Traveling in a big city in developing countries often means dealing with nightmare traffic, thick blue smoke pollution, or both. A few have made efforts to turn at least one day a week into a pleasant one for pedestrians though, including Quito, Ecuador.

Quito historic district

Quito’s historic center, claimed as the largest in the Americas and the very first place to be designated a UNESCO World Heritage site, is a wonderful place for a stroll. This is especially true on Sunday, when most of the streets are blocked off to cars until 3:00 p.m. This gives you a whole day to wander without dodging vehicles and the air is noticeably clearer without so many cars and buses squeezing through the narrow streets.

That’s just the start of it though. The main thoroughfare (Amazonas) going from the center out through the newer areas to the north is closed off as well for miles. Suddenly a city thin on cyclists erupts with thousands of people on bikes.

If you’re staying at a Quito hotel in the center, you get the chance to ride through the Mariscal area where the happening bars and restaurants are, as well as the bigger Swissotel and Hilton chain hotels. On the other hand, if you’re staying in that area, you can walk out of the lobby, rent a bike, and ride to the center a few miles away. You’ll see the historic part of the city on its best day.

The video above gives a good sampling of what it’s like to ride through streets normally clogged with cars on a day when it’s given over to bikes and pedestrians. It’s amazing how much ground you can cover on a bike when you’re not fearing for your life. Along the way there are bands playing, city government kiosks giving out water, and bike police keeping everything running smoothly.

I paid $2 an hour at one of the many makeshift rental places to use a nice 21-speed hybrid bike and I must have an honest face as she didn’t even ask me for ID. Usually you have to leave a passport or other ID with them, though a credit card might suffice. Locals can belong to the city bike borrowing scheme where you can pick up at one location and drop off at another, but that doesn’t work for tourists as you have to fill out lots of paperwork and pay a monthly or annual fee.

I was traveling in Ecuador with Metropolitan Touring, doing an article on luxury travel in Ecuador for another publication, but for this bike day I was on my own. For more info on this capital city see the Quito Tourism site.