The aircraft takes a strong left hand turn and out my window appears an incredible expanse of city built in the high hills of the Andes. As we straighten out and continue our descent, the rooftops blend with the hilltops that flank our wings. What a sight—the highest capital city in the world nestled deep in the heart of the mountains. At cruising speed, we catch sight of the airport and I’m starting to feel that familiar glow of excitement about the adventure ahead. This is it. I have made it, Quito.
Touchdown Ecuador! Here we are in the world’s second highest capital (bested only by Bolivia’s La Paz), 2,850m (9,350ft) above sea level, home to 2.8m people, and a major Latin American cultural hub for hundreds of years. But what to do and what to see with only a short period of time? Well here’s a good place to start.
The First 24 Hours
On the steps of the Basílica del Voto Nacional in the Historic Centre.
VISIT: The Historic Centre. One of the best preserved colonial centres in the Americas, it’s well worth a few hours of exploring. It is also a great place to join a walking city tour — always a good idea when visiting a new city for the first time. Bring a map, camera, water bottle, and enjoy the architecture and history of the area.
The view of Cotopaxi Parque Bicentenario (Mariscal Sucre).
DO: Skateboarding or biking (or rollerblading) in Parque Bicentenario. Once the main airport of the city and located conveniently right in the centre, the newest park in Quito boasts is the amazing Parque Bicentenario. The former runway has been converted into recreational space with lanes painted for bicycles—the perfect stretch for cycling, skateboarding, roller-blading, or tossing a Frisbee, street dance, or kicking around a football. It also has some fantastic views of the city south and the Quito skyline, plus Cotopaxi Volcano in the distance. Drink it all in!
The ceiling in Santo Domingo Church has many beautiful designs and paintings.
VISIT: The Cathedral and one of many churches (San Francisco, El Sagrario, Santo Domingo). Visiting the region’s Catholic is a must. Often adorned with immaculate gold statues and detailed paintings, they are home to amazing carvings and stonework; indeed, they are sights to behold. They are also home to devotees who make for great conversation and are usually incredibly kind and friendly. Even if you are not religious, I would make a point of visiting at least one of the many churches in the city.
The Next 24 Hours
Mountain biking in El Parque Nacional Cotopaxi.
DO: Half-day or full-day mountain biking trip. Mountain biking around Quito is incredible! World class trails with a ton of great small guiding companies ready to take you out. It is known as one of the best places in all Latin America for single-track downhill, as well as cross-country. With incredible views of the Andes and an altitude to match, the options for different locations are seemingly endless. You can even bike down the face of an active volcano. Be sure to check out your nearest bike shop for more details upon arrival.
La Vírgen del Panecillo.
VISIT: La Vírgen del Panecillo. Very near the Old City, El Panecillo is a small hill with a large statue of La Virgin del Panecillo (Virgin Mary). The statue can be seen from most points in the city and makes for a good look out over the old town. It is worth a visit for some photos and a nice short walk. Keep your eyes open going up and down though, the areas is known for occasional petty thefts.
That’s about that and my short wrap of things to do with 48 hours in Quito. I decided not to touch much on food or shopping, but being a large city, there are a ton of great options for both, if that’s what you’re into. The above are great (mostly free) options for checking out the town and experiencing something a little different with only a short amount of time. I hope you enjoyed this post and enjoy your next trip to Quito. It is an amazing city and for sure worth a visit next time you find yourself in Latin America. Buen Viaje!