6 mins

5 cultural highlights of Quito, Ecuador

There's more to Ecuador than the Galápagos Islands, you know. Delve into Quito's unique markets, artisan shops and thriving foodie scene...

5 cultural highlights of Quito Ecuador

1. San Francisco Market

This busy marketplace has kept Quito's kitchens well-stocked for 120 years – everyone from local mums to professional chefs shop here for their fruits, vegetables and herbs. There are over 100 vendors, juice bars and food stalls, so you can stock up on raw ingredients or tuck into freshly-made snacks – you'll find us gorging on tamales and tortillas de maiz.

The market is also a hub for healing – everything from nightmares to spiritual ills can be treated by its healers. You'll find locals queuing around the block for herbal pills, incantations and stinging nettle whipping (ouch) – particularly on Tuesdays and Fridays, which are considered most auspicious for treatments.

2. La Ronda

This cobbled quarter has always been a meeting place for creatives – it's the artistic hub of the city and one of its oldest streets. Here you'll find artisans crafting spinning tops and wooden dolls, vendors making empanadas and fruit juices (try the sweet, tangy naranjilla juice), and tiny shops selling gourmet chocolates and coffee blends.

At night, La Ronda really comes alive: in its many restaurants and bars you can feast on traditional Ecuadorian cuisine while musicians and dancers stomp out authentic beats in the street. If you've only got one evening in the city, spend it here. It's a great spot for photographers, too.

3. Craft breweries

Over the last few years, Quito has turned its hand to brewing – and beer is fast turning into Ecuador's national drink (although we'll always have a soft spot for canelazo, the warm, spicy traditional tipple of choice).

Over 50 different brands and breweries have popped up in and around Quito – some of them small businesses, some of them created in local homes. Rumour has it, the old brewery of the Monastery of San Francisco is being revamped – soon you'll be able to sip beer inspired by the 300-year-old original brew, just like the monks used to make.

4. The middle of the world

Quito's latitude is 0-0’-0’’ – officially the middle of the world. The actual 'middle' is in San Antonio de Pichincha, eight miles from Quito – and there's plenty of photo fun to be had here. Get a picture with one foot in the southern hemisphere and the other foot in the northern hemisphere, and take panoramic snaps from the observation deck.

Monument Mitad del Mundo near Quito (Shutterstock)
Monument Mitad del Mundo near Quito (Shutterstock)

There's also the Ethnographic Museum where you can learn about the traditions of Ecuador, plus a planetarium and Insectarium – even after the novelty of being slap-bang in the middle of the world has worn off, this is a fun spot to spend the afternoon.

5. La Mariscal

Busy with bars, restaurants, cafés and shops, La Mariscal is Quito's 'hipster' quarter – full of arty, trendy young things. There's a real buzz about keeping the city's traditional crafts and cultures alive, and here you'll see how it's blending modern styles with authentic customs.

Ecuadorian food served with an international cocktail menu; locally-grown coffee roasted and pressed into lattes and cappuccinos... If you want a taste of the future of vibrant Quito, you'll find it right here – as well as a colourful crop of boutique hotels.

Images courtesy Visit Quito, unless otherwise stated.

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