“Don’t look down. Don’t look down.” I pleaded with myself while gripping the metal rungs of the steep ladder-like staircase along the side of the Basilica del Voto Nacional in Quito, Ecuador.
However, telling yourself not to look down has the same effect as telling yourself not to think about pink elephants. Naturally, it’s the first thing you do. So I glanced down through the thin metal of the stairs and to the platform far below. As I did I felt my stomach tighten and a tingle of fear through my body.
“If I fell from here I wouldn’t necessarily die,” I told myself, “maybe just break a few bones…” Such a calm and reassuring thought.
So why was I clinging to the side of the largest neo-Gothic basilica in the Americas? Because I’m crazy apparently – and it’s one of the best places in Quito to admire the view. When we finally got to the top and my heartbeat slowed down to a normal pace again, we could gaze out over the historic centre of Quito and the surrounding volcanoes. It might have been a scary few minutes to get there, but the vista was totally worth it.
For only $2 you can gain entrance to the entire basilica, making this a great budget travel activity in Quito. Check out the gorgeous stained glass window and the gargoyles in the shape of Ecuadorian animals such as Galapagos tortoises, iguanas and armadillos.
Construction on the church began in 1884 and it is still not completed – local superstition stays that the day the basilica is completed is the day the world will end so I don’t mind if they take their time.
The style of the basilica is modelled on Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris. Having been to both I can see the resemblance – although the Quito version is much less crowded and cheaper to visit!
It will only take you 45 minutes or so to get to the top, enjoy the view, and climb back down. The ladders are very steep, so young children or those with vertigo are discouraged from climbing up to the towers. Also, I would avoid it on a rainy day – the climb was nerve wracking enough when the ladders were dry but if they were wet and slippery I wouldn’t want to attempt it!
I would recommend working in a visit to the Basilica del Voto Nacional with your explorations of the old town (Centro Historico) in Quito. While you are in the Centro Historico, you can also visit the Iglesia de la Compañía de Jesus, only a short walk away. The interior of this stunning church is covered in glittering gold and it is considered the most beautiful building in Ecuador.
You can take a break in the Plaza Grande right in the heart of the old city, a great place to rest if you are light-headed from the altitude. With the beautiful buildings, the steep streets, the church towers and the fact that you are 2,800 meters above sea level, the old town of Quito will take your breath away in more ways than one.
Have you been to Quito? What were your highlights? Let us know about your experiences in the comments.