Quito Travel Guide

Quito Travel Guide

Perched in the Andes at the foot of an active volcano and straddling the equator, Quito delivers all kinds of scenic drama. The world’s highest capital city also has one of the largest and best-preserved historic centres in Latin America. Overlooked in the past by travellers who opted for its neighbours Peru and Colombia, Quito maintains an old-school charm with warm, welcoming people, fifth-generation hatmakers and ancestral healers. But Quito is in no way stuck in the past. It was way out ahead on gay rights as one of the first countries in the world to prohibit discrimination based on sexual orientation in its Constitution, and one of the few nations to have banned conversion therapy. The gay scene in Quito is not huge, but it is spirited. The Mariscal district fondly referred to as the Pink Zone is the centre of gay life. You might want to try and make it down there for Año Viejo, which is akin to a transvestite Halloween held on New Year’s. Men dress up as ‘slutty widows’ and accost passersby for change. The longer you refrain from handing over a few coins, the wilder their antics get. We take this tradition as more proof that Quito’s a fun, open-minded place that knows how to have a good time and doesn’t take itself too seriously.

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The best hotels in Quito

Casa Gangotena has nailed intimate luxury. This boutique hotel set in a neoclassical mansion delivers 1920s elegance and colonial charm right from Quito’s most beautiful plaza. The third-floor terrace offers unbeatable views and the gourmet restaurant serving modern Ecuadorian cuisine is one of the city’s best. You will undoubtedly fall deeply in love with the ILLA Experience Hotel if you stay there. This 10-room family-run hotel fashioned from an 18th-century villa is designed so each of its three floors represents an era in Ecuador’s history —Colonial, Republican and contemporary styles. The word ‘experience’ in the hotel’s name is literal. They will arrange for you to watercolour with a local artist or partake in an Ecuadorian chocolate tasting. The Ikala Quito Hotel is cosy, friendly, serene and inviting. The staff of the 15-room boutique property is super, as is the location in Quito’s Pink Zone. The Carlota Sustainable Design Hotel is a charming, eco-friendly boutique hotel with a rooftop urban garden, reading room, wine cellar where you can schedule a tasting, and a lounge with panoramic views of the city. The gay-friendly 3-star Hotel NASS Sol De Quito is a great budget option. Every room has a terrace facing the mountain or the garden and a complimentary buffet breakfast is served.

Carlota Sustainable Design Hotel

Carlota Sustainable Design Hotel

ILLA Experience Hotel

ILLA Experience Hotel

Casa Gangotena

Casa Gangotena

Casa Gangotena Boutique

Casa Gangotena Boutique

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Recommended hotels in Quito
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Suffering from joint pain? Unlucky in love? Crippling anxiety? Try a body and spirit cleansing at one of Quito’s traditional healers

Things to do in Quito

If you’re wondering what to do in Quito, the world’s highest city, why not climb even further into the sky in one of the world’s highest cable cars? Ride the TeleferiQo 13,000 feet up the slopes of the Pichincha Volcano, which offers breathtaking views of not only the city but, on a good day, a half-a-dozen other surrounding volcanoes. If you’re open-minded, try a body and spirit cleansing at one of the traditional curanderas (healers) you will see around town. Choose your malady—joint pain, bad luck in love, anxiety—and the shaman will have you strip down to your skivvies and whack you with some herbs, plants, woods and flower petals. If someone’s got the mal ojo out on you that hex can be dispensed with as well. For those who want to undertake a mind-altering experience, there’s the ayahuasca ceremony, which is legal in Ecuador. Led by an experienced shaman, the traditional healing medicinal plant of the indigenous people of the Amazon is imbibed as a tea. Shamanic retreats in Ecuador offers the experience in the Quito area.

