I get tired of travel planning, searching through endless websites for the best things to do in Quito, and feeling overwhelmed since they are all sort of the same. Then I start questioning whether any of these writers have even set foot in Quito or if they are just lifting all of their knowledge from Wikipedia and the thousands of other “Things to do in Quito” articles out there. This process actually makes me sad. Does anyone else feel this way?
I know this sounds strange since I am one of those websites that tell people what they can do in a destination, but I only write about places I’ve actually been to and experiences I’ve had.
Sometimes I have the energy to search through all of those little details hopping from review to review and pulling together a custom itinerary, but let’s be serious – this takes hours if not days. Other times I just want someone to hand it to me on a platter, allow me to customize it slightly – but let someone else deliver me to the best experiences in Quito that are also unique and cultural.
But I want the platter handed to me by someone truly knowledgeable of the area…not just some website that is trying to win the SEO game.
On my recent trip to Quito Ecuador, I did just that, I let someone else handle it, I trusted them, and it worked out incredibly well. Surprisingly it wasn’t a tour company – it was a historic hotel in Quito Old Town that I let take the reins and it was a perfect way to experience the city leaning on their local expertise.
Casa Gangotena not only offers a beautiful place to stay in the heart of the historic center, it also will lead you through the best parts of the city teaching you about Ecuador’s history, culture, and traditions. It will immerse you in one-of-a-kind experiences that aren’t your run-of-the-mill ‘best things to do in Quito’, and you’ll barely have to lift a finger when it comes to planning. It’s sort of like a concierge service on turbo drive, they don’t simply tell you where to go, they take you there and hold your hand while doing it.
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Don’t Skip Quito Ecuador
But first – let’s talk about why you should make a stop in Quito. I know most people go to Ecuador to see the Galapagos Islands. However, if you are just going to the islands (which are incredible and not to be missed), then you are missing out on so much more the diverse country has to offer. If you can, then I suggest you get the big picture of Ecuador by adding a stop in Quito – a capital city at the center of the world.
Spend a couple of days in Quito first and soak up the history and culture of this high-altitude city perched on the equator. There is plenty to do and see in the city, not to mention the incredible and up-and-coming food, drink, and artesian scenes.
It’s Easy to Get to Quito
JetBlue actually has budget friendly airfares direct from Fort Lauderdale to Quito starting at $130 one way. Then it’s easy to take a domestic flight from Quito to the Galapagos for not much more than it would cost you to just go to the Galapagos directly.
Quito Old Town UNESCO Site
In 1978, Quito’s Old Town was declared the first-ever UNESCO World Heritage Site city thanks to having the largest and best-preserved Historic Center in the Americas. From the over-the-top gilt interior of the Church of la Compañía to the government, municipal, and church headquarters facing off in the Plaza de la Independencia to the pedestrian streets of La Ronda and the daily bustle of San Francisco market, the cultural heritage of Quito is impressive. The hotels and restaurants cater to a tourist crowd, but there is also a feeling of a bit of a revival in Old Town, where locals and tourists can intermix in daily life; breathing new life into the old city.
Stay at Casa Gangotena – Your Expert Guide to Quito
I go to a foreign country to get out of my comfort zone and see another culture. So why in the world would you go to a place like Quito and stay in an American chain hotel? Quito is like many South American capital cities – sprawling yet packed tightly with old crumbling buildings. There is an old historic part of town, and then the newer suburb where most people live.
I know what suburbs look like, we have them all over the US. But I don’t know what a nearly 500-year-old city looks like – one that started with the Incas, was colonized and now is full of old beautiful buildings each telling a story of Ecuador’s history and traditions.
This is why you stay at a place like Casa Gangotena in the historic heart of Quito – to experience this history firsthand and immerse yourself in the culture.
Casa Gangotena sits in a prime location on the corner of San Francisco Plaza. Over centuries, the plaza went from being a holy Inca area to an open-air market for indigenous traders and eventually was the setting for a number of colonial mansions to be built around its perimeter. Casa Gangotena was one of those mansions. It sadly was damaged in a fire in 1914 but was rebuilt by its owners, the Gangotenas, in 1924. The Gangotena family owned the home until the mid-2000s when the current owners (Metropolitan Touring) purchased the mansion with the goal of converting it into a world-class boutique hotel.
Casa Gangotena Rooms and Decor
The rooms are absolutely charming. I walked in and was in love with the bright Art Deco decor, big bathrooms with tubs, and tall windows. Many of the rooms look right out on San Francisco Plaza. I felt as if I were in a movie as I opened the big windows and looked out at the ancient square!
But – it’s much more than just a beautiful high-end hotel.
7 Things to Do in Quito Arranged by Casa Gangotena
Casa Gangotena has a variety of guest-exclusive experiences as part of your stay. This is what moved the needle for me from a typical luxury hotel to being more of an ambassador to the city and culture for visitors.
