If you are considering traveling to the Andean region and Ecuador specifically, you must include Quito on top of your to-do list. Quito has a little bit of everything which makes it a perfect destination for any traveler. I went to Quito to visit friends for the holidays and had no idea the amazingness that I was in for. During the course of our time in Quito, we visited world-class eateries, museums, national monuments, the literal center of the earth, an otherworldly Hacienda, volcanoes, nature and wildlife venues, and parks with lots to offer among other places. Here are some of the “must do” places to add to your vacation list.Mitad Del Mundo
If you do nothing else in Quito, you must go to Mitad Del Mundo (MDM), which means Middle of the World. There are so many things to do in MDM one could easily spend more than a day there and only scratch the surface. It is a great destination for adult and family travel. Mitad Del Mundo includes several museum-like exhibits including one featuring life-size replicas of indigenous homes in the Amazon basin, an exhibit that demystifies the true origins of the famous “Panama Hat” (it’s actually Ecuadorian), explains the history behind the expansion of trains in South America and the rise of luxury train excursions one can take throughout Ecuador including to Cuenca, a colonial town with 16th and 17th century Spanish architecture and a popular spot for retirees. There is a brewery (you can get samples for a small fee), a chocolate factory/museum (you can get free samples), science exhibits explaining gravity and the Coriolis force, the reasons affecting why water in drains (think sinks and toilets) spins one way in the northern hemisphere and the other way in the southern hemisphere. There is a monument to the equator where you can stand in both hemispheres at once, a planetarium, cultural pavilions, and an amazing hand-carved replica of colonial Quito, which was named among the first UNESCO world heritage sites in all South America.
If you are feeling hungry and want some menu variety, then look no further than the El Ciclista Food Platz. The El Ciclista Food Platz is part of the new stationary food truck/container trend. The trend is where you have the feeling of food truck options, but the service providers offer their culinary delights from stationary containers at food truck prices. El Ciclista has several food types, from traditional Ecuadorian fare to Asian fusion to specialized BBQ chicken, handmade pizzas, and in the center, a bar featuring artisanal and crafted beer. There is also a small playground for little ones, and if you catch them on the right night, live music of different varieties. Bonus: We all ate something different, and it was all delish.
For those who like the outdoors and for bird lovers, I recommend a visit to Parque Condor, located a couple of hours outside of northern Quito near the town of Otavalo. Parque Condor is a non-profit organization dedicated to the protection, rescue, rehabilitation, and possible re-introduction of Andean birds, many of them endangered, back into the wild. According to their website, their mission is, “to raise awareness about the importance of environmental problems and their relationship with society, based on the action of the Andean condor, owls, raptors, and their habitat, as important indicators and symbols of Andean culture.” Parque Condor houses over 32 species of birds and has an informative and hands-on bird exhibition with licensed ornithologists which features many of the birds they have rescued and cared for.
If you’ve ever lived in a big city, then you know the value of a good park. Parque La Carolina is the “central park” of Quito. It boasts an almost 3-mile exterior biking/walking/running path, a 750-meter (just under half a mile) synthetic surface running track in the center. There is a parcourse, a cross-fit area, dozens of soccer fields, basketball courts, volleyball courts, tennis courts, a small lake with paddle boats, a bike-cross course, a bicycle and skateboard park, a botanical garden, a canine agility course, restaurants and snack bars, and tree-shaded lawns adorned with a variety of public works of art. Simply put, you can’t miss this park.
For those who want a taste of the past, then a visit to any number of beautiful Haciendas near to Quito and especially to Hacienda Cusin is in order. When you enter the gates of Hacienda Cusin, you feel as though you have been transported back into a bygone era of lush gardens, green landscapes, and abundant natural beauty. We spent the afternoon at Hacienda Cusin on the way back to Quito from Parque Condor, and it was hard to leave. The monastery is a place of peace and tranquility, the library for a reader like me was the perfect place to snuggle up with a good book and get lost in it, the gardens make for the perfect walk, with areas for kids to play safely, and a mini farm with turkeys, ducks, chickens, horses, sheep, cows and more make for a great petting zoo or a child’s first ride on a horse. It is a truly magical place.
Quito is worth a visit and these are only a few of the highlights. Happy travels!