Sitting at nearly 9,350 feet above sea level, Quito, Ecuador, is the second highest capital in the world after La Paz, Bolivia. Quito sits right in the Andes mountain range and is encircled by a ring of volcanoes. If you’re willing to take few steep hikes and breathless journeys, the combination of altitude and surrounding natural beauty makes for amazing vantage points within the city. Here are the five best places to take in the sights of Quito.
1. Basílica del Voto Nacional
The Basílica del Voto Nacional is a neo-Gothic church located in Old Town from where you’ll get fantastic views of the surrounding historic part of the city. Make sure you go in around the back to buy your ticket for the tower as they’re not sold at the main entrance. The journey up to the top of the Basílica is navigated via an outdoor staircase, which will certainly get your heart pumping if you don’t like heights. If you can face your fears and tackle the ascent, you certainly won’t regret it.
Take a cable car to the top of the city for some stunning views of both Quito and the surrounding volcanoes. The TelefériQo, one of the highest cable cars in the world, will take you up to an impressive 12,900 feet. On a clear day, it is possible to see the snow-capped peaks of both Cotopaxi and Chimborazo, the highest mountain in Ecuador. As if these views weren’t good enough, a set of swings has been installed for you to have some childish fun while enjoying the view. Just remember to give yourself a couple of days in Quito to acclimatize to the altitude before heading up there.
3. Itchimbia Park
If you’re looking for a chill afternoon in the sun, head to Itchimbia Park; it’s the perfect spot to relax with a book and take in the impressive panoramic views of Quito (you can even see as far as the TelefériQo on a clear day). Embrace the tourist within you and take a selfie in the “Q” of the iconic Quito sign. Relaxing around this part is generally pretty quiet until the nearby school lets out.
4. El Panecillo
Make a visit to La Virgen del Panecillo for a gorgeous view of the city below. El Panecillo literally translates to “small bread,” which is said to represent the shape of the hilltop. The sculpture of the Virgin Mary that resides here is said to bless those within her sights with good fortune while the side of the city behind her is neglected. (It has been said that this is a representation of wealth inequality in the city.) The statue is so huge (134-feet tall) that it actually surpasses the height of Christ the Redeemer in Rio de Janeiro. When traveling to El Panecillo, the safest option is to get a taxi or Uber; the walk up is known for muggers who specifically target tourists.
5. San Juan
This is a little off the beaten tourist track, but that makes it a refreshing alternative to the other places on this list. Head on up to the San Juan neighborhood and make your way to the pedestrian footbridge near the gym. This quiet corner of town offers a peaceful place to take in the views of the historical center, undisrupted by hordes of tourists. It’s a great place to watch the sunset on a clear day as the mountains make for a dramatic backdrop.