A Quito travel guide would be remiss to leave out the outdoorsy activities near Quito. The Tandayapa Cloud Forest Reserve is one of the world’s best bird-watching spots. You can take a full-day tour and soak in the lush vegetation, assorted varieties of hummingbirds and if you’re lucky, spot the famous Andean Cock-of-the-Rock lek. Another day trip with a completely alternate landscape is the Cotapaxi National Park, home to one of the world’s tallest active volcanoes, just 35 miles south of Quito. The nearly perfectly symmetrical cone is covered in snow and the terrain below it is otherworldly and rugged. You may even spot a herd of wild horses galloping across the beautifully barren expanse.

Once you’ve got your outdoor adventure quotient filled, you can go full culture vulture in Quito. The museum in the former house of the master painter, Oswaldo Guayasamín, Casa Museo Guayasamín displays his artwork, which was fueled by the poverty, injustice, and simple daily life of his fellow countrymen. You can stroll through the gardens, built high on the hillside overlooking the countryside. Another place to look at art is Casa del Alabado, whose collection of pre-Columbian art is uniquely arranged. It eschews chronology for the pure sake of the art. The gallery’s eight rooms have different themes illustrating how Ecuador’s ancient societies interpreted the world around them.

Photo: Chris Charles

Photo: Chris Charles

Teleférico | Photo: Diego Cue

Teleférico | Photo: Diego Cue

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Recommended experiences in Quito
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Cotopaxi National Park | Photo: Eman Jaradat

Cotopaxi National Park | Photo: Eman Jaradat

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What to see in Quito

Quito sightseeing starts with 16th-century ‘Old Town,’ the first UNESCO World Heritage Sites ever designated, which is a testament to how well-preserved and expansive it is. The centrepiece is Plaza San Francisco. Built upon the ruins of an ancient Incan palace, the whitewashed church’s domes and spires provide the foreground for the snow-capped volcano in the background. The entire district of Old Town is walkable, with more convents, churches (200!), mansions, and monasteries per square mile than anyplace we’ve ever seen. La Ronda is a vibrant, cobblestoned, pedestrian-only amble filled with bohemian cafes, artsy shops, and beatnik street performers. On the outskirts of Old Town is where artisans handcraft beautiful things such as textiles, Panama hats, silver jewellery, musical instruments and toys. It comes to life after dark with live music and bars. Another creative neighbourhood is La Floresta. Quito Street Tours offers free walking tours of the flourishing cultural entrepreneurialism that makes the place special: designer workshops, indie art galleries and cinemas, artist studios, cafes and collaborative workspaces. One of Quito’s best mercados, Iñaquito Market, offers a true flavour of local life. If you’re a sucker for exotic fruits and veggies, this is the place to be. El Jardín Botánico Quito is a lush set of botanical gardens showcasing the many ecosystems of the country with flora from the high-altitude grasslands of the Andes, the cloud forests and the wetlands. The orchid greenhouse and bonsai tree collection are both crowd favourites. Quito provides one of the most dramatic sunsets of any city anywhere. Watch it from the Parque Itchimbía, which offers panoramic views of Old Town, the iconic winged Virgin of Quito statue and the volcano.

