One of the highlights of a visit to Quito that should not be missed is a trip to the historic center. The site is believed to be one of the best-preserved colonial centers and one of the most important across the whole of Latin America. It is for this reason that in 1978 UNESCO declared it a World Heritage Site. It is impressive that the area has survived so intact, given that in 1917 it was hit by an earthquake. Here is our guide on visiting Quito’s historic center.
When visiting Quito’s historic center there are a number of sites that you should try to see if you can:
Plaza de la Independencia – this makes for a good starting point on your trip. The center of the square includes a monument honoring the heroes that fought for independence in 1809. You will also find here the Archbishop’s Palace and the Municipal Palace.
Basilica de Voto Nacional – the Basilica is well worth a visit because you can climb up inside the church to get a bird’s eye view over the historic center. Calle La Ronda – this is a small street within the historic center which you can visit to enjoy cobbled streets and street entertainers.
San Francisco Plaza, Church and Convent – you may well recognize the San Francisco church as it often adorns brochures marketing Quito. The church dominates one full side of the plaza, and is well worth a visit, as the inside is stunning, and you can see thousands of works of colonial art.
La Compania – this is another church in Quito that is worth a look, as its insides are simply breathtaking. There is a tremendous amount of gold leaf within, and the nave is huge. It is considered one of the most important works of Spanish Baroque architecture in Latin America.
Santo Domingo – this church is also very domineering, standing over Santo Domingo Plaza. It was constructed by the Dominicans and its architecture and interior are to be admired.
Museo de la Ciudad – this fascinating museum is housed within what was previously a 16 th century hospital. There are numerous exhibition halls, and the museum charts the history of the city right through from pre-Columbian times.
Centro Cultural Metropolitano – this building offers a showcase of anthropological and cultural items of interest, and there are a number of exhibition halls here to keep you busy.
There are many other sites to visit in the historic center of Quito – these are just some of the ones that we consider to be the main highlights.
Visiting Quito’s historic center is relatively easy. You can get a bus or a taxi to the Plaza de la Independencia and walk around, exploring the multitude of churches and museums from there. You could do this with a travel guidebook which has the facts about the churches and information of historic interest.
Perhaps a more interesting way to visit Quito’s historic center would be to take a tour. Tours usually last somewhere between three and five hours, so take up approximately half a day. Quito day tours are helpful because they can be more engaging than simply reading a guidebook at different points, and you get local tidbits of information too, as well as insider information on where the best spots for coffee and lunch might be. It is also easier to get around as the tour will usually include transport. This means that your tour may include a trip up El Panecillo to see the angel overlooking Quito and get a great view over the historic center from above – which is difficult to do on foot, not least because it is unsafe to walk up the hill through the neighborhood there.
Because Quito’s colonial center attracts rather a lot of tourists, it can be a bit of a magnet for pickpockets and thieves too. You can easily protect yourself from becoming a target by avoiding bringing valuables with you, or wearing them (leave those expensive earrings or that watch in the hotel safe), and only carrying the cash you need for your time on the tour. Be aware of your valuables at all times, and know that waving around flashy phones or cameras and not taking good care of them could attract unwanted attention.
One of our tips for visiting the historic center of Quito is to visit Calle La Ronda at night. Buy a canelazo (sugar cane alcohol drink) and watch the street performers as they entertain you. Be aware of your belongings, however!
At Ecuador and Galapagos Insiders, we’ve lived in Quito all our lives and are genuinely experts on this city. We can offer day tours of Quito, or we can build this into your trip to Ecuador. Get in touch to find out how we can help you.