While roaming around Quito, we found Ecuador’s capital to be a land of beautiful contrasts. It’s a busy & sprawling metropolis, yet you’re never too far away from serene Andean mountain peaks. Quito’s Old Town is full of culture and historic architecture, yet only a short stroll away will take you amidst trendy bars and modern skyscrapers of Quito’s New Town.
After talking to many travelers throughout Ecuador, we found that Quito is frequently used as a gateway city to the rest of Ecuador. Often it’s just a quick one-day stopover on the way to the Galapagos. But there are so many things to do in Quito, that we would encourage staying much longer. We hope this Quito travel guide helps to show why it's worth considering spending more time here.
There are plenty of things to do in Quito itself to fill several days of a packed itinerary. Yet if you like adventure, Quito also acts as an excellent hub to organize day trips and overnight journeys to the many worthwhile destinations in the Andes within a few hours by bus. There's an abundance of popular day trips in Quito, from summiting an icy volcano to river tubing through a lush cloud forest.
When exploring a destination like Quito, we're always on the look out for the best values in the area, so you'll see that reflected in this Quito travel guide. Often we'll vouch for a DIY travel experience, while other times a tour can make the most sense. Either way, we make it a point to break down all the prices we've found, so you know what to budget in Quito. Also, if you've been following us for a while then you know we have a propensity for adventure, which you'll notice throughout the guide. And we love a good beer, so we've notated where some of the best craft beer in Quito is throughout this guide. (Just look for the 🍺!)
We hope this Top Things To Do In Quito Travel Guide proves helpful to anyone considering a trip here!
Quito Travel Guide: Table of Contents
We've tried to pack in so much information, directions, and even videos into this travel guide in an effort to help travelers during their visit. As a result, this Quito Travel Guide become quite the lengthy blog post. So here's a Table of Contents to help you navigate the article. If you get lost, just pop back up here to the top and use these links to find what you're looking for.
Top Things to Do in Quito Ecuador
1) Explore All The Things To Do in Quito Old Town
Quito was the world’s first city to be declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site (along with Krakow, Poland) back in 1978. Founded in the 1500’s atop Incan ruins, UNESCO touts Quito as having “the best-preserved, least altered historic centre in Latin America.” That is quite the superlative! You can read the full UNESCO description here. But rather than rambling on about Quito's culture significance, we instead want to share a few things to do in Quito Old Town:
Much of the Quito Old Town can be explored independently. Wander around historic plazas and step into ancient churches. Plaza Grande is a great place to start. You will be surrounded by the Presidential Palace, Quito’s Cathedral ($1.50), and the former Archbishop Palace which now houses shops and restaurants. Opposite the Presidential Palace is also a tourism information center where you can pick up a handy map to further navigate the colonial streets of Old Town on your own.
A few blocks away from Plaza Grande, consider checking out La Compania de Jesus. The interior of this 17th-century Jesuit church is covered with gold. Then wander over to Plaza San Francisco. This notable Quito plaza contains the city’s oldest church (St Francis), street vendors, a chapel, museum, and cafes. But it’s the Andes views you can see here on a clear day that provide a beautiful natural backdrop to sit in this wide plaza and admire.
Better yet, just begin strolling through the colonial streets of Quito’s historic center and get lost. Find a random café and enjoy Quito life passing you by. You’re surely to stumble into many interesting things to do in Quito Old Town by just wandering around on your own. Consider winding down your stroll through the historic center at 🍺 Bandido Brewing for what we say is the best craft beer in Quito Old Town. (It's $3 pints during happy hour from 4:00-7:00).
2) Take the Quito Free Walking Tour
For a more informative and structured look at Quito's Old Town, consider taking the free walking tour (tip-based). It will give you lots of local knowledge about the city while taking you to most all the major sites within Quito’s historic city center. We think it’s one of the best things to do in Quito on your first day, so you can familiarize yourself with the city.
At 3-4 hours, it’s a lengthy tour that may even run past 2:00 pm. So take that into consideration when planning your day. It’s a good tour that provides some interesting background about the city, Ecuadorian culture, and some useful Quito travel tips. This free walking tour meanders throughout Quito’s historic center, and you’ll be taken to all the highlights mentioned in the entry above (and a few more). So it’s a great way to get your bearings and learn a little about Quito at the same time.
3) Why You Should Go This Church, Even If You’re Not Into Churches
We’re usually way more into adventure than we are architecture, so churches typically aren’t a big draw for us. But The Basilica del Voto Nacional is adventurous and awesome in so many ways. Don’t miss it!
Gargoyles Have Been Replaced by Armadillos
Before you even enter this gothic-style basilica, you’ve got to check out the stone carvings built into the side of the church that were put up in place of traditional gargoyles. Instead, you’ll find Ecuadorian animals such as iguanas, armadillos, and Andean condors lining the exterior.
A Harrowing Climb Atop This Church
But better yet, you can climb way up in the basilica to get amazing views of Quito. You’ll walk atop the interior of the church on a strangely basic plank walkway that drops off on either side. You then climb some steep & narrow stairs that often feel more like a ladder. After making your way up higher and higher, you'll finally reach the top of one of the basilica’s tower. It can all be a little nerve-wracking even if you have the slightest fear of heights. (We noticed many people turning around.) But that’s part of what makes this church such a fun thing to do in Quito! The stairs seemed sturdy enough, so go on and give it a go.
Have a Beer in Church – Really!
Yet, perhaps most unique of all, you can have a 🍺 beer in this church! Before exiting the other tower in the basilica, walk up the spiral staircase and you’ll reach a somewhat hidden café. Grab a table by the windows overlooking Quito and enjoy a cold cerveza from inside this place of worship. This may be one of the most unusual things to do in Quito!
