Shouts of “one dollar, one dollar, one dollar,” bounce off the cobbled streets in Quito’s Old Town. Female peddlers wearing traditional Ecuadorian felt hats sell fresh fruit, cold drinks, and corn served dried, popped, or roasted on the cob. Most of the items for sale on the streets in the UNESCO World Heritage Site are $1 US or less.
Lonely Planet just recognized Ecuador as one of the Best in Travel 2019 Best Value destinations. We spent almost a month traveling through Ecuador and stayed in Quito with our kids three times.
If you are travelling to Ecuador, you will likely stop in Quito at least once. Ecuador’s capital is a hub for flights between North America and a gateway for travel to Galápagos, Cotopaxi National Park, and the Ecuadorian cloud forest. We discovered that Quito is much more than a layover city, and exploring Quito with kids is fun and affordable.
Each time we visited Quito, we stayed in the walkable Old Town, also known as the Centro Histórico. It is considered to be the best-preserved historic centre in Latin America, and it’s an excellent base for exploring Quito with kids. In the colourful Old Town, flower-filled plazas invite you to linger, church towers stretch towards the Andean blue sky, and plentiful street vendors ensure you won’t be hungry.
To get you started on planning your family vacation in the second highest (2850 m) capital city in the world, here are ten fun and affordable things to do in Old Town Quito with kids.
1. Get Some Perspective at Centro Cultural Metropolitano
Begin your explorations of Quito’s Old Town at the Centro Cultural Metropolitano. Inside the lobby of this renovated historic site, an interactive diorama provides a unique perspective on Quito’s Old Town.
After studying an early layout of the Old Town, visit the glass-covered courtyard, temporary art exhibits and look over the city from the rooftop at Centro Cultural Metropolitano. Admission is free.
2. See the Most Beautiful Church in Ecuador, the Jesuit Church (Iglesia de la Compañía de Jesús)
Considered to be the most beautiful church in Ecuador, the interior of the Iglesia de la Compañía de Jesús is covered in gold-leaf. It’s a spectacular church. There is a $5 fee to enter the church. However, free guided tours are available in English and Spanish. Visitors aren’t allowed to take photos inside the church.
3. Relax at Plaza Grande
Palm trees, flowers, and stone benches surround a monument in honour of Ecuador’s Independence Day in picturesque Plaza Grande. Also known as Plaza de la Independencia, this expansive plaza in considered to be the heart of the Old Town.
4. Follow the Money at the Numismatic Museum (Currency Museum)
Tour the building once occupied by the Central Bank of Ecuador and learn about the history of Ecuador’s currency, the Sucre, and the eventual adoption of the U.S. dollar in 2000. A children’s area is available for younger kids. Admission to the Numismatic Museum is $1 US for adults and $.25 US for children.
5. Indulge at Isveglio Cafe & Pacari Chocolate
Enjoy two of life’s pleasures – artisanal coffee and award-winning chocolate – in one location when you are exploring Quito’s Old Town with kids.
On the top level, sample Ecuador’s coffee culture at Isveglio Cafe while the kids enjoy steamed milk (with or without chocolate). To get to the 2nd level cafe, walk through the tempting street level Pacari chocolate shop. Pacari organic chocolate is made using unique ingredients like rose petals and Ecuador’s finest cacao.
6. Shop at Quito’s Oldest Market, Mercado San Francisco
Established in 1893, San Francisco Market (Mercado San Francisco) was Quito’s first official market. This market continues to serve as a central location for locals to purchase produce, meat, juice (.50 cents/glass), and Andean traditional medicine.
Mercado San Francisco is an excellent place to purchase and sample a selection of Ecuador’s colourful fruit. Look for guaba fruit, a fat green pod filled with large seeds covered in a white pulp. Also known as the ice cream bean, most people suck the sweet pulp off the bean and spit out the seed.
7. Visit the First Church in Ecuador, the Church and Convent of San Francisco (Iglesia y Convento de San Francisco)
Constructed between 1534 and 1680, the San Francisco Church is known as the birthplace of Catholicism in Quito. Extensive gold leaf, massive murals, and retablos (paintings near and behind an altar) adorn the San Francisco Church.
As a hotel guest at nearby Casa Gangotena, we enjoyed private access to the San Francisco Church and a personal tour with a Franciscan monk. Today, about thirty monks reside at the religious complex. We climbed to the roof via a narrow staircase inside one of the two towers. From here, the view is stunning.
8. Discover Fair-Trade at Tianguez Cafe and Shop
Located in the arches fronting the San Francisco Church, Tianguez means “market” in an old Quito dialect. The shop sells fair-trade items from Ecuadorian artisans. Before or after shopping, enjoy a meal inside or on the terrace overlooking Plaza San Francisco. The quimbolitos (Ecuadorian sweet tamales) are excellent.
9. See the Soldiers at the Presidential Palace
Stop at the Presidential Palace and take a peek inside, if it’s not occupied by the President. You can watch the changing of guards on Monday’s at 11 a.m.
10. Shop for an Authentic “Panama” Hat
We discovered that the famous toquilla (palm fibre) hats, often referred to as “Panama” hats, originated in Ecuador. Shop for a high-quality souvenir from your trip to Ecuador at Homero Ortega, a family business producing handmade hats for more than five generations.
Travel Tips – Things to Do in Old Town Quito with Kids
- Quito (2,850 m) is the second highest capital city in the world after La Paz, Bolivia. Be sure take your time and drink plenty of fluids when you are exploring Quito.
- We didn’t witness any crime in Quito, but like other large cities, there are reportedly pickpockets in tourist areas. Be aware of your surroundings, and take precautions to ensure you aren’t a target. For example, leave jewellery at home if possible. In addition, wear your purse or camera bag across your body to make them more difficult to snatch.
- We enjoyed a private Pacari chocolate tasting at our hotel. However, if you are interested in learning about about Ecuador’s gourmet chocolate, consider booking a Pacari chocolate tasting.
- Apart from the delicious chocolate, here a few of our favourite Ecuadorian foods – locro soup (potato soup served with cheese and chunks of avocado), ceviche, scrambled eggs with corn, quimbolitos, and local fruits.
- If you are travellling to Ecuador, you might appreciate reading about how to deal with airport security like a pro. In addition, if you are flying to Ecuador with children, these tips on flying with kids will help you get there.
Are you interested in travelling to Ecuador and exploring Old Town Quito?