Fun International Family Vacations in Quito

By Nancy Schretter

Quito is a family travel gem, just waiting to be discovered. Many families connect through Quito on their way to their Galapagos Islands cruise, but Quito is worth so much more than a brief overnight stay. Quito offers a truly memorable family vacation with something for everyone.

There's plenty of fun for families in Quito. Ecuador's capital city is a UNESCO World Heritage Site filled with cool museums, exciting attractions, Baroque churches, superb shopping and more. In addition, the Andes Highlands regions around Quito offer abundant opportunities for hiking, horseback riding, thrilling adventure activities, wildlife viewing, shopping for artisan treasures, and fascinating cultural interactions. There's much to see in Quito and its surrounding areas, so families should plan to spend multiple days here discovering some of what it has to offer.

It's impossible to experience all of Quito's delights in even four or five days, so families will clearly have to pick and choose. Here are fourteen popular attractions and places to sample while you're there:

1. Discover Quito's Colonial Heritage. Designated by UNESCO as a World Heritage Site, Quito has a rich past. Kids and parents alike will be stunned by all the gold lining the walls of La Compañía de Jesús, a spectacular example of Baroque architecture with gold leaf completely covering its arches, domes and pillars. La Iglesia de San Francisco and its palm-studded Monastery courtyard are lovely as well. In the charming La Ronda area, kids can see how felt hats are made. The El Panecillo viewpoint and the buildings and plaza of Quito's Independence Square are some of the city's other highlights.

2. Stand at the Center of the Earth. At La Mitad del Mundo - The Middle of the World - families can straddle the Equator (or very close to it) and visit the Intinan Museum with its fascinating scientific and cultural exhibits. Visitors will find a large monument here, as well as a number of restaurants, museums, and cool opportunities for unique family photos. This is a great spot for souvenir shopping as well.

3. Go for the Gold. The family-friendly museum gold, that is! Check out collections of pre-Colombian, Inca, and gold artifacts at the Museo del Banco Central and learn about the history of money in Ecuador. The Yaku Water Park Museum features many interactive exhibits designed primarily for children. Kids can discover how water reaches Quito, learn more about water's properties, and make their own giant bubbles. Families with art-loving teens and young adults may want to visit Fundación Guayasamín's The Man's Chapel featuring paintings and works by famed Ecuadorian contemporary artist Oswaldo Guayasamín.

4. Ride the TelefériQo. Don't miss this popular tourist attraction, providing a breathtaking view of the Quito itself as well as the massive peaks of the Andean Highlands. Think of it as a massive ski gondola – with a twist. Opened in 2005 using technology from France, the TelefériQo is one of the world's highest cable car rides, ascending from 10,226 feet to 12,943 feet up Volcán Pichincha. Passengers are seated in six-person cars and the ride takes approximately 8-10 minutes to complete.

5. Visit the World's Highest Active Volcano. Most Quito tour operators offer day trips to the area around Cotopaxi National Park. Cotopaxi is the highest active volcano in the world and the scenery in this region is spectacular. Family-friendly tours often include lunch at a hacienda and activities such as horseback riding, mountain bike riding and/or hiking.

6. Take the Train. Riding the rails is always a vacation highlight with kids. Families can enjoy some of Ecuador's most spectacular vistas while taking a personally narrated tour on one of tren Ecuador's comfortable historic cars. Ecuador's rail service was launched in the late 1800's and many of its routes have been revitalized as tourist attractions. The Ibarra to Salinas train trip, for example, traverses bridges and tunnels along a scenic route, ending with an excellent Afro-Ecuadorian dance performance, tour, and lunch prepared by local Salinas residents. Routes through the Avenue of Volcanoes and to the Cotopaxi National Park vicinity are also great for families. For more information, visit http://www.ecuadorbytrain.com.

7. Step Back in Time. Families heading towards Cotopaxi National Park with a guide might wish to stop at Saquisili's lively indigenous market, a less touristy event held only on Thursdays. This is a great way to show kids what shopping at the market for groceries used to be like. Vendors, artisans and shoppers in traditional dress come from miles around to interact in eight town plazas. The colorful produce market is particularly good here.

8. Soak in the Hot Springs. Traveling to Quito with teen or young adult daughters? Then pampering at Papallacta might be the perfect addition to your Quito vacation plans. Located about 40 miles from Quito, Termas Papallacta's thermal baths include nine soothing hot water pools and three invigorating cold water pools. This full-service resort is popular with Quito residents and its excellent spa offers a wide variety of very reasonably priced treatments, so make your appointments in advance. Located at the entrance to Cayambe-Coca Ecological Reserve, Termas Papallacta also offers horseback riding, hiking, and large rooms and suites perfect for overnight family stays.

