Quito: From Colonial Times to Modern Day

Quito: From Colonial Times to Modern Day

Quito is the capital city of Ecuador, located in the northern part of South America. It is situated in the Andes mountains, at an elevation of approximately 2,850 meters (9,350 feet) above sea level, making it one of the highest capital cities in the world. Quito is known for its well-preserved historic center, which was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1978, and for being a gateway to many natural and cultural attractions throughout the country.

Short History

Quito has a rich and complex history that dates back thousands of years. The area was originally inhabited by various indigenous groups, including the Quitu, who gave the city its name.

In 1534, Spanish conquistador Sebastián de Benalcázar arrived in the area and claimed it for the Spanish Empire, establishing the city of San Francisco de Quito on the ruins of an Inca city. Quito became an important colonial city, serving as the capital of the Real Audiencia of Quito, which encompassed much of present-day Ecuador and parts of Colombia, Peru, and Brazil.

In the early 19th century, Quito played a key role in Ecuador’s struggle for independence from Spain. The city was the site of several battles, including the Battle of Pichincha in 1822, which resulted in Ecuador’s liberation.

After gaining independence, Quito continued to grow and develop, becoming an important cultural, economic, and political center of Ecuador. Today, it is a thriving city with a rich history and many cultural and natural attractions.


The architecture of Quito is a unique blend of indigenous, Spanish colonial, and modern styles. The historic center of Quito, which dates back to the colonial era, is one of the best-preserved in Latin America and was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1978.

The city’s colonial architecture is characterized by its use of adobe and stone, with buildings featuring large wooden doors, balconies, and ornate facades. The most famous examples of colonial architecture in Quito include the Church and Convent of St. Francis, the Church of the Society of Jesus (commonly known as the “Jesuit Church”), and the Cathedral of Quito.

In addition to its colonial architecture, Quito also boasts a number of modern buildings, including the Quito Telecommunications Tower, the Central Bank Museum, and the National Assembly Building. These buildings incorporate modern materials and design elements while still paying homage to the city’s rich history and culture.

Overall, the architecture of Quito is a testament to the city’s diverse cultural heritage and its ongoing evolution as a modern and vibrant metropolis.

Museums and Galleries

Discover some of the most interesting museums and galleries in Quito:

  • Museo de la Ciudad (City Museum): This museum showcases the history and culture of Quito through interactive exhibits, artifacts, and multimedia displays.
  • Museo Nacional del Ecuador (National Museum of Ecuador): Located in Quito’s historic center, this museum houses a large collection of pre-Columbian art and artifacts, as well as exhibits on Ecuador’s colonial and republican eras.
  • Museo del Carmen Alto (Carmen Alto Museum): Housed in a 17th-century convent, this museum features exhibits on the history of the Carmelite order in Ecuador, as well as a collection of religious art and artifacts.
  • Fundación Guayasamín (Guayasamín Foundation): This museum and cultural center celebrates the life and work of Ecuador’s most famous artist, Oswaldo Guayasamín, with a collection of his paintings, sculptures, and drawings.
  • Centro de Arte Contemporáneo (Contemporary Art Center): This gallery showcases the work of contemporary Ecuadorian and international artists, with rotating exhibits and installations.
  • Casa Museo María Augusta Urrutia (Maria Augusta Urrutia House Museum): This museum is located in a historic mansion and features exhibits on the life and work of Ecuadorian philanthropist and art collector María Augusta Urrutia.
  • Museo Mindalae: This museum focuses on the indigenous cultures of Ecuador, with exhibits on traditional arts, crafts, and customs.
  • Casa de la Cultura Ecuatoriana (House of Ecuadorian Culture): This cultural center features a variety of exhibits, performances, and events showcasing Ecuadorian art, music, dance, and literature.

