Quito, Ecuador Travel: Best Things to Do with Kids

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All travel to Ecuador begins and ends in Quito, Ecuador. This capital city sits at an elevation of 9,350’, nestled in the towering Andean Mountains. On one side, Volcano Guagua Pichincha rises high above the city and on the other, Panecillo and Ichimbia. Enveloped in the long narrow crease between these mountains is a city with origins dating back to the Incan empire.

Quito Travel with Kids
Photo by LiLing Pang

Many visitors to Quito barely spend a full day scratching the surface of this remarkable city. However, it’s a huge mistake to gloss over Quito in your eagerness to fly on to the Galapagos. I was fortunate enough to meet our friend Jorge Perez. His family owns an Ecuadorian guest ranch called Tierra Del Volcan at the foothills of Cotopaxi. He encouraged us to spend more time in the Andes as their guest. We were also fortunate to have been able to experience Ecuador working with Metropolitan Touring, an Ecuadorian-owned full-service travel operator. They provided us with significant discounts to experience their properties and tours.

What Makes Quito, Ecuador Such a Special City?

Quito Ecuador - A UNESCO World Heritage Site
Photo by Brennan Pang

When Spanish conquistadors discovered Quito, they too were wowed by its beauty. This mountainous area is a place of stunning beauty with steep streets, staircases, and homes stacked one on top of the other. The city sprawls up the hillsides from the central artery of the city, Mariscal Sucre Street. Building a colonial city on this terrain offered many challenges. Nonetheless, the Spanish brought their European city planning sensibilities and erected a network of narrow streets and spacious colonial squares. The architectural style of the historic district is unique to Quito. It is described as the “Baroque School of Quito”. Old town Quito was designated a UNESCO world heritage site in 1978.

Quito Ecuador Travel: Things to Do with Kids
Photo by Brennan Pang

Walking through the Old Town District, you might think you were in a European town. But the next moment, you are mingling with locals clothed in traditional Ecuadorian dress and surrounded by shops packed with local wares. This is the charm of Ecuador. It is a delightful juxtaposition of old and new, tribal and colonial, highlands and oceans. The list of dynamic contrasts is endless. A large part of a visiting Quito is just about being in a very unique place. We loved people watching in her squares, exploring down her narrow streets, and digging deeper.


1) Roam the Streets of Old Town Quito, Ecuador like a Local

Walking the streets of Old Town Quito
Photo by: Brennan Pang

Old Town Quito isn’t just one big history museum. Its narrow streets are packed with locals going about their everyday lives. The ground floors of the 3-4 story buildings have little storefronts selling everything under the sun. From huge bags of colorful potatoes to bundles of herbs in every strange scent. Crafts people make and sell embroidered shoes, felt hats, and religious icons. Weaving between the cars and people along these tight streets makes entering one of the spacious colonial squares a delight. The squares are lined with street vendors selling seasonal fruit, quail eggs, or a shoe shine.

Old Town Quito Ecuador Hat Shop
Photo by: Brennan Pang

You can certainly roam the streets of Old Town Quito on your own, but I highly recommend Metropolitan Touring’s “Live Quito Like a Local” walking tour. We met up with a local host who lives in Old Town Quito and she took us to visit her friends. We got to learn about their businesses and way of life. Without her, we might have felt too shy to stop at many of these places. This included the only remaining flour mill in the city where farmers still bring small batches of grain to be milled every day. We also visited a family who repairs religious statues, a craft passed down from generation to generation.

2) Climb the Spires of Basílica del Voto Nacional and Search for Animal Gargoyles

Basilica de Voto Nacional - Quito, EcuadorWith over 200 churches and religious buildings in one city, it would be overwhelming for kids to visit more than a handful. Basicilica de Voto Nacional is a must see. Our kids loved the adrenaline rush of climbing up to the very tippy top of a church spire. All the while, keeping their eyes peeled for animal gargoyles featuring local Ecuadorian wildlife. If you have little ones, keep a close eye on them and skip climbing to the very top where ladders get super steep. I confess, my knees were shaking and I was glad for an excuse to stay with our 5-year-old.


