Getting to the top of La Basilica Church is a great way to explore the heights of Quito, Ecuador but it’s more of a journey than most expect. Climbing the towers (shown below) are just the first step, and not the last, on your way to a tiny perch 115 meters (~375 feet) above the ground. The climb to the top of Quito’s La Basilica Church isn’t for the faint of heart or those afraid of heights as you can see in this visual path to the top.
Even La Basilica Church Runs On South American Time
I don’t think I saw one correct clock during my entire time in Quito. It didn’t bother me though since my internal clock is already set to South American time. (In the distance there you can see the Virgen de Quito statue on El Panecillo hill.)
Entering La Basilica
You may be greeted by one or more ‘church tour guides’ who will demand a bit of money for walking you around and giving you bogus facts. Don’t be duped by them, the church doesn’t have tour guides unless you pay for one at the ticket counter. Entry to the lower part of La Basilica, and this view, is free but you’ll need to purchase a $2 ticket to begin your path to the top.
Across The Courtyard
It’s in the courtyard where you can purchase your tickets and make your way to the first climb to La Basilica’s bell towers. The path up La Basilica’s towers is through a series of wide stairs and seems simple enough and the elevator looked like it hadn’t been functional in ages. This is where most people assume things end, which can be a bit disappointing, until realizing they’re not even half way up.
That’s Only The Beginning
Either of the two towers will get you to this point in the church, where you’ll walk across a narrow wooden bridge directly over La Basilica’s interior arches. I was about half way across when I took the picture below.
At The End Of The Bridge
These are the best “stairs” you’ll find on your climb to the top. They at least resemble stairs and aren’t a straight up shot like the ladders waiting for you ahead. I should mention that the stairs/ladders are welded into the stone and firmly in place.
The View From The Middle
All of a sudden it’s slightly cooler and much windier nearly midway up. This is one of the wonderful views you’ll find as you gather yourself for the ladders to come.
Don’t Look Down
There isn’t much but air behind these set of steps, and while it’s not much harder than climbing a ladder, it can be intimidating if you look down. There were plenty of people who go stuck below or made it up half way, only to climb back down.
Don’t Look Around
You are almost at the top and the wind will be stronger and everything below much smaller. One of the reasons I mentioned that this climb just wouldn’t cut in the US or European is that a fall or slip from here could very dangerous. There isn’t much between you and the roof many meters below if you were to fall through. Again, it’s really just the height that makes it intimidating, if you can climb a ladder you can climb all the way to the top of La Basilica Church.
You’ve Made It, Now All You Have To Do Is Get Back Down
The entire platform at the top is approximately 2.25 x 2.25 meters and open air. You’ll get a clear 360 degree view of Quito and the surrounding mountains and volcanoes, even if you don’t go all the way to the edge. It’s a steep climb down and almost everybody I saw hesitated a moment before finally taking their first step back to the ground.
The key for many to getting up the ladders is not to look down and not be discouraged by the people who can’t make it. I think seeing them put many off and certainly had me thinking twice for a moment. The path to the top is all made worthwhile by the sights and sense of accomplishment. Once you summit La Basilica you can climb Pichincha Volcano, made much easier in the comfort of a teleferico cable car.
You can see more of my pictures from La Basilica Church here.
Oh I was there 3 years ago, in May 2007! I wanted to climb all the way to the top, however, in order to get there, I made the stupid mistake of taking the elevator, and the elevator malfunctioned while I was inside. I was trapped for an hour in total darkness. Once they got it running, I went up the stairs instead, and reached up to the plank. When I saw the ladders, I figured I skip it, who knows what would happen next should it malfunction!
Man, can’t believe you tried the elevator, it scared me! I feel bad you got stuck inside though and for so long. Surprisingly, compared to the elevator the stairs are pretty firmly set in place, but after you experience I might have thought twice about it too.
Did you meet the “tour guide” when you walked in?
Tour guide? I guess not. Now I am curious.
There was a guy there trying to rope in anyone he could with a fake tour. The best part was him handing out cards with Jesus’ picture to try and guilt some money out of people. An interesting guy, might be just coincidence to see him there.
Awesome place – and you realise just how STEEP the stairs are in the picture with the people below – my fear of heights kicked in just reading the article!
I did everything I could not to look down but the one time I did I felt I was climbing right into the clouds. It definitely tested my fear of heights, but many places in Quito did. A good place to get over your fear!
Just incredible photos, Anil.
Thanks Rod 🙂
Oh wow, I hate heights but this looks amazing.
Me too. I think the hardest part was getting close to the edge of that top tower. The rail is only about 3 1/2 maybe 4 feet high.
Wow that looks awesome! I would be totally into it- I never have a problem getting up these things, it’s the downward climb that spooks me.
When you do go down too, everyone stares like “is that going to be the person that eventually falls. I want to see it.” Or maybe that was just in my head but it was added pressure lemme tell ya!
Phew! made it, it was a bit scary there going up with you. I realised when I saw the picture of that wooden walkway inside the roof that I had been here before – I don’t remember it being quite as bad, perhaps I didn’t make it right to the top.
Did you get up to the tiny round tower at the top?
My memory’s all a bit hazy – of course I wasn’t blogging then so had no need to remember every little detail. I do vaguely remember steep metal ladders though
Walking to the top of the cathedral, I was confronted by someone who had broken down with virtego. Wouldn’t go any further, wouldn’t take a step back, simply stranded despite the soothing encouragement of a couple of friends and church staff. I don’t know whatever resulted from the issue but the cathedral’s top level wasn’t for the feint-hearted.
Yikes, not the place to get stuck where you can’t get down on your own.
Wow Anil, excellent photos. I like the photo essay taking us quite literally on the path. You’ve made me want to get to Quito just a little bit more. Thanks, cause that won’t be happening anytime soon! Cheers
Thanks Matt, glad I was able to give you a feel for it until you get to make that trip 🙂
Stunning photos, insane building. An obstacle course in a Cathedral. I’m intrigued!
Never thought myself that a church could become a physical challenge.
This was beyond awesome- but I’m just not sure I would be able to do this!! When you said “Don’t look down”- I already felt as if I was right there and looking down and my legs were getting all wobbly like!!
I wish I had captured a picture from in between those ladder rungs for you – but I was holding on too tightly to even attempt that and wouldn’t dare looking down 😛