More than Touristing: New Ways to Experience Quito
While many visit Quito to appreciate the historic sites – Ciudad Mitad del Mundo, El Panecillo, the Plaza Grande square, and ultra-ornate Compañia de Jesús Jesuit church come to mind, there's more to this town than its well-preserved colonial center.
There’s the beauty of the surrounding Andean foothills. There’s the mesmerizing array of European, Moorish and indigenous architectural and cultural influences. There’s the frenetic bustle of the Otavalo Market, not to mention the contagious energy of the local children.
There’s more to Quito than meets the tourists’ eye. If you want to dive deeper into Ecuadorian culture and walk away with more than photos (and a few souvenirs – hard to pass on those alpaca socks!), here’s our go-to list of four NEW ways to experience the best of the "Luz de América" ("Light of America”).
- Find a short-term volunteer program in Ecuador.
If you have a few weeks+ to commit to your travels straddling the equator, consider giving back to the local community by signing up to volunteer in Quito. Projects range from Amazonian environmental conservation, community development, therapy for disabled children, and education outreach for child workers in Ecuadorian workers. With so many options, it’s just a matter of finding a cause you’re passionate about.
Volunteering exposes tourists to more than the colorful frocks and smiles of Mestizos. Like many great countries, societal issues plague various people groups. If you have the time, energy, and money to commit to learning about these issues and helping eradicate them, volunteering is a good way to add more depth to your experience in Quito.
- Master your Spanish at a language school.
Language programs in Quito aren’t hard to come by, and fill the ideal overlap of utilitarian learning/knowledge that also allows plenty of free time for exploring and making amigos. While in Quito, take advantage of the immersive environment. You can improve your Spanish proficiency from foreign language staples like “donde es los banos” and popular food items to master more effective communication needs.
The Spanish spoken here might not sound like your high school señiorita, but will still prove a valuable linguistic experience. Ecuadorian Andean Spanish – often spoken in the capital of Quito – is similar to forms of Spanish spoken in Peru and Bolivia due to the influence of Quechua, whereas Amazonian Spanish (further outside of city limits) is strongly influenced by the indigenous languages of the region.
- Do some hardcore adventuring in Quito.
Quito is a great launchpad for adventure travel in Ecuador – surrounded by 11 volcanoes over 4000 meters in height (Cotopaxi and Antisana are crowd-faves!), not to mention the nearby Choco Andes Cloud Forest (stocked-silly with incredible endemic bird species), you’ll be hardpressed to get “bored” while visiting Quito. With it’s wonderful, year-round spring-like climate, you don’t have to worry about getting too sweaty while pumping your adrenaline. Grab a bicycle to pedal your way to Guapulo viewpoint, where you can take in the sunset as you sip on a colada de avena.
- Become an intern in Ecuador.
If you have two to three months to stay in Latin America, consider doubling your vacation as a means to develop some seriously competitive (and awesome) professional skills. Internship placements in Quito range from from popular fields, like business and tourism, to more human-oriented foci, like health and education. Take your pick and rake in the benefits of an internationalized CV/resume, not to mention amazing new work-colleagues-turned-lifelong-friends.
Make your trip to Quito as special and memorable as can be. Instead of checking off site after site or racing between “must-have experiences,” slow down and commit to peeling back the layers of this beautiful Ecuadorian city.
Author: Megan Lee