1. Take a Heritage Guardians Tour
If you only have time for one day in Quito – do this! We all crowded around the tiny workshop of Gonzalo Gallardo; the small man wore a black sweatshirt with paint all over the front of it. He picked up a little wooden baby Jesus and started to show us the work that he does to painstakingly restore the religious wooden relic. His business is a family trade that he will hand down to his children, something very typical in this part of the world. However, the part that really spoke to me, was how this attachment to family religious relics was so strong in Ecuador that there were businesses like this that existed. This wasn’t just a visit to a shop; it was tradition and history….and it blew my mind.
The shop was strewn with angels, Virgin Marys, and many Jesus babies; they all looked as if they had been dug out of the rubble of the aftermath of an earthquake. These are figurines that have been part of a local family for generations and instead of buying new ones, it’s traditional to repair the old ones. That’s where this shop comes in and does a complete makeover, normally for only about $50. It was fascinating seeing the work he does and simply the sheer number of items that he had to fix in his little shop!
This is when I had a big ah-ha moment. Once when I was traveling in Mexico there was a woman holding a baby Jesus statue in her lap in the airplane seat next to me. I thought it was the weirdest thing ever – but now it makes sense…sort of!
The Heritage Guardians initiative focuses on neighborhood integration and promoting the value of heritage and traditions. It allows visitors to explore, meet locals, and experience their daily lives along the way. The goal is to better understand how the locals live and thrive in this historic city. Not only did I learn about how important wooden religious statues are to Ecuadorians, but all of our other stops were completely eye-opening too!
What to Expect on a Quito Heritage Guardians Tour
We were met at the hotel by the local resident guide, Manuel, who is part of a grassroots NGO organization that has created a walking tour of the San Roque neighborhood. Since Manuel didn’t speak English, we were also joined by a Metropolitan Touring guide, Giovani, who was there to ensure we got all of our questions answered along the way.
Other places we stopped were just as interesting as the religious relic repair shop. We stopped in at the local covered market to learn all about fruits and vegetables that I had never set eyes on before. We were able to taste them and learn how they were used by locals. In addition, we stopped at a local healer’s home learning about how she practices cleansing rituals. She not only showed us concoctions to drink but also how she administered plant ‘showers’ where you are brushed with branches of various medicinal plants.
We stopped at hat makers and mask makers, we were also taken inside the Church of la Compañía; which is sort of like walking into a world where everything has been changed to gold…yes gold. The tour even included lunch at a local restaurant with a demonstration of how to make ice cream by hand in the traditional way.
Giovani and Manuel also answered my numerous questions about street vendors and even helped me try my first-ever beer foam drink (a mixture of beer and egg whites) which I was pretty fascinated with. Weird fact – I could find absolutely NOTHING about this drink as I tried to research it on the internet…which was frustrating – but also made me happy. So, if you see this drink sold on the street…get one and try it!
The tour is put on by Metropolitan Touring which owns Casa Gangotena and can be booked through the Metropolitan Touring website.
2. Visit the San Francisco Bell Tower at Sunset
This is a special experience offered to Casa Gangotena guests only, and it’s totally worth it. At dusk, we went to the Iglesia y Convento de San Francisco (the church and convent of Saint Francis) located right across the square from the hotel. The complex was built in the 16th century and is considered to be the largest architectural ensemble among the historical structures of colonial Latin America. All of that basically means…it’s a beautiful complex and definitely worth a stop.
Any visitor can go inside and marvel at the lavish golden decor of the nave and chapels and enjoy the courtyard views. But only Casa Gangotena guests can be escorted up in the bell tower at sunset. This is a special place to watch the sun go down and get a view of the entire city.
Casa Gangotena offers visits to the Belltower of San Francisco as well as La Compañía churches and can be arranged at reception, 2 days in advance.
3. Visit Museo Casa del Alabado
I’m not normally into ancient history museums, I find them a bit overwhelming and stuffy. However, the moment I walked into the Museo Casa del Alabado. I knew this would be different.
First of all – it was not overwhelming, it was small. You could get through the entire museum in just an hour or two. It was set in an old colonial home built in the 17th century, so you not only got introduced to ancient pre-Columbian artifacts, but you were able to see the inside of an old colonial home too which I found very fascinating.
But the best part about this museum was the curation and the condition of the artifacts. I thought the entire museum was well done, keeping me interested and curious as to what I would find in the next room. It houses a collection of over 5,000 pieces, 500 of which are on permanent display. These pieces were from at least 13,000 BCE to the European conquests starting in the late 15th and early 16th centuries. It was hard for me to imagine how pieces this intricate and beautiful could’ve been created in these ancient times. Plus – their collection was so incredibly intact.
Casa del Alabado is unique in the sense that its display is organized thematically, not chronologically. The aim of the museum is to treat objects as works of art rather than archaeological remnants. It is designed to bring you closer to the spiritual, social, and political practices of cultural groups who live in the various regions that are Ecuador today; helping me dive deeper into the culture of the area. Maybe this is why I liked it so much compared to other history museums!
