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Spanish in Quito

How to Spend Your Downtime in Quito

This city is located just miles from the equator, and there is about as much to explore in it as in Middle Earth itself. From the nooks and crannies of the Old Town to the modern and inviting new part of the city, and not to mention the adventures that are there to be had in the city's surroundings.

Getting to Grips with Quito

Pichincha

The city is set out in a line, about 60km long, with the active volcano Pichincha on the West towards the Pacific ocean. There are two main parts to the city. The new part is known as La Mariscal or "Gringolandia" and is home to a host of bars and restaurants, places to stay and even a large crafts market with stalls selling everything from hats and socks to blankets for your bed and tablecloths; Perfect for a bit of souvenir shopping. In the Old Town you will find traditional colonial churches, monasteries and an abundance of museums. Navigating the city is easy and you have a choice of different bus networks that will transport you around and even out to places like the "Mitad del Mundo". There is the "Trole" system, the "Metrobus" and the "Ecovia".

Quito was the first city to be named on the first ever UNESCO World Heritage Site list in 1978. The Old Centre of the city is the oldest one in all of Latin America and is home to no less than 40 churches and chapels, 16 convents and monasteries, 12 museums and hundreds of different courtyards. There is also often street entertainment and lots of stalls with ladies in traditional Inca dress selling lollies and coca tea. The central area is around Plaza de la Independencia or "Plaza Grande". It is flanked by the Metropolitan Cathedral, the Carondelet Palace and the Archbishop's Palace. The Old Town is a great place to walk around during the day and get a feel for the city and the way of life in an Ecuatorian city. The Centro Cultural Metropolitano is to be found in the old quarter and has different exhibitions and shows on throughout the year. There are also plenty of museums and old colonial arches and homes for you to see as you wander about, perhaps with a traditional "paila" ice cream in hand from Heladeria San Agustín, Quito's oldest ice cream parlour.

Culture and More

Museum

As is often the hallmark of any colonial quarter worth its salt, there are plenty of museums to be explored documenting Ecuador and Quito's rich history and housing some fascinating artifacts. The House of Urrutia is a typical example of colonial architecture with inside patios and grandly decorated rooms filled with furniture and paintings from this period. The nearby Museum of the City is housed within a former hospital and recounts the history of the city of Quito by means of life size displays, textiles and armour. The Recoleta San Diego is a former religious retreat where construction began in 1600 and where inside you can catch a glimpse of a perfect example of minimalism meeting elegance and detailed sculpture work all under the one roof. Many of the churches, and indeed the Cathedral, in the Old Town have museums or exhibitions attached and you can enjoy the history that is housed within their own four walls at the same time. The Cathedral of Quito is home to a range of interesting sculptures and paintings, amongst them a 'Descending of the Christ' and the interior of the building itself is an eclectic mix of Baroque, Gothic and Moorish styles. The Church of San Francisco was constructed after the conquest of Quito by the Spanish and is said to be the church that has gave Quito its name of San Francisco de Quito. The affiliated Museum of San Francisco contains a wide array of interesting pieces of art and sculptures within.

Down in the new part of town you will find one of the biggest and possibly most 'must-see' museums in the city, the Central Bank National Museum where you can walk around a wealth of displays on human history in Ecuador from pre-Columbian times, amongst which is Inca gold, breastplates and textiles. Finally, for a culture fix at a greater height, atop the hill in Itchimbia Park there is a glass exhibition centre where you will always find something of interest to browse over and take in the pleasant views of the city of Quito. This is just one of the many sites in Quito where you can go for a healthy dose of great scenery and fresh air. You can also take the TeleferiQo up the eastern side of Pichincha where, if you are lucky, you will have great views of Cotopaxi, the second biggest mountain in Ecuador. If you are feeling adventurous you can hire a mountain bike and make the journey back by bike, making for an exhilarating ride with spectacular views.

As a city of activities and things to do, Quito does not disappoint. Within easy reach there is a zoo, the largest in Ecuador in fact, Middle of the Earth a horse ranch and the opportunity to bike ride around closed off roads in and around the city every Sunday. If you fancy taking yourself a little further outside the city then there are a number of popular half-day and day trips, all well connected by local public transport. Tourist trap it may often be described as, but the "Mitad del Mundo" or Middle of the Earth is an interesting spot to visit just 45 minutes from Quito. It is a complex of exhibition centres, a museum and gimmicky equator lines and signs marking the middle of the earth. Despite the overpriced restaurants and cafeterias and bus loads of tourists, if you embrace the site for what it is it is without doubt an enjoyable trip from the city. Another trip that many visitors to Quito also make is to Otavalo, an indigenous town in the middle of the mountains. It is famous for its bustling street market, selling traditional clothing, hats, blankets, hammocks, fresh fruit and vegetables, live animals and food stalls with piles of rice dishes, ceviche and empanadas. The town itself is also pleasant and the main square has lots of little quaint shops and cafes.

Dizzying Heights

Quito's location in amongst the mountains of Ecuador, a country of varying topography, means there are plenty of opportunities to get outside and get back to nature. Cotopaxi National Park is a pleasant train ride from Quito and contains on of the tallest active volcanoes in the world, Cotopaxi. It is popular for hiking and home to a wide variety of animal species such as llama, bears, wolves, puma and deer. You can get to Mindo by bus from Ofelia bus station and the earliest bus leaves at around 8.00am. If wildlife is something that you are interested in then Quito also happens to be the starting point for many trips to Darwin's Galapagos Islands. These islands are home to a vast number of endemic species and they are often explored on cruise ships and through volunteering schemes. However, if you cannot afford the often hefty price tag attached to Galapagos Islands trips then fear not, whilst in Quito you are also close at hand to the Mindo Cloud Forest, a rainforest reserve with hummingbirds, orchids, waterfalls and much more flora and fauna to explore.

Hopefully you now have a good oversight of some of the key things on offer to see and do in Quito. On top of this, any Spanish school in Quito will have its own programme of activities and will be able to help you organise anything additional that you would like to do on top of what they have planned. So if your visit to Quito is combined with a Spanish language course then you don't need to worry about boredom creeping in in this energetic and fun city!