Iglesia de San Francisco | Photo: Bikubic

Iglesia de San Francisco | Photo: Bikubic

Quito Street Tours | Photo: Jake Sugden

Quito Street Tours | Photo: Jake Sugden

Where to eat in Quito

Laboratorio is a lab that takes the best local produce and transforms it into an art form. It changes chefs and cuisines on a rotating basis to keep the experimentalism alive. The vibe is hip, young, casual, industrial chic. Hacienda Rumiloma, a hotel that hugs the slopes Pichincha Volcano and sits above the clouds, is a romantic place for dinner overlooking the city. It’s rustic meets urbane, home to both a wood-burning stove and a Baby Grand piano, which matches its cuisine of Ecuadorian-style fusion. Don’t miss the seven-course chef’s tasting menu at Zazu, which serves contemporary, Latin-inspired food with a speciality in seafood. The chef is masterful with crab and lobster. URKO Cocina Local offers two appealing options depending on your mood (and your hunger level). You can either pull up to La Barra and pick from a menu inspired by typical Ecuadorian dishes and street food, which you can pair up with a bar stocked with Ecuadorian drinks and cocktails that make use of the country’s incredible biodiversity of plants, flowers and fruits. Alternately, you can sit in URKO’s proper restaurant and try the tasting menu. The whole experience takes two hours. Quito is famous for corvina (sea bass). Las Corvinas de Don Jimmy in Mercado Central has been serving traditional seafood since 1953, so they most definitely know what they’re way around a corvina. Somehow, $5 gets you a generous hunk of sea bass on potatoes and rice, a side of seafood ceviche and a bowl of popcorn. Mercado San Francisco, Quito’s oldest marketplace, is the place to try all sorts of traditional Ecuadorian cuisine. Established in 1897, you will not only find a cornucopia of exotic produce but many practitioners of ancestral medicine if you want to treat yourself to a body and spirit cleansing. La Chillangua Verde Esmeralda is known for it in coastal Ecuadorian fare. Get the encocado de camarones (shrimp in coconut juice)  and patacones (fried plantains pounded flat). You’ve likely sipped Ecuadorian coffee at your local Starbucks, now try it in Ecuador. Isveglio is at the forefront of the artisan coffee movement. Sample organic brews from various regional beans grown all over Ecuador.

URKO Cocina Local

URKO Cocina Local

Laboratorio Diseño/Gastronomía

Laboratorio Diseño/Gastronomía

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‘Ethno-urban’ is a design aesthetic borne out of an urban take on Ecuador’s deep indigenous roots

Shopping in Quito

A gay guide to Quito shopping should obviously include cutting-edge menswear, but, alas, there’s not much of that going on here (yet). However, if you’re a hat guy, you’re in luck. The craftsmanship of the classic Panama hat is unparalleled. Homero Ortega P & Hijos is a fifth-generation hat maker. Vulgomaestre is an independent gallery that highlights irreverent designs borne out of an urban take on Ecuador’s deep indigenous roots. They call their aesthetic ‘ethno-urban.’ It’s a great place to pick up unusual little gifts for your people back home, like graphic T’s, bookmarks, stickers and magnets. Quito is a fine place to buy handicrafts. We love Galería Latina for the extensive collection of high-quality handmade pieces, as well as Olga Fisch Folklore for the fine tapestries, rugs, linens and scarves. La Kmaleona Concept Store renews their offerings every quarter, but what stays the same is that all the wares are created by Latin American creatives. This can be anything from clothing, accessories, illustrations, jewellery, artwork, paper goods, beauty products and perfumes. ARIU Studio is run by a jewellery designer who learned the craft from his father and grandfather. His mystical-leaning collection consists of unique silver and gold pieces that incorporate pre-Columbian designs, semi-precious gemstones and local materials.

Anillo JAGUAR | Photo: ARIU Studio

ARIU Studio

Plaza de San Francisco

Plaza de San Francisco

Quito nightlife

Any gay nightlife guide to Quito is going to include El Hueco, aka “The Hole” Formally called El Tercer Milenio Discoteca, the city’s largest gay club welcomes everyone from trans, to bears, to drag queens, to twinks as well as a mixed crowd of local and international folks. A fun place to go and get your groove on. Chosen Bar is known for its luxurious setting and unique cocktails. Ask about the cocktail of the month. It’s sure to be inspired. Vista Hermosa means beautiful view in Spanish. Go there to imbibe and listen to live music on the 360-degree rooftop terrace. There’s a big craft beer movement underway in Quito. If that’s your bag, we recommend the family-run brewery, Santa Rosa Cerveza Artesanal. The bar is sleek and the beers are smooth. Bungalow 6 has three levels with different music and moods on each floor. The vibe is high-energy and non-pretentious. The bar at the Casa Gangotena hotel is a chic and sophisticated den that feels like an old-school drinking establishment but churns out the classics in a titillating way using all Ecuadorian ingredients. (Don’t forget to bring your passport to get into the clubs. You’ll be turned away without it, no matter how long in the tooth you are.)

 

Casa Gangotena

Casa Gangotena

ILLA Experience Hotel

ILLA Experience Hotel

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