The Old Town (El Centro Historico) used to be a bit of a no-go zone, but in recent years it has been transformed and is now one of the main tourist draws in Ecuador. If you have little ones you still have to keep them on a short leash, but there is lots to do and at least one trip is a must.
You can go to the Compania de Jesus pay a little extra to go and have a look at the roof. The kids can climb and the views are good. All the photos in this section were taken in Summer 2014 on a family holiday.
Then get tickets for the Presidential palace although it’s a bit of propaganda tour it’s the first time it has been opened to the public and the queue is mostly Ecuadorian, but beware the lines to get in.
You can also hang out in La Plaza Grande, which does what it says on the tin. Of course this is not the place to lose your kids so keep them in sight, but in general these days the “Centro Historico” as it is known is pretty safe.
These next photos were taken when Tommy was a baby and Mom and Ken my step-dad came to see us for a month or so. This was Ken’s only visit before he passed away so it will always have special memories for us.
I remember how surprised both Mom and Ken were at just how much they enjoyed Ecuador and it’s no surprise that it has become one of the world hots spots for people to retire to, for its climate, beauty and friendly people.
Oh, and it took ages to get Ken to wear his Panama hat, but once he did he never took it off.
One thing that Mom and Ken missed was the re-furbished part of the old town called La Ronda, which is a must visit, especially if you have slightly older kids. In this newly renovated part of the Old Town there are some street performers. chances to buy souvenirs, traditional food and music. Try going along in the evening for the real action and again there are police around so it is safe.
Also in the old town it’s good to try some of the old style traditional business that are still on the go there. There are barbers like this one in the Plaza Grande, where Tommy (and various Ecuadorian presidents) got their hair cut. Or there are restaurants like the one below that serve ‘comida tipica’ like ‘empanadas de viento‘.
There is also a ride up the Teleferico or cable car, that is a winner for kids, don’t forget to take a pullover and once you get to the top you can walk around and get breathless (it’s seriously high up) or go for a horse ride.
North Quito, “El Norte” is where I lived when I first came to Ecuador in ’99 and it has plenty of reasons to go back, for adults and families.
One of our favourite spots in the north is the Hotel Quito, it’s a great one for Sunday brunch, and then you can roll down the hill to Guapulo for a look around and a drink.
The hotel may not be flashest in town but it has the best view and is a real institution, as seen by this bullfighter dropping by after a fight.
The staff are also old school and have been there forever, like this lady, who as well as waiting on tables, gives free baby health tips.
Over the years we have been to Sunday brunch with just about everyone in the family and it has never let us down 🙂
On this particular day there was dance-off going on complete with full band and judges. The only spare seat for Ken to park on was next to the judges, and so the legend of the Gringo dance judge was born….
The painting for sale along the side of the park tend towards the bloody horrible, but there are some exceptions and if you want to pick up a Guayasamin copy (Quito’s most famous artistic son) then this is the place.
Of course you can wander around the North of Quito on any given day and see street life happening, perhaps an office part packed onto a Chiva or some of the highland indigenous people coming into town looking for money, something that fortunately you see less of in the newly prosperous Quito.
The North is where you will find even more shopping like the handicrafts market in the Mariscal, or one of the places on Rio Amazonas and around, although if you want something more upmarket (and worth the extra IMHO) you can try one of Olga Fisch stores, either the one featured in the Lonely Planet or the newer store in Quicentro Shopping.
You can also go to the same mall for a whole host of sanitised overpriced imports that you will find in any other posh mall anywhere else in the world, or for the cinema, ice skating or sushi. Either here or El Jardin Mall, I always get confused about which has which, they are pretty much interchangeable…. Oh, I’m also forgetting the CCI mall which can be combined with a trip to the Parque La Carolina, if you’re stuck for something to do with or without little ones, just don’t wander into the park at night if you value your wallet. Still it has been cleaned up a bit in recent years and is a good place to kick a ball or people watch. If you want a more ambitious park trip there’s also the Parque Metropolitano, which is big enough to get lost in or go for a bike ride.
