Quito Is Brimming With Beautiful Culture And Museums, But It’s Underrated

Ecuadorian capital of Quito is frequently seen by visitors as an awkward delay in transit to the Galapagos Islands. The city is an overlooked city as wealthy in history and solitary attractions as Ecuador’s acclaimed archipelago.

The UNESCO-recognized historic center of Quito is home to a wealth of culture, diverse museums, and mouthwatering cuisine, the majority of which can be found there. In fact, Quito is an enthralling city.

Quito’s historic old town was built by the Spanish in 1534 on the ruins of an Inca city. It is still one of the largest and most intact examples of colonial Spanish architecture in the Southern Hemisphere.

It was the first capital city in the world to be listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1978 due to its striking and well-preserved historic center.

Tourists are allowed to explore the old town — a lot of which is a pedestrian only region — by sitting briefly in the Square de la Independencia (or Court Grande, as it’s known to local people). A short distance from the president’s royal residence, you can witness the vivid top-down reorganizing on Tuesdays at 11 a.m.

The palm tree-peppered square is a microcosm of life in Quito. Here, families trade refreshes as their kids pursue each other around the primary wellspring, and gatherings of men cluster on seats to play a game of cards while street entertainers strive for attention. Street vendors are selling mango slices and empanadas among the crowds as they expertly weave in and out of it.

No matter where you set off from in the historic center, every turn along a cobblestoned street is sure to lead to some notable architectural marvel, but there are three churches that deserve special notice.

The Church:

The Church and Convent of San Francisco, known simply as San Francisco, is the largest colonial building in the city and overlooks a square that bears its name. More religious compound than church, it houses a Catholic church, a monastery, a huge library and a museum. The busy San Francisco square is an ideal spot to sample some Ecuadorian street food like maduros con queso (fried plantains with cheese) and tall spires of a fluffy meringue confection called espumilla.

For a breathtaking panorama, none can compete with the neo-Gothic Basílica del Voto Nacional. Adorned with a fantastical collection of gargoyles based on Ecuadorian animals (including iguanas, pumas and boobies), this arresting church is the tallest basilica in the Americas and offers jaw-dropping views of the city and surrounding countryside.

The other church not to miss is the resplendent La Compañía. As much an homage to all that glitters as it is to God, the lavish, wall-to-wall gold interior will leave you awestruck. Few cities in South America can boast such an eclectic and intriguing mix of museums as Quito.


The little yet shining Casa del Alabado Pre-Columbian art museum is housed in an exquisite sixteenth century manor and features masterpieces, figures and materials from different Andean native populaces.

Oswaldo Guayasamn, Ecuador’s most well-known artist, is honored at Fundación Guayasamn. The collection is a mix of his work and Guayasamn’s personal collection of religious and pre-Columbian artifacts, which is housed inside his former residence.

Also, the one-of-a-kind Yaku Water Museum is a must-see for kids. This amusing educational facility, which doubles as a water park and museum, honors our most valuable resource.

Popular among locals but largely overlooked by tourists, the enchanting Museo del Pasillo is dedicated to Ecuador’s favorite musical genre. This lovingly put together space traces Ecuador’s musical history by showcasing everything from handmade instruments to famous performers. The museum even puts on a variety of shows, including a karaoke night of traditional Ecuadorian song.

Casual and cozy, Heladeria San Agustín restaurant has been operating for over 150 years and lies just off the main square. It’s especially busy at lunchtime when it fills to capacity with locals looking to indulge in affordable traditional Ecuadorian cuisine.

Try the ceviche or the seco de chivo (goat stew), or opt for the set daily menu, which is always a bargain and includes a main meal, a drink and dessert for under $12.

The place is also well-known for its handmade ice cream. While there are dozens of freshly made ice cream varieties, the helado de paila is a standout. The Ecuadorian sorbet-like treat is made table side with the help of dried ice and a large spinning metal pot.

In the luxurious Casa Gangotena boutique hotel, a beautifully restored mansion, elevated Andean fare is served at Restaurante Casa Gangotena. It takes great pride in showcasing the variety and richness of Ecuadorian cuisine and has one of the town’s most sought-after menus.

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The pork Bondiola, a pork shoulder marinated for 72 hours and served with lavender and balsamic vinegar, and the locro quiteo, a traditional soup made with potatoes, corn, and cheese, are two standouts on the menu.

The inventive bar menu pays tribute to Ecuadorian spirits and regional ingredients with a tempting selection of mocktails. On a cool evening, a flavored sweltering beverage called a canelazo raises a ruckus around town.

This traditional drink from Casa Gangotena is made with sugar cane liquor that has been infused with hibiscus and coconut, and it comes with a palo santo stick that has been set ablaze. Get seated by the outside chimney on the lodging’s roof patio to appreciate dazzling evening time perspectives on the city.

Metropolitan Touring’s “Live Quito Like a Local” walking tour is great for visitors with only a day or two to explore Quito. This exceptional experience, designed in conjunction with a grassroots neighborhood group, provides a first-hand glimpse into a side of Quito not normally seen by tourists.

Among other sites, you’ll also wander around the animated Calle Rocafuerte neighborhood, as well as get a chance to meet some of Quito’s artisans and shopkeepers, such as a traditional herbalist, a milliner, a chocolatier and a man who lovingly restores religious icons.

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