3) Learn to Spin a Wooden Top and Enjoy some of the World’s Best Chocolate in La Rhonda

Quito: La Rhonda Wooden Tops Shop
Photo by: Brennan Pang

A stroll down Juan de Dios Morales Street is a walk down history lane. Also known as La Rhonda, this street was once an old Incan trail that was used to transport water to homes from a nearby creek. But in more recent history, La Rhonda gained a reputation as the Bohemian district where the fringes of society reside. This area, once in disrepair, has received a face lift. It is now home to boutique hotels, clubs, novelty stores, and trendy restaurants. A visit with kids must include a stop at Heladería Dulce Placer and a visit to the award-winning Pacari chocolate factory. Then stop at the delightful Zabalartes toy store. You’ll find a wide selection of handcrafted tops and wooden toys and the kids can learn how to spin a top.


 4) Visit the Quito Central Market to Enjoy an Exotic Local Fruit

Quito Central Market - Chickens
Photo by: Brennan Pang

The center of any city is the market, and in Quito, this is where the locals shop for their food. Our kids always love tasting exotic looking local fruit and looking at funny things like chickens with feet sticking up in the air. There are also a few traditional healers in the central market selling a wide array of medicinal herbs to cure any manner of spiritual or physical ailment.


5) Get a Herbal Cleansing (limpiadores) from a Traditional Female Healer

Quito Travel - Herbal Cleansing Limpiadores
Photo by: Brennan Pang

When local Ecuadorians have a spiritual or physical ailment, they don’t go rushing off to the doctor’s office. Instead, they first visit a curandero, a traditional female healer who can cleanse you with a combination of “magical” plants. She learns her craft from her mother and the knowledge is passed down from one generation to the next. The walls of her store are lined with cubbies stuffed with bunches of fresh herbs. And she seems to be a lexicon of healing properties locked within each herb. A cleansing involves her rubbing these herbs all over your skin and may even include a prescription for a bitter concoction to drink. Our son who had been having a stomachache was thrust into her care. He wasn’t so amused, but we were.


6) Visit the Winged Virgin at the Top of Quito El Panecillo

Quito Ecuador - The Winged Angle at Panecillo
Photos by flickr/boyd1960

It’s hard to miss the huge statue of the winged virgin on a hill from just about anywhere in Quito. Standing at an impressive 135ft (41m) tall, you’ll see that she is crowned with stars, angelic wings, and is standing on a snake. You’ll also be rewarded with one of the best 360-degree views of picturesque Quito and her surrounding volcanoes. Visit in the morning when you are least likely to have clouds obscuring your views. The walk up the little bun (Panecillo) is a bit much for the kids, and some say it can be dangerous, so take a taxi up.


7) Ride into the Clouds on the Pichincha Teleférico

Quito Travel - Pichincha Teleférico, Cable Car
Photo by: Bigstock/Alanbrito

This high altitude cable car ride will take you from to 9,514’ to 13,451’ in 18 minutes. It’s a thrill to ride up on this steep cable car and an opportunity to say you’ve been above 13,000’. At the top of the Teleférico, there are hiking trails and inexpensive horseback rides to enjoy the views. There could not be a more spectacular place on earth to enjoy a horseback ride. Be prepared for the high altitude. Drink lots of water, apply sunscreen, and bring extra layers to keep you warm.


8) Visit a Gold-gilded Church – Ingelsia de la Compañía de Jesús

Compañía de Jesús quito photo
Photo by Flickr/twiga_swala

The other church that grabbed our kids’ attention is the gold-gilded Ingelsia de la Compañía de Jesús, Quito. Entry is free, but photography inside the church is not allowed. This ornate baroque-style church was built in 1605 by the Jesuits and took 163 years to build. A full restoration in 2006 included the addition of 7 tons of gold leaf. The kids were very impressed by all the bling.