Landmarks and Monuments

Quito is a city rich in history and culture, with a wealth of landmarks and monuments that reflect its diverse heritage. Here are some of the most interesting landmarks and monuments in Quito:

  • Basilica del Voto Nacional (Basilica of the National Vow): This massive neo-Gothic church is one of the most recognizable landmarks in Quito, with its soaring spires and ornate carvings.
  • El Panecillo: This hill overlooking Quito is crowned by a statue of the Virgin Mary, known as La Virgen de Quito, and offers panoramic views of the city.
  • Plaza de la Independencia (Independence Square): Located in the heart of Quito’s historic center, this plaza is surrounded by some of the city’s most important colonial-era buildings, including the Presidential Palace, the Cathedral, and the Archbishop’s Palace.
  • La Ronda: This charming cobblestone street in Quito’s historic center is lined with colorful colonial-era buildings, artisan shops, and restaurants.
  • Parque La Carolina (Carolina Park): This large park in Quito’s modern center offers a respite from the city’s hustle and bustle, with green spaces, walking paths, and recreational facilities.
  • Mitad del Mundo (Middle of the World): Located just outside of Quito, this monument marks the equator and offers visitors a chance to straddle the line between the northern and southern hemispheres.
  • San Francisco Church and Monastery: This historic complex in Quito’s historic center features a stunning baroque-style church, as well as a museum and library showcasing Ecuador’s colonial-era history and culture.
  • Teleférico (Quito Cable Car): This cable car offers breathtaking views of Quito and the surrounding Andean mountains, with a ride to the top of Pichincha volcano providing a unique perspective on the city.

Parks and Green Spaces

Quito is known for its stunning natural beauty and outdoor spaces, with a range of parks and green spaces offering opportunities for relaxation, recreation, and exploration. Here are some of the parks and green spaces worth visiting in Quito:

  • Parque Metropolitano (Metropolitan Park): This large park in the heart of Quito offers a variety of recreational opportunities, including hiking trails, picnic areas, and an animal sanctuary.
  • Parque La Carolina (Carolina Park): This expansive park in Quito’s modern center is popular with locals and visitors alike, with walking paths, sports facilities, and a lake for boating and fishing.
  • Jardín Botánico de Quito (Botanical Garden of Quito): This botanical garden showcases the diverse flora and fauna of Ecuador, with a collection of more than 1,200 plant species and a butterfly house.
  • Parque Bicentenario (Bicentennial Park): This park, located in Quito’s northern district, features a lake, playgrounds, and an outdoor amphitheater for concerts and events.
  • Parque El Ejido (El Ejido Park): This park in Quito’s historic center is a popular gathering spot for locals, with artisan markets, food stalls, and street performers.
  • Parque Itchimbía (Itchimbía Park): This park offers panoramic views of Quito’s historic center and features walking paths, a botanical garden, and an observation deck.
  • Reserva Ecológica Antisana (Antisana Ecological Reserve): This protected area outside of Quito offers opportunities for hiking, birdwatching, and wildlife spotting in a pristine Andean ecosystem.
  • Parque Nacional Cotopaxi (Cotopaxi National Park): This national park, located about an hour from Quito, is home to the Cotopaxi volcano and offers hiking trails, camping sites, and opportunities for horseback riding and mountain biking.

Shopping Districts

Quito offers a variety of shopping districts that cater to different tastes and interests. From artisan markets and boutique shops to modern malls and department stores, here are some of the shopping districts worth visiting in Quito:

