks, yet nowadays is only occupied by around three dozen Franciscan friars, which you might even be lucky enough to see them cloaked in their brown, hooded robes hurrying across the plaza! The square is a popular spot for people watching, where religious devotees and curious tourists mingle with Quiteños going about their day-to-day business.
Basilica of the National Vow
Looking straight from the terrace, your eyes won’t resist being drawn to the jagged, twin clock-towers that make up the Basilica of the National Vow. This impressive, colossal and Neo-Gothic church is, in fact, one of the largest of its kind in the region. Technically, it still hasn’t even been finished despite having opened its doors back in 1988, after nearly a century of construction. Local superstition and folklore warns that, if it were to be completed, the world would end. One of the structure’s most interesting features is its assortment of grotesques that are shaped like Ecuador’s most iconic animals. Instead of gargoyles or dark angels, dolphins, armadillos, iguanas and tortoises can be seen emerging from the flanks of the giant structure.
In spite of sitting some 70 km (43 mi) away from the city itself, Ecuador’s third highest peak can often be spotted from Casa Gangotena in the early hours of each morning. Simply look towards the Basilica of the National Vow, and there looms Cayambe Volcano – standing at 5,790 metres (18,996 feet) above sea level with a permanent snow cap. It is one of the highest points along Earth’s equator and was first climbed by British adventurer Edward Whymper back in 1880. It recurring volcano on the wish list of many climbers!
La Compañía Church
Unmistakeable with its green-tinged dome sitting right in the foreground of the view from Casa Gangotena, La Compañía is one of the most coveted of all of Quito’s attractions. Its stone façade is adorned with archangels, saints and spiralling columns. True to the Baroque style, every single space inside the church is decorated with finery – if it’s not gold, then it’s probably decorated with a painting of a saint in sumptuous technicolour, created by the great artists of the renowned Quito School of Art. Constructed by Jesuits between 1605 and 1765 – taking some 160 years to complete! – the church was inspired by two emblematic Jesuit temples in Rome: Il Gesú and San Ignacio. When the Jesuits were expelled from the country in 1773, the church was abandoned and many of its artefacts were stolen. As a result, only 52 kilograms (114 pounds) of gold remain.
These are all just a handful of the dozens of Quito’s attractions that you can spot from your tour from the terrace! Once you’ve been inspired by the view, which one will you explore first?