9) See Some Old money at Museo Numismática Banco Central

Quito Banco photo
Photo by San Diego Air & Space Museum Archives

Our kids were surprised to discover that Ecuador uses the American dollar after it abandoned its own currency. It was a result of a severe financial crisis in 2000. One place you can still see an Ecuadorian Sucre (pictured above) is at the Museo Numismática Banco Central (Numismatic Museum) in Quito, located in the former Banco Central del Ecuador in Old Town Quito. All the informational placards are in Spanish, but it was still interesting to see the currencies dating back to the Spanish conquest.


10 ) Visit the Home of a National Hero – Museo Casa de Sucre

Quito Ecuador - Museo Casa de Sucre Courtyard
By David Adam Kess [CC BY-SA 4.0 , from Wikimedia Commons
It’s hard not to be curious about what’s behind those small doors as you walk through Old Town Quito. If you are lucky, you might catch a glimpse of some beautiful Spanish courtyards. If you are really curious about getting behind those secretive doors, you can visit José Antonio Sucre’s House. Sucre is a national hero for his role in liberating South America from Spanish occupation. His house, La Casa de Sucre, in Old Town Quito is now a museum furnished as he would have had it in the 1820’s.


11) Go Underground into the Burial Crypt at Metropolitana de Quito

Metropolitana de Quito photo
Photo by Flickr/jipe7

Quito is home to numerous monasteries, convents, churches, and grand cathedrals. The magnificent Catedral Metropolitana de Quito (Cathedral of Quito), allows you to descend underground into a catacomb crypt and take a tour with a friar. Thread through tight passageways up to the roof for a stunning view of Quito. The national hero Antonio José de Sucre is buried here.


12) Dine on a Rooftop to the Twinkling Lights of Quito

Quito, Ecuador Travel: Best Things to Do with Kids 2

A fun way to experience Quito with kids is dining on the rooftop at the Vista Hermosa restaurant in the Old Town district. Ride up to the rooftop in an old elevator and be greeted by wait staff with elaborately painted faces. The menu has local favorites as well as kid-favorites like pizza and pasta.


13) Stand at the Center at of the Earth at the Equatorial Divide

mitad del mundo photo
Photo by Flickr/Freejpg.com.ar

Apparently finding the exact line of the equatorial divide isn’t the easiest thing in the world. At Mitad del Mundo, the official monument was erected. However, with the arrival of GPS technology, it was confirmed that the real equatorial divide is actually a few hundred meters up the street next to the Museo de Sitio Intiñan (Intinan Solar Museum). It is a fun place to visit with kids because of the hands-on experiments that demonstrate some of the unique phenomenon that happens at the equator, including the Coriolis effect. The museum also features a few exhibits about native peoples of the Andes.


14) Go where the local families love to hang out

Yaku Parque Museo del Agua just outside of Quito
Photo courtesy of: Yaku Parque Museo del Agua

We always love getting off the tourist track, so I asked the Perez family to share some places that local families enjoy.

Yaku Parque Museo Del Agua (Yaku Water Museum), has one of the best views of old town Quito. It is fun for the children because they have the opportunity to learn about the water cycle in the Andes in a very interactive way. The giant soap bubbles are at Zoológico de Quito (Quito Zoo), but it’s also a fun place to try some local fruits which are plentiful in this area. The Quito Zoo is a good place for kids to get up close to animals from the Andes and the Amazon Basin.”

Where to stay in Quito
Day Trips from Quito

Most visitors visiting Quito will want to stay in the Old Town historic district for easy walking access to the main attractions. But Quito does have pretty good public transportation if you choose to stay further out.

Hotel Gangotena – Family-friendly luxury hotel

Hotel Casa Gangotena Patio in Quito Ecuador
Photo by: Brennan Pang

Located in the heart of Old Town Quito is the elegant Hotel Casa Gangotena. This is a luxury boutique hotel on Plaza San Francisco. The hotel carries the weight of Ecuadorian history. Its last residents were a pair of sisters of the wealthy Gangotena family. Walking through the doors of Casa Gangotena into her sun-soaked lobby makes you feel like royalty.