  • Centro Histórico (Historic Center): Quito’s historic center is a hub of artisanal goods, with markets and shops selling handmade crafts, textiles, and jewelry. The Centro Artesanal La Mariscal is a popular spot for souvenir shopping.
  • La Mariscal: This trendy neighborhood in Quito’s modern center offers a mix of upscale boutiques, art galleries, and craft markets, as well as a lively nightlife scene.
  • Avenida Amazonas: This busy street in Quito’s modern center is home to a range of shops and boutiques, from international brands like Nike and Adidas to local designers and retailers.
  • Quicentro Shopping: This modern mall in Quito’s northern district features a variety of stores, restaurants, and entertainment options, including a cinema and an indoor amusement park.
  • Mercado Central: This bustling market in Quito’s historic center offers a taste of local life, with vendors selling fresh produce, meat, and seafood, as well as handmade crafts and souvenirs.
  • Plaza de San Francisco: Located in Quito’s historic center, this square is home to a variety of shops and boutiques, as well as the bustling San Francisco Market, which sells a range of goods from textiles to pottery.
  • Plaza de las Americas: This outdoor shopping center in Quito’s southern district features a variety of stores and restaurants, as well as a movie theater and a bowling alley.
  • El Bosque Shopping: This mall in Quito’s northern district offers a mix of local and international stores, as well as a food court and a cinema.

Food and Drink

Quito is known for its delicious and diverse cuisine, influenced by indigenous, Spanish, and other Latin American cultures. Here are some food and drinks to try when visiting Quito:

  • Locro: This traditional Ecuadorian soup is made with potatoes, cheese, and avocado, and is often served with crispy fried pork on the side.
  • Hornado: This popular Ecuadorian dish features roasted pork served with potatoes, corn, and a spicy aji sauce.
  • Ceviche: This dish is made with fresh raw fish or seafood marinated in citrus juices and spices, and is a favorite throughout Latin America.
  • Empanadas: These pastry pockets filled with meat, cheese, or vegetables are a popular snack or meal in Ecuador.
  • Churrasco: This dish features a thin-sliced grilled beef steak served with rice, beans, and fried plantains.
  • Canelazo: This warm drink made with cinnamon, sugar, and aguardiente (a local spirit) is a popular way to ward off the cold Andean nights.
  • Chicha: This fermented corn drink is a staple in many Andean cultures and can be found throughout Ecuador.
  • Ecuadorian chocolate: Ecuador is known for its high-quality cacao beans, and its chocolate is a must-try for any chocolate lover. Look for brands like Pacari and Hoja Verde in specialty shops and markets.


Quito has several transportation options for getting around the city. Here are some of the best ways to move around Quito:

  • Taxis: Taxis are a common mode of transportation in Quito, and can be hailed on the street or arranged through a hotel or taxi company. Be sure to negotiate the fare before getting in the taxi, as meters are not always used.
  • Public buses: Quito has an extensive public bus system that covers much of the city. Fares are inexpensive, and buses can be identified by their blue and yellow color scheme.
  • Ecovía: This bus rapid transit system runs along Quito’s main north-south axis and offers faster and more comfortable service than regular buses. Fares are slightly higher than regular buses.
  • Trolebús: This electric bus system runs along Quito’s central corridor and is another fast and efficient option for getting around the city.
  • Metro de Quito: Quito’s first metro line is currently under construction and is set to open in 2023. Once complete, it will provide a fast and modern transportation option for getting around the city.
  • Walking: Quito’s historic center is best explored on foot, as many of its streets are narrow and winding. Walking is also a great way to explore the city’s parks and neighborhoods.
  • Bike sharing: Quito has a bike sharing program called BiciQuito, which allows users to rent bikes at various locations throughout the city. This is a great option for exploring Quito’s parks and bike lanes.

City Safety

Quito, like any large city, has some safety concerns that visitors should be aware of. Petty theft and pickpocketing can be a problem, especially in crowded tourist areas, so it’s important to keep valuables secure and be aware of your surroundings. It’s also recommended to avoid walking alone at night, particularly in less crowded areas.

In recent years, Quito has made significant improvements in public safety, with increased police presence and the implementation of security measures such as closed-circuit cameras in some areas. The historic center of Quito is generally safe during the day, but visitors should exercise caution in some of the surrounding neighborhoods.

Overall, with proper precautions and common sense, most visitors to Quito can have a safe and enjoyable experience. It’s always a good idea to research the latest travel advisories and take necessary precautions when traveling to any destination.