9. Zip Through a Cloud Forest. Adventurous families won't want to miss taking a one- or two-day trip to the cloud forest area around Mindo. This is one of the birdwatching capitals of the world and a mecca for nature lovers. Tours to this area often include activities such as hiking, ziplines, tubing and rafting. Families can also visit butterfly farms, view colorful tropical birds in private nature reserves, or take a canopy tour.

10. Shop 'Till You Drop. Ecuador is known for its high quality artisan goods and Quito has many places to shop for local Ecuadorian crafts. El Quinde and the Ecuador Gourmet Gallery are two of the best spots to buy unique handicrafts including beautifully woven scarves, alpaca clothing items, and variety of other specialty products. The shops at La Mitad del Mundo and La Mariscal Crafts Market offer a large selection of souvenirs at bargain prices, but search carefully to find good quality items. When only the best will do regardless of price, Folklore Olga Fisch sells high end crafts, rugs and artwork from Ecuadorian artisans.

11. View Majestic Andean Condors. The Condor Rescue Center is an initiative by Joep Hendriks' Condor Foundation designed to teach people how to protect and conserve endangered condors and other raptors. It's a wonderful place for families and nature lovers to visit. The center is home to Andean condors, eagles, vultures, owls, and hawks. Make sure to arrive before 11:30 a.m. to see the park's informative show.

12. Explore Charming Artisan Towns. The Andes Highlands surrounding Quito are filled with captivating artisan towns, each with its own unique specialty. Tours of this area are a high priority for those seeking exquisite high-quality handicrafts and a strong cultural connection. In Peguche, kids can watch artisans do superb textile weavings on old-fashioned shuttle looms and see craftsmen producing some of the region's finest musical instruments. Cotacachi is famous for its leather goods, while San Antonio de Ibarra is known for its woodcarvings. Colorful bread dough figurines are produced in the little town of Calderón. Needlework is central to the old-world artisans of Zuleta, a more remote village that's a bit more off the beaten path but well worth visiting.

13. Browse Otavalo's Famed Market. Otavalo's indigenous market is one of the largest in South America. Many Quito visitors head to Otavalo on Saturdays to shop at a myriad of stalls displaying textiles, handicrafts, Alpaca blankets and sweaters, woven wall hangings, woolen ponchos, and more. Families won't want to miss the local animal and produce markets that take place on Saturday mornings here as well. Although Saturday's market is the largest, a wide variety of goods are available in Otavalo's Plaza de los Ponchos area throughout the week.

14. Sample Tasty Ecuadorian Cuisine. Ecuadorian food is delicious and Quito's restaurants are some of the best in South America, serving a variety of dishes from many regions of Ecuador as well as international fare. Sample a selection of ceviches, fresh trout, lamb stew, pistachio-encrusted tuna, breast of pork, grilled chicken, sundried tomato risotto, and a bowl of the region's ever-popular potato soup. Some of my favorites restaurants in the area include La Choza, Zazu, Ventanal Restaurant, Hasta La Vuelta Señor, and El Cráter Restaurant near La Mitad del Mundo. Parents and kids will love sampling "tostada" - large toasted corn pops (somewhat similar to CornNuts) served as free appetizers at some restaurants. They're delicious.

If You Go:

  • For more information about planning a trip to Quito, visit the Quito Turismo website at http://www.quito.com.ec. Families visiting Quito's city center can also stop at El Quinde, located in Independence Square, for complete tourist information, free Internet and lockers, clean restrooms, complimentary coffee, and more.
  • There are many excellent upscale hotels and boutique properties in Quito. For families craving spacious guest rooms, superb service, and the full range of modern amenities, the JW Marriott Hotel Quito is sure to please. Located adjacent to Quito's World Trade Center, the Radisson Royal Quito Hotel is another top option. If you're planning to take an overnight trip to Otavalo area, Hacienda Cusin and Hacienda Pinsaquí are superb choices for families.
  • Side trips from Quito are available through many major hotels and tour companies. Local tour guides, such as Marco Toscano's Tours Unlimited, provide insider information, tips, and destination insights that can help make visits to Quito particularly memorable.
  • AeroGal offers flights from Quito to the Galapagos as well as other great family-friendly destinations throughout Ecuador. For more information about planning your trip to Ecuador, visit Ecuador's tourism website at http://ecuador.travel.


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