Each of the 31 rooms has a slightly different floor plan, some with king-size beds, others with two queen beds, and a couple of junior and full suites. Families with little ones will love that there are adjoining rooms as well. Each room is spacious with high ceilings. Large windows bring in natural Andean sunlight, while the plush carpet, upholstery, and linens complete the picture. The spacious bathroom, features white and gray marble which shimmers in the sunlight pouring through tall windows.

Sometimes families can feel uncomfortable with their children in such an elegant hotel, but not at Casa Gangotena. Ecuadorians love children, and the staff was warm and friendly with our kids. Whether you end up staying at Hotel Gangotena or not, you might want to come for their famous high tea or have dinner at the restaurant. The gastronomic director, Byron Rivera, is the mastermind behind a menu that pushes Ecuadorian cooking and local ingredients beyond traditional boundaries. This marriage of Spanish and Ecuadorian cuisine, elevated by modern cooking techniques, is what he calls “cocina mestiza.”

Check Availability at Hotel Casa Gangotena

Hotel Casa Gardenia – Mid-range boutique hotel

Our friends, the Perez’s, recommend Hotel Casa Gardenia as a reliable mid-range hotel. This is another old home near the historic district that has been fully renovated with modern furnishing and amenities but still retains a flavor of the past. It’s a small boutique property with personalized service.

Hotel Boutique Portal de Cantuña – Historical and Affordable Hotel

Located conveniently steps away from San Francisco square, this small hotel exudes character. It is a traditional baroque-style home transformed into a guest house. The family that owns this hotel is warm and hospitable. The rooms open into a central courtyard. There is not much privacy and the rooms are a little rustic, but it’s a delightful place to stay if you’re looking for affordable and charming accommodation. It’s not a great option if your kids are really rowdy or noise sensitive.

Book Now at Hotel Boutique Portal de Cantuña

El Porvenir Guest Ranch in South of Quito Ecuador
Photo by Brennan Pang

Be an Andean Cowboy for a day – South

One of our favorite experiences in Ecuador was the weekend we spent at Hacienda El Porvenir guest ranch at the foothills of Cotopaxi Volcano. This old family ranch belongs to the Perez family who was responsible for enticed us to visit Ecuador. We are so grateful that they did because the weekend we spent discovering our inner “Chagra” (Ecuadorian cowboy) was utterly surreal.

Visit Cotopaxi National Park – South

To the South of Quito and rising 19,347’ above sea level is Cotopaxi Volcano. This national park preserves a landscape of extremes and is the furthest thing you’d imagined of a place sitting on the equator. As climb in elevation, the trees get thinner and thinner, and so does the air. When you enter the park, wild horses greet you as they scrounge for food between the rocks and small shrubs. What a contrast this highland volcano is to the volcanic islands of the Galapagos!

Otavalo Artisan Market North of Quito
Photo by: Brennan Pang


Visit the colorful artisan market at Otavalo – North

To the north of Quito in the Imbabura province, one of the largest and most spectacular artisan markets in South America. Saturday is the busiest market day, but even on the weekdays, there is plenty to see and buy. Stalls are lined with colorful fabrics, blankets, and shawls weaved from the finest alpaca wool. Our kids could not stop touching the adorable stuffed animals made out of alpaca. From jewelry to leather goods, the Imbabura district is dotted with other little towns that specialize in particular crafts.

Spend a couple of Days in Ecuadorian Cloud Forest

Many visitors to Ecuador have the Amazonian rainforest on their bucket list, but for families, especially those with young children, will find a visit to Mashpi Reserve a delightful alternative. It’s just a 2.5 drive north of Quito, but you feel like you’re in the middle of nowhere. It’s a bird lover’s paradise, and Mashpi Lodge, one of National Geographic’s Unique Lodges of the world, makes this little pocket of Ecuador a sanctuary for animals, and families.


Feature Image by bigstock/alessandro pinto

About the author

LiLing Pang is Co-founder and CEO of Trekaroo . She is a mom to two boys and a girl and recently traveled through Central America. Together with her husband, Brennan Pang, they hatched the idea of Trekaroo one summer day along the California coast while searching for the best kid-friendly tide pool near La Jolla with their curious 2 and a half year old.