Quito is a big city. Like, far-as-the-eye-can-see big.
Now that we’ve settled into life here in Tena, we need long-term visas, which we can only apply for in Quito. Long story short, we are visa-less, but that’s still in motion, so it’s a story for another day.
We planned for a long weekend in Quito, but most of Friday was consumed with the visa application, which really only left Saturday to do a little exploring. If you’re short on time, I find the best way to do that is with a walking tour!
You see things, you learn things, you eat things (sometimes).
We arranged a walking tour through our hotel, and, honestly, it’s one of the best tours we’ve ever had. We were greeted in the morning by Marcos, our accidental private tour guide!
I say *accidental* private tour guide because the standard hotel policy is a three-person minimum. However, with covid and recovering tourism, they’ve loosened the rules. We’ve only ever had a personal tour guide once before (in Egypt), and I can’t say I hate it!
We spent about four hours with Marcos, so I’ll just cover the highlights.
Also known as The Plaza de la Independencia, this is the heart of Quito’s historic center and our starting point. The square is beautiful and lively and home to the main Catholic church in Quito, as well as the presidential palace called Palacio de Carondelet (Carondelet Palace).
Which, if I’m being honest, I was shocked at how close you could get to the presidential palace. Like, touch the wall close. Like, there were hairdressers and small shops underneath it close. And, from what we understood, the president actually lives there.
Imagine if you could just walk up to the White House these days… 🤯
La calle de las Siete Cruces
or the Street of Seven Crosses.
The seven crosses on this street are attached to seven churches. We were able to go into one of them, and it was quite impressive. We’ve added one church, La Compañía de Jesús, to our to-do list for next time. Apparently, the inside is covered in something like 53 kg (~116 lbs) of gold, according to our guide.
The street has plenty of other things to explore beyond churches. For example, we visited a hat maker. Fun fact, the classic “Panama” style hat is actually of Ecuadorian origin. The old Central Bank of Ecuador is also on this street and gave off some real Gringotts vibes. Now, it’s a museum about Ecuadorian currency, which I think might actually be interesting.
Plaza de San Francisco
This square was beautiful, and my photos don’t do it justice. It’s home to the most expensive hotel in Quito’s historic center (I tried to convince Shane to stay there, he said no) and the legendary San Francisco church.
I’m not exaggerating when I say it’s legendary. As the story goes, a local builder/architect was asked to build the church. He said yes, but the project didn’t go as planned, and he wasn’t going to finish in time. So, he made a deal with the devil for help. The devil would finish the work, but the payment was the man’s soul.
When the church was almost complete, the man panicked, not wanting to give his soul to the devil. So, he hid the final brick, technically leaving the church unfinished and saving his soul.
Supposedly, there is one missing brick, and if someone chooses to finish the church by putting the brick in place, the devil will come back for their soul. So, uh, I guess if you find a random stone in San Francisco Plaza, it’s better to leave it alone.
Chocolate Tasting at Yumbos
Across the plaza from the church is a nondescript door with an arrow pointing to the doorbell.
Ring. The. Doorbell.
Luckily, Marcos knew what he was doing because otherwise, we would have walked right past Yumbos artisanal chocolate shop. If you’re into chocolate, they offer tastings (in English) and have bars for sale. There is also a small cafe which offers one of the best brownies I’ve ever had. Plus, the view from the tasting room isn’t too bad either…
Basílica del Voto Nacional
This was the view I didn’t know I had been waiting for.
I’m honestly a little disappointed in myself for not knowing that this was *the thing* to do in Quito’s historic center. Great views and making Shane walk stairs against his will? It’s all of my favorite things!
It’s the national basilica because it’s meant to be the meeting spot for all Ecuadorian Catholics, and the inside houses flags for each province. You can see the basilica from most points in the historic center as it is at the top of a large hill (be prepared for a walk!). The view from the (easily accessed) panoramic deck looks across the historic center to Loma El Panecillo, which may look like an angel but is actually a winged Virgin Mary. So, as our guide put it, the church and the Virgin Mary protect historic Quito in between them.
If heights don’t bother you, then take the sketchy wooden path that looks like you shouldn’t be on it to climb the tower. I’m not scared of heights, but these stairs were steep, so I warned you! The 360-degree view is worth it, though.
El Mercado Central
All those hills and stairs made me hungry. Plus, Marcos said that since Quito is at a high elevation (~2350 meters/9300 feet), your metabolism speeds up, and you get hungry faster. All I heard from that was, “you should eat more.” End of story. So, we went to the Central Market for some lunch. Thanks to Marcos, we had some of the best fried fish I’ve ever had.
If you’re visiting Quito, head to the market and find Jimmy.
Shane and I split two things, the $6 plate of fish in the picture (that comes with sides) and mixed llapingacho (from another stand), which was basically potato balls with sides. ‘Twas very filling. Oh, and you can’t forget to have some juice; para mi, Naranjilla (Quito orange)!
And those are the highlights! We highly encourage walking tours in new cities, and Quito has one of the best-preserved historic centers in all of South America. So, it’s definitely worth it.
Walking Tour: $15 per person, booked at the hotel. Ask for Marcos!
Basílica del Voto Nacional: $3 per person
Food: Snacks were included in the tour, but lunch was not. We paid ~$12 total for lunch.