My favourite barrio in Quito is Guapulo, although I must admit it’s not always the best for kids as it the cars coming down the hill get right on top of you.
The square in the photo is a good spot to have a run around though, followed by a walk back up the hill and a drink at the Cafe Guapulo, a venerable bohemian hangout with live music, food and drink.
Pasochoa is an extinct volcano about an hour or so from Quito, and is must do day trip if you have a family.
We went again with Mom, Ken and Tommy and I don’t think we have been back since, it’s definitely on the ‘to do’ list for next time.
You can start with playing with the llamas near the visitor’s centre, before going on to choose one of the signposted routes to walk, which are easy enough to do with kids, are well signposted and have labels on some of the plants.
You can see from the pictures that it’s a nice drive as well so there’s no excuse, it’s one of my faves.
Papallacta is famous for its hot springs and is a typical day trip destination for Ecuadorian families. You can stay overnight or pay a day pass in one of the spas like Termas de Papallacta. To be honest the pools are more for soaking in than having kiddy fun, but you are surrounded by mountains and as part of a day out it can be fun, just don’t expect a water park!
You can also combine your visit to a stop at a trout farm for a catch your own lunch and run around outside. When we last did this Lorena was pregnant with Danny so prices might have gone up a bit but if I remember it was great value for money as well as it’s geared to locals more than overseas tourists.
El Quinche and Guallabamba
El Quinche is a big pilgrimage spot outside Quito. You can hop on a bus and have a look at the BIG church are soak up the atmosphere for a couple of hours. It’s worth checking out when the pilgrimage itself takes place.
Then it’s off to the Guallabamba zoo, your own wheels would be useful here as the zoo is a bit out of the way, but you might be able to use a combination of bus and ‘camionetas’ if you’re feeling adventurous. The zoo itself is small but well maintained and does good conservation work.
Puembo is another pleasant valley town just outside Quito, where you can go for an ice cream in the town square, or like we used to do get a day pass at the Rincon de Puembo and eat and swim to your heart’s content.
Cumbaya y Tumbaco
These two areas are well the well-heeled of Quito live, so both towns are a bit like a California suburb in places. Both are a 30 minute bus ride for the North of Quito and as they are down the mountain are warmer than Quito itself.
Once there you can hit one the several malls or cinemas, or try bowling. For a more Ecuadorian feel, the town squares of both areas are more traditional and busy at the weekends, especially Tumbaco, which is jumping with shops.
A Train Ride
There are various options now in Ecuador on the revitalized rail lines for tourists. We took a day train to Cotopaxi with a stop at a Hacienda and some typical dancing. We did everything in a big group, which I struggled with. And did I mention it was expensive? Still it was a nice day out the city…
Las Fiestas de Nayon are an undoubted highlight of Lorena’s home town. If you’re in Quito in July check them out. They still have a strong indigenous flavour and it’s a ‘real’ experience. It can get packed and thousands turn out for the biggest bits.
There’s plenty for the kids along the lines of beat up old table footballs (pricey at 50C a pop I think) and watching the madness unfold. There’s food, music, dancing, drinking fireworks, orange throwing and a fun fair, what’s not to like.
During the day there’s also bull fighting with a difference to be enjoyed, the difference being that the idea is for brave/young/drunk/daft young men to get in the ring and taunt the bulls then run away before they get speared, with varying degrees of success. The only way the bulls get hurt is if they die laughing…
You can go down in the day with the hangover crowd to this, or at night when it really kicks off. If you do have small kids be prepared to have your eyes open as they can easily get lost.
You can of course visit Nayon outside of the Fiestas. On any given Sunday the place is busy with people coming down for a “fritada” or “yaguarlocro” or to buy a few plants. Like all other small towns in Ecuador Sunday afternoon is given over to football and basketball and beer and food are also served at the town stadium.