This stop is included in the Heritage Guardians Tour; however, if you don’t take that tour, you should still go! The entrance is free for Casa Gangotena guests (just show your room key card). And if you plan to go on your own (which you can), currently the museum requires you to book ahead.
4. Learn How to Make Ecuadorian Ceviche
I used to think all ceviche was the same…until I went to Ecuador and it was served with popcorn. That’s right, Ecuador has put its own style into this South American dish. Ecuador’s ceviche is soupier than the ceviche I’ve had in Peru. It’s served with popcorn or other crunchy snacks to bring a lovely texture to the dish that the Peruvian style lacks.
We went to ZFood Pescadaria which is known for everything fish in Quito and had their mixed ceviche. However, Casa Gangotena also offers a special guest-only experience at Casa Gangotena. One of their chefs taught us how to make Ecuadorian ceviche ourselves. Together, we prepared one of Ecuador’s most typical dishes: Ceviche de camarón, and shrimp ceviche, as well as learned about other culinary traditions in Ecuador. This is part of the Casa Gangotena Exclusive complimentary evening experiences.
You won’t leave hungry!
5. Visit a Local Pottery Studio and Artist
One of my favorite things at Casa Gangotena was the mind-boggling cocktail menu. It was mind-boggling because they used flavors that I had never considered for cocktails or mixed together. The mixologist and Beverage Director, Jossimar Luján, not only creates incredible cocktail concoctions but he tells
He worked with a local pottery artist to create one-of-a-kind drinkware that goes with each drink ‘story’ on the menu. It was such a unique concept I’d never seen before and the pottery was absolutely beautiful.
If interested, Casa Gangotena will help arrange a visit to the pottery studio and you can meet with ceramicist Claudia Anhalzer to learn how she comes up with the ideas for the containers that house the cocktail story. Plus – you can see her other work on display in her studio.
This was a highlight of my visit, I love it when art and storytelling come together, and you feel like you really got a unique behind-the-scenes look at the current Quito art scene.
6. Do a Chocolate Tasting
Did you know that there is a dispute about where chocolate originated? Mexico likes to claim it, but Ecuador says it’s the originator of this delicious pod-turned-chocolate bar. Regardless of the origin, Ecuador is a chocolate hot spot, producing some of the best chocolate in the world.
We went to a tasting at the famous Pacari chocolate organized specially for us. It was a complete tasting experience learning all about their tree-to-bar process. Pacari boasts its key to success is that it works directly with more than 3,500 small local farmers. By working without intermediaries, they generate trust and transparency giving them fair prices for their product. In addition, this partnership allows them to share knowledge about organic and biodynamic processes, which allows them to obtain a better product while taking care of their piece of land. It’s good for the farmers, it’s good for Pacari, and it’s really good for your belly.
Casa Gangotena can help you organize this type of tasting experience with Pacari.
Casa Gangotena also offers an exclusive experience for their guests called Chocolate Quiteño (Quito-Style Chocolate). I didn’t do this personally, but this is a hands-on experience with a Casa Gangotena host. You can taste a traditional hot chocolate, Quito-style, which includes adding fresh cheese to the delightful brew, as well as a variety of chocolates from the Amazon and the Coast.
7. Rent Bikes and Ride with the Locals on Sunday
Every Sunday Quito locals park their cars and get on their bikes to explore the city. Several major thoroughfares are closed to traffic to make way for thousands of bicyclists, runners, and families out for a walk. Casa Gangotena will help you arrange a bike rental and off you go pedaling through the historic center out to the modern suburbs.
It’s a super way to see the change in architecture at a slower pace than a car, you really have time to absorb it. I couldn’t believe how many people were zipping around on bikes, it was a really popular pastime for the locals. Just remember – Quito sits at 9,300 ft – so be prepared to huff and puff a little. We rode all the way out to the botanical garden which gave us a great feel for the city and how it has developed outside of the historic center. The botanical garden was a lovely respite of calm in the city and a great turnaround point for us to go back.
If you are looking for a unique way to get acquainted with Quito and you want a one-stop shop so that you don’t have to lift a finger on itinerary planning, then stay at Casa Gangotena. It’s such a special way to experience everything Quito has to offer as well as giving you insider experiences that are unique and catered towards your interest.
Now when I hear that someone is going to the Galapagos – I practically accost them and demand they don’t skip Quito and Casa Gangotena. Hopefully, now you can see why I’m so passionate about it! It’s a short but wonderful stop on your way to the Galapagos that you won’t regret.
Take a One-of-a-Kind Journey Through Ecuador in Style
Check out this Metropolitan Touring Unique Destinations Package. This 10 day trip includes Casa Gangotena in Old Town Quito, Mashpi Rainforest Lodge, and Finch Bay Galapagos Lodge.
I was a guest of Metropolitan Touring during my time in Ecuador, however all of the opinions expressed here are my own.