One Day in Quito – Planning and Research
I’m a big believer in arriving to a location at least 24 hours early in case you run into any flight issues.
When planning my Galapagos trip, I had a mid-morning flight from Quito, Ecuador to the Galapagos so it made sense to arrive the day before.
Thanks to an 11 pm arrival time, I had exactly one day in Quito to explore as a solo traveler.
Since I only had one day, I narrowed the list of must-see areas and tried to find a hotel centrally located.
As I researched, I decided that while I would be comfortable exploring Old Town Quito during the day, I did not want to stay there overnight.
Nearby residential areas have hotels that blend into the neighborhoods. I could take a taxi to Old Town Quito in the morning and then return to the hotel and safely walk to great restaurants nearby.
When I arrived at the hotel, I easily checked in and explored my very cute room.
I found the term hostel confusing in Quito. It seemed to be used to describe small, neighborhood hotels. You have your own room with private bath, there’s a front desk with someone manning it, and a full breakfast.
My room had sliding glass doors that led to a beautiful courtyard. If I had more time, I definitely would have enjoyed breakfast outside.
My room was furnished with old Ecuadorian style furniture and a very comfortable queen size bed. The huge bathroom also appeared clean yet old style.
Everything was very clean and I felt safe there.
In the morning, I enjoyed breakfast of fruit, yogurt, and eggs made to order with some incredibly strong coffee.
Before heading out, I stopped at the front desk. I was lucky to find a woman who spoke English fluently.
Understanding I was a solo traveler and only had one day in Quito, she tweaked my travel plans a bit to make sure I made the most of my time.
After handing me a map with her suggestions circled, she identified the neighborhoods I should stay out of and told me how to identify a licensed taxi.
Old Town Quito – History
My adventure began in Old Town Quito. Quito is a UNESCO World Heritage site based in large part on the old downtown historic district.
According to the UNESCO website, the city was first founded in 1534 by the Spanish and built on the ruins of an Inca city.
Even with the 1917 earthquake, the area is the least altered historic center in Latin America.
They are proud that the downtown configuration is nearly identical to the original plan for the city designed in 1734.
Touring Old Town Quito
The taxi dropped me off alongside Plaza de la Independencia, commonly called Plaza Grande, the main square. It’s a small square with a park-like area in the middle.
The Presidential Palace lines one street, the Metropolitan cathedral another and the remaining two streets have government buildings and businesses.
In the center of the square is the Heroes de la Independencia monument which honors those who fought in the war of independence from Spain.
Just a block away are fabulous churches including La Compania de Jesus. The entire interior is plated in gold including the ornate pillars, windows, stations of the cross, et cetera.
Pictures are not allowed inside the church and quite honestly the only way to really understand the magnificence is to visit in person.
After visiting the churches, I turned to the surrounding narrow streets lined with colorful buildings. Vendors have their doors and windows open to entice you to purchase.
I wandered up Calle La Ronda, a cobblestone pedestrian-only street. The street is lined with art galleries, small shops, and cafes.
As you walk the streets, take the time to look at the buildings. The architecture dates back to pre-Columbian times and Ecuador has taken great strides to maintain the history of the area.
I ended up atop a hill in the Plaza San Francisco, home to Iglesia y Convento de San Francisco (the Church and Convent of San Francisco).
From the plaza, there is a good view of El Panecillo, a large hill you can see from miles away. While I didn’t have time to visit, I could clearly view the tall stone monument of a Madonna with wings that sits atop the area.
Modern Downtown Quito
I wish I had more than one day in Quito to visit a few of the many museums in the Old Town area.
With only a few hours left, I followed the advice from the hotel and grabbed a taxi to the botanical gardens which were amazing.
It’s a really beautiful outdoor setting where you walk along a natural path. There’s a lake with lily pads, fields of wildflowers and small buildings that are greenhouses with exotic plants.
One of the buildings was specific to carnivorous plants. It was a bit creepy but pretty awesome. I spent about an hour viewing the various ecosystems, then walked around a local park.
The park was large with a lot of green space. Several local residents appeared to make use of the area after work for walking, running, and just relaxing.
It was getting late so I grabbed a taxi back to my hotel.
Wrapping up my trip in Quito
Once back, I washed up and then headed out to explore the neighborhood.
Unfortunately, I did not follow the advice of the front desk and go to the restaurant up the street. I had to be all exotic and head to the local food truck rodeo.
It was okay, but not great. I regretted not getting a good meal when I went back past the recommended restaurant and saw all the happy people there with wine.
In the morning, my taxi to the airport was ready at zero-dark-thirty courtesy of the hotel staff. They even had a small sandwich ready for me to eat on the way.
I had a great day exploring Quito. I’m glad I took the time to explore such a historic area.
Things to Note
It was easy to navigate Quito as a solo traveler and I felt safe with the guidelines I had in place.
Knowing places to avoid and staying in a residential area overnight were both good decisions.
Taxi drivers in Quito do not appear to have or use GPS devices or phones for directions. Even though I had the address for the hotel, my driver didn’t know where it was and had to ask a few people.
Be careful about unlicensed taxis in Quito. Be sure to ask the staff where you’re staying how to identify licensed vehicles.
Make sure your driver turns the meter on when you get in the taxi. Some will not and try to just name a price. If they don’t turn it on, either negotiate the price upfront or leave the car.
In Plaza Grande, the taxis line up on a street and there are multiple police officers there so you can feel good about getting into a taxi there.
On your own, head to a local hotel or restaurant and ask them to call for one. Even though you are not a guest, most are happy to assist.
Police presence is strong in Plaza Grande but still, hang on to your belongings. I would not recommend a backpack. Don’t flaunt cash or electronic devices.
I opted to avoid empty streets (Safety Tip #6). There is likely nothing to see and it didn’t feel safe.
The crowded areas along the streets with churches, museums, and local businesses felt safe and I had no concerns walking in those areas.