Another day another volcano. Again an easy day trip from Quito and one that we have lots of time over the course of the boys lives, since Tommy was a baby like in the photos below to last Summer.
The volcano itself is the main attraction of the trip, get there just before midday to see the clouds rolling dramatically (and really quickly) over the crater.
You can also take a drive into the crater itself (although the road is a bit precarious), and go for a meal at the restaurant and soak up the peace and quiet and slightly surreal feeling of driving around a crater.
The first time we went to Pululahua there were a few stalls selling the usual tourist fair, and you could rent a donkey to go into the crater.
Now you can still by the tourist goodies but in a mini mall on the edge of the crater, and you can go for food in one of the restaurants if you can find a seat with all the tourist coaches.
Mitad del Mundo
Just a ten minute drive away from Pululahua you will find one of Ecuador’s better know tourist attraction the Mitad del Mundo. The entire site is based on its location in the middle of the world, except that it’s not, it’s off. Still if you want buy some handicrafts and eat slightly overpriced traditional food then you’ve come to right place.
On the other hand you can get a tour to the ‘real’ Mitad del Mundo, which is located 5 minute car drive away. We did with a guide we found at the commercial site, he took us to a bare hillside with some very bare archaeological remains, where his GPS read lots of zeros. Our guide explained the possible theories behind the site and its importance to the Incas as part of a giant astrological clock. And you know what, despite being a pile of orcks and not much else it was an infinitely more rewarding trip than the supremely tacky Mitad del Mundo site.
We’ve had loads of good times here with our close friends Molly and Efrain, who have an incredible place there 🙂 . This cloud forest town is around 90 minutes from Quito, and is a bird watchers’ mecca as well.
If you don’t fancy zipping over the trees then go to the Butterfly Farm, you can have a walk around and marvel at some really big butterflies as well as learn about their stages of development. Warning not suitable for those with a butterfly phobia!
Mindo town is full of places to organise rafting, biking and birdwatching and if you drive a short way out of town there are trails to go for pleasant and not-too-taxing walks.
We have been back to Mindo I don’t know how many times, from before to the kids were born to Tommy as a baby to when both boys were older and it never disappoints.
You do need to be careful if you are travelling on a busy holiday weekend as you will find the town outside packed with locals, unless of course you head for one of the outlying spots like Casa Divina.
As well as seeing Toucans and other birds in the lodge itself, you can arrange with Ephra to get an early start and go and see the cock on the rock and some serious hummingbird action. It costs a bit and there’s a drive as well as the early start, but even as a none bird watcher it’s one of the National Geographic moments that visiting Ecuador is all about.
Nayon and Quito
I don’t have much to add that I haven’t already said about Nayon and Quito. It was good for the kids to get to go to the Fiestas de Nayon, but these have definitely become a victim of their own success and in the process have lost a lot of their community feel.
We didn’t do much family stuff in Quito, we managed a Charango buying trip to the Centro Historico which resulted in a great restaurant find and we checked a free festival that was pretty meh. BUT on that point, it’s worth saying that the pretty average indie bands etc on display wouldn’t even have existed in Ecuador 10 years ago, so it’s onwards and upwards I reckon.
Another spot we’ve been to quite a lot over the years in Papallacta a volcanic hot springs about 90 minutes outside of Quito on the jungle side. I do recommend a trip to Termos de Papallacta, for a soak and well, a soak.
We rented a mini-bus for the day and went en masse in true Latino style, and a good day was had by all, including the scenic drive down through some serious mountain action.
The water goes from freezing to scalding hot and of course it’s about going between the extremes. You also strangely work up a huge appetite doing this and you can go for some trout outside the Termas if you don’t want to pay Gringo prices.
The other strange thing is the next day we all felt completely exhausted, in a good way. I mean I’m not one to go for therapies of any sort, but there is most definitely something in the water.