Ecuador’s capital city of Quito is considered to have one of the best preserved historical centers in the world. Quito’s elevation comes in just shy of 10,000 feet (2850 meters), giving it the unique distinction of also being the highest capital city in the world. This South American colonial beauty stretches along the Guayllabamba river basin below the Andes, with the city’s border coming very close to the actual equator (ecuador means equator in Spanish)
Like many people visiting Ecuador, our international flight landed us in Quito and we used this lovely city as our base to explore the Andean Highlands (Hacienda Zuleta), the Cloud Forest (Mashpi Lodge) and finally the Galapagos. With just a short time in the city, we set out to discover the most awesome things to do in Quito for kids. Here is what we found !
Things to do in Quito, Ecuador with Kids
Explore Old Town Quito
Take a wander around Quito’s Historical Center, Old Town, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Stroll through Plaza San Francisco, admire the ornate gold interior of Iglesia de La Compañía de Jesús, wave to the president while watching the changing of the guard at Carondelet Palace (Mondays 11am) and buy handicrafts or enjoy a snack along pedestrian-only Calle La Ronda.
Teleférico de Quito Gondola
Take a ride up the TelefériQo gondola for an incredible view of the city from almost 13,000 feet (3947 meters). From the top, you can go even higher with the Ruca Pichincha hike, which takes most trekkers about 3 to 4 hours round trip. Dress appropriately, as the weather atop Pichincha Volcano can be unpredictable, averaging about 6˚C (44˚F) year-round. Quito is often shrouded in clouds by mid-afternoon so you are best to take the gondola in the morning (shorter lines too).
It might be difficult to visit the Teleférico Gondola without your kids noticing the nearby Vulcano Amusement Park (Vulqano Park), conveniently located at the base of Pichincha Volcano. With a beautiful view of Quito (when the weather is clear), the site hast more than 20 different attractions, including roller coasters, swings, carousels and games.
Learn more at: http://www.vulqanopark.com
Mitad del Mundo
Although a little on the touristy side, if you want that family photo with one foot in each hemisphere, the Middle of the World in Quito is the place.This historic site and towering monument marks the location where a French explorer calculated the equatorial line back in 1736. Sadly, modern technology has determined that the actual equator is 150m away. If you want to get it technically correct, visit the nearby Intinan Museum which is actually on the line and offers some interactive exhibits and fun scientific experiments. Mitad del Mundo has several restaurants, a model of colonial Quito, a museum and a planetarium where you can learn about Ecuador’s indigenous history and unique geographical location.
Quito Parks and Zoos
If you need a place for your kids to get their beans out and enjoy a nice stroll, check out the recently remodeled Parque La Carolina (soccer fields, botanical gardens, pedal boats and more). Tie in your visit to the park with a stop at the nearby Vivarium to see exhibits including snakes, lizards and turtles. The Mundo Juvenil planetarium is also close by.
The Quito Zoo (Zoologico de Quito) is home to over 130 animals native to Ecuador (many that have been rescued), included the elusive Andean Spectacled Bear, the famous Galapagos Tortoise, jaguars and as well as many species of birds native to South America. Please note that it takes about 30 minutes to get to the zoo by car/taxi.
Museo Interactivo de Ciencia – Quito Science Museum
With fun, hands-on experiments, this interactive science museum is sure to keep kids entertained for hours. Although the instructions and commentary on the exhibits are in Spanish, many of the staff members speak English and can help you along. As it can sometimes be challenging to get a taxi to pick you up here, you may want to arrange your return transportation ahead of time.
Where to Stay in Quito, Ecuador
We were fortunate enough to stay at what is considered to be the best hotel in Quito (and often ranks as one of the top hotels in the world) — the gorgeous Casa Gangotena. This beautifully restored luxury boutique hotel is located in the heart of Old Town Quito, just a short walk from many of the city’s top sights. The rooms are elegantly appointed, service is top notch, and the restaurant, simply excellent. Enjoying my morning coffee with my children from the rooftop terrace overlooking Plaza San Francisco is one of my favourite memories of Quito. For rates and availability, please see the Casa Gangotena website.
You can also see more of Casa Gangotena and Old Quito in this short Youtube video.
What Else You Should Know About Quito
Quito has two seasons — dry (June to Sept.) and wet (Oct to May). It has a subtropical highland climate with an average temperature of 66°F (19°C) in the day and 50°F (10°C) at night. For visitors, this generally means that you should be prepared for cool temperatures, and pack accordingly (especially if you plan on going to higher altitudes such as to the top of the Teleférico Gondola).
Altitude Sickness in Quito
As Quito’s elevations is just under 10,000 feet above sea level, some people may experience some mild symptoms of altitude sickness on the first day or two including a headaches, nausea, and insomnia. Drink lots of water, avoid alcohol and try not to overexert yourself. With that in mind, you may want to schedule any hikes or excursions to higher elevations for several days after your arrival.
Safety in Quito
Ecuador has a relatively high crime rate, and safety precautions should be taken. Keep your valuables locked up in your hotel safe, do not wander around on your own (especially at night), and only take registered taxi cabs, preferably called by your hotel. Personally, I like to check the U.S. Department of State website (under Traveler Alerts and Warnings) before most of my travels. If your country has an embassy in Quito, you can also check their website for specific issues.
Note: For example, our trip coincided with the lead up to a presidential election in Ecuador and we were advised that there could potentially be protests around the city (although we did not see any).
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