What to do in Quito Ecuador in 24 hours

Those traveling to or from the Galapagos Islands, truly Ecuador’s greatest attraction, owe themselves at least 24 hours in Quito, the capital of Ecuador.

At nearly 10,000 feet above sea level and located on the side of an active volcano, Quito has a lot going for it. Did I mention it’s located on the side of an active volcano?

The volcano, called Pichincha, last erupted in 1999. Quito literally translates to “center of the Earth.”

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A walking tour of Quito is a feast for the eye. The streets and shops are painted in brilliant colors, flags and banners fly in every block and pots of big red geraniums bloom everywhere. I was told geraniums are the official flower of Quito.

If touring beautiful and historic churches is your thing, you’ll be happy in Quito. The city is home to eight monasteries, six cloisters and 15 churches – and that’s just in the city center. They are among the reasons that Quito was the first named UNESCO World Heritage site.

La Iglesia de la Compañía de Jesús is widely considered the most beautiful church in South America.With its ornate detail and gold leaf covering just about every surface, you can understand why it took 150 years to complete. Construction began in 1605. This is the most visited of churches in Quito and quite the tourist attraction. You can’t say you’ve been to Quito without having been to this cathedral.

Where to Stay in Quito Ecuador

Most flights from North America arrive at the Quito International Airport (UIO) around midnight, so you’re tired and ready for bed. We stayed on a nice quiet side street in the San Marcos neighborhood.

The Hotel Illa is an independently-owned boutique hotel that has everything you need. The rooms are spacious and modern, the breakfast room bright and colorful where a chef named Mateo fixes eggs and other dishes to your liking. Blackberry juice is popular a drink for breakfast, as is Ecuaordan coffee.

Owned by the family that operates Latin Trails, the Hotel Illa is just a block can coordinate tours of the Old Town. It’s also just a block from the Manuela Saenz Museum, a revolutionary heroine in South America.

   

Neighborhood Tours in Quito

The front desk at the Illa Hotel can connect you with guided tours of churches, neighborhoods and more in your 24 hours in Quito. You’ll find each neighborhood has its own yarn/wool shop, its own candle shop and its own woodworking shop, among others.

We stopped and bought some honey from Renee Gutierrez, who has been raising bees and making flavored honey for nearly 20 years. With unusual flavors like turnip and avocado, it’s not surprising he was awarded the Flavors of Ecuador award in recent competition.

His shop on LaRonda Street is just a few doors down from Jose Luis Jiminez, a woodworker and geometric genius when it comes to the art form of bargueños. A bargueños is a chest with interior hidden compartments that were once used for guarding valuable goods. Jiminez is so good at what he does that one of his chests was a gift to Pope Francis when he visited Ecuador in 2015. One of the boxes Jose showed us contained more than 40 little secret compartments. His artistic skills are one reason Quito is known as “The Florence of America.”

Where to Eat in Quito, Ecuador

La Ronda Street is where a lot is happening in the evening hours. Nearly every restaurant has musicians and dancers and a festive atmosphere, no matter what the season. I can highly recommend potato soup served with chunks of avocado, a very typical dish. Fried pork is very common in the Andes communities as well. Ecuadorian goat stew is another must try.

Although not located on La Ronda Street, an authentic restaurant is Hasta la Vuelta, Señor. The translation is roughly “until I return, sir.” A few blocks off La Ronda Street at Calle Chile OE 422, the restaurant with the unusual name is located in a former monastery.

The story goes that a young, would-be priest would sneak out of the monastery every night to party around Quito. He would climb out a window using a crucifix as his ladder. The story goes that Jesus asked him why and when he would return, and his answer was “until I return, sir.”

Maybe something is lost in translation, but it’s a good restaurant with authentic cuisine and one place you should visit if you have only 24 hours in Quito Ecuador.