Expensive or Cheap

Compared to other South American and major world cities, Quito, Ecuador can be considered relatively affordable. While prices can vary depending on your travel style and preferences, in general, Quito is less expensive than many other tourist destinations.

Accommodation in Quito can range from budget hostels to luxury hotels, with prices generally lower than those in major cities like New York or London. Food and drinks are also relatively inexpensive, with many affordable restaurants and street food vendors throughout the city. Local transportation options such as buses and taxis are also very affordable.

That being said, there are still high-end options available for those who prefer luxury accommodations or dining. It’s also worth noting that prices can increase during peak travel seasons or in more touristy areas.

Overall, Quito can be considered an affordable destination for travelers, particularly those on a budget.

Date Ideas

Quito offers plenty of romantic and unique date ideas for couples. Whether you’re looking for a low-key evening or a more adventurous outing, here are some date ideas to consider:

  • Dinner with a view: Many restaurants in Quito offer stunning views of the city and the surrounding Andes mountains. Head to a rooftop bar or restaurant for a romantic dinner with a view.
  • Explore the historic center: Take a stroll through Quito’s historic center and explore its colonial-era architecture, cobblestone streets, and quaint plazas. The city is especially magical at night when the buildings are illuminated.
  • Take a cable car ride: Take a ride on the Teleférico cable car, which offers breathtaking views of Quito and the surrounding mountains. Bring a picnic and enjoy a romantic meal with a view.
  • Visit a chocolate factory: Quito is known for its high-quality chocolate, so why not visit a local chocolate factory and learn about the chocolate-making process together? Many chocolate factories offer tours and tastings.
  • Take a salsa class: Quito has a vibrant salsa scene, and taking a class together is a fun and romantic way to learn a new skill and connect with each other.
  • Explore a local market: Visit one of Quito’s bustling markets, like Mercado Central or the Otavalo Market, and browse the stalls together. Try some local snacks, shop for souvenirs, and soak up the lively atmosphere.
  • Take a day trip: There are many beautiful destinations within easy reach of Quito, such as the hot springs at Papallacta, the cloud forest of Mindo, or the Cotopaxi National Park. Plan a day trip together and explore the beauty of Ecuador’s countryside.

Fun and Interesting Facts

Quito is a vibrant and fascinating city that offers a blend of modern amenities and colonial-era charm. Located in the heart of the Andes mountains, Quito is known for its stunning natural beauty, rich history and culture, and delicious cuisine.

Fun and interesting facts about Quito include:

  • Quito was founded in the 16th century by Spanish conquistadors, and was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1978.
  • Quito is one of the best-preserved historic centers in South America, with stunning colonial-era architecture and narrow cobblestone streets.
  • Quito is the highest capital city in the world, with an elevation of over 9,000 feet above sea level.
  • The historic center of Quito was one of the first places to be designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site, thanks to its well-preserved colonial architecture and cultural significance.
  • The equator runs through Ecuador, and the Mitad del Mundo monument just outside of Quito marks the spot where the northern and southern hemispheres meet.
  • Ecuador is known for its high-quality cacao beans, and Quito is home to some of the best chocolate makers in the world.
  • Quito has a thriving arts scene, with many galleries, museums, and cultural centers showcasing local and international artists.
  • Quito is home to some of the most beautiful churches in South America, including the Basilica del Voto Nacional and the Jesuit Church of La Compañía.
  • The Galapagos Islands, a world-renowned destination for wildlife viewing, are part of Ecuador and can be reached by air from Quito.

In conclusion, Quito, Ecuador is a city with a rich history, stunning natural beauty, and vibrant culture that makes it an exciting destination for travelers. Whether you’re interested in exploring the historic center, trying delicious local cuisine, or taking in the breathtaking views from the surrounding mountains, Quito has something for everyone.