Founded in 1534 on ancient Aboriginal ruins dating back to 1500BC, Quito is Ecuador’s capital and one of the first two cities in the world designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Situated at an altitude of about 3050metres and sandwiched between two mountain ranges, Quito’s fascinating Old City is the largest in the Americas and a showcase of the rich legacy left behind by the Incas and Spaniards.
Home to no fewer than 40 churches, 17 squares, 16 convents and monasteries, excellent museums, restaurants and terrace cafes, there’s plenty to see and do! So if you find yourself in this underrated South American city for a long weekend, these are the must-do activities not to miss!
DAY 1 – Discover the city’s historical sites
With a history that dates back 15 centuries, from the original Quistis, through to the Inca and Spanish empires, up until today, Quito is a city where colonial history still permeates the air, surrounded by beautiful architecture, and religious and cultural sites.
Start your city exploration at the Legislative Palace with its enormous sculpted mural of Ecuadorian history. You’ll also see Independence Plaza and visit the 16th century San Francisco Monastery, and La Compania Church – the exquisite Jesuit cathedral with its spectacular Spanish baroque architecture – more than 160 years in the making.
Continue your city discovery to Calle La Ronda – one of Quito’s oldest streets – with artist’s workshops and galleries.
Visit the Old Town’s famous hill, Panecillo or “Little Bread”, where you will see the Virgen de Quito angel statue.
End your day with a visit to the Ciudad Mitad del Mundo – the ‘middle of the world’, where you can stand in both the Northern and Southern hemispheres at the same time at the exact location of Earth’s Equator.
DAY 2 – Visit Otavalo
Upon arrival in Otavalo, visit the Indian Market, which is full of textiles, clothes, vegetables and more.
An hour and a half north of Quito is the Andean highlands town of Otavalo. The drive to Otavalo is an adventure within itself; not to be missed! Here, you’ll drive past the often snow-capped Cayambe Volcano. The Ecuadorian Line runs directly through the glacier of the immense volcano, which is the highest worldwide point on the Ecuadorian Line.
Afterwards, visit the town of Peguche, which is famous for its exquisitely handcrafted weavings. Here you can observe the handiwork in creating woven blankets and clothing that are so important to life in the Andes Highlands.
DAY 3 – Quilotoa Excursion
If you’re keen to continue exploring, a day trip to Quilotoa is a must! Formed 600 years ago Quilotoa was created after a volcano collapsed and created a large crater, which is now filled with water and is 245 metres deep. You can capture some incredible photos of the lake when you hike to the top – just don’t forget to pack some water as the caldera sits a high altitude of 13, 000 feet above sea level!
Interested in exploring Quito? Check out our Ecuador river cruises with Avalon Waterways here.