4) Get Whisked High Into the Andes: The Quito TelefériQo
The TelefériQo is Quito’s awesome gondola lift that flies passengers up into the Andes. We absolutely loved the fact that you can go from being in the middle of this bustling capital and be transported to the peaceful mountaintops within minutes!
Quito’s TelefériQo is one of the highest cable car lifts in the world, bringing you up to an altitude of about four kilometers in elevation (2.5 miles in altitude). The ride on the aerial gondola itself is a lot of fun, but there’s still plenty of things to do once you reach the top of this Quito attraction.
It’s at the top that you’ll find yourself on an upper slope of the Ruku Pichincha Volcano! Here you can easily access some great viewpoints of Quito and the valley down below. There are a few cafes to relax at too. There are also some touristic photo ops with resident llamas ($0.50).
Yet it’s the hiking trails that make for an awesome adventure. You can take the high altitude trail to summit Ruku Pichincha, which takes a few hours each way. Or you can go horseback riding ($10 per hour) towards the Pichincha summit too.
But for the real thrill seeker, you can even go mountain biking here. The TelefériQo permits mountain bikes on the cable car and there is a crazy trail that winds down the side of the mountain. For experienced mountain bikers only, you can contact Flow Bike Rentals, who offers a guided trip down this mountain ($70).
Tips To Know Before Going Up the Quito Teleferiqo:
• Whether you’re just going up the TelefériQo to leisurely admire the views or to summit Pichincha, be sure to pack a jacket. You can definitely feel a dramatic difference in temperature up here.
• We recommend going whenever you see that skies are clear. Generally you’ll have better odds in the morning.
• Bring water and consider packing a lunch too if you're planning to stay for a while. The food at the cafes is mediocre and overpriced.
• If you're planning to summit Ruku Pichincha, wait a few days after arriving to Quito so that you're better acclimated to the higher altitude.
• At the base of the Teleferiqo is Valqano Park, a small amusement park that you may want to budget some time for if you enjoy carnival rides.
5) Have a Laugh at the Middle of the World: La Mitad del Mundo
La Mitad del Mundo (the Middle of the World) is one big tourist attraction. This is where the equator passes by Quito.
Is Mitad del Mundo Worth It?
It’s completely touristy, it’s really out of the way from central Quito, and the main monument isn’t even actually on the equator. Despite these drawbacks, it can still be a quirky and fun thing to do in Quito, if looking for a half-day diversion. If you only have one or two days in Quito, perhaps the equator attractions may be something to skip. But if you're in town for more than few days, you almost have to add this into your Quito itinerary and come see what all the fuss is about.
First you must understand that the there are two separate equator attractions:
• Ciudad Mitad del Mundo,
• Museo Solar Intinan
Ciudad Mitad del Mundo
Mitad del Mundo is where you can find the main big monument and that big yellow line you can snap an equator selfie on top of, which supposedly marks the equator. Modern GPS technology has proven the monument and the line was actually erected a few hundred meters south of the actual equator. Oops! But they haven’t changed the line, nor is there any mention of the inaccuracy at the famed monument.
The monument here is the main tourist attraction, but there’s an entire “city” that surrounds the monument known as the Ciudad Mitad del Mundo (Middle of the World City). There’s loads of tourist shops, cafes, a planetarium, a train ride, and other little attractions. The ticket booth may try to sell you a more expensive ticket that includes many of these attractions but a simple $3.50 ticket will get you into the “city” and to the monument.
The Museo Solar Intinan
The Museo Solar Intinan is a lesser-visited attraction at the equator. Supposedly this is more accurately where the equator passes through, although even that is up for debate. Upon entering, you’re taken for a 45-minute tour of the outdoor museum to see kitschy exhibits that have nothing to do with the equator (a shrunken head, a preserved anaconda, etc.).
Then it’s on to the main show: the equator. Here, your guide will lead you through a few funny “experiments,” that we were very skeptical of. For example, water is poured into sinks on each side of the equator to demonstrate the Coriolis Effect in which the rotation of the water changes. But we found the rotation to be due to the direction the water was poured, rather than by the Coriolis Effect. Watch closely!
You can also attempt to walk a straight line on the equator which is purportedly more difficult since you have both hemispheres tugging at you. We’re doubtful of this too, yet here’s the result of our attempt:
Despite our suspicions of scientific misrepresentations, the Museo Solar Intinan is all good fun! Go there, have a laugh, and judge the experiments for yourself.
Ciudad Mitad del Mundo vs Museo Solar Intinan?
So which should you go to? We say go to both. If you’ve made it all the way out here on Quito’s outskirts, check out both equator attractions. They are both inexpensive, don’t take much time, and are two completely different equator experiences.
6) Go See a Winged Virgin Mary on A Hill in the Middle of Quito: El Panecillo
“The Little Bread Loaf” is a hill in the middle of the city that separates North and South Quito. While wandering around Quito Old Town, you will often see a hill looming in the background. It’s not the big mountains that surround Quito but rather a hill in the middle of the city. This is Panecillo and you should consider making a quick detour to spend about an hour atop the hill.
On the top of the Panecillo hill, you’ll find great views of the city and a big peculiar Virgin Mary statue that has wings. She is known as the La Virgen de Quito and is said to be the largest winged Virgin Mary statue in the world.
7) Check Out Some of Quito’s 50+ Museums
If you like museums, you’ll find dozens of them throughout Quito. In fact, there is said to be more than 50 museums spread across Ecuador’s capital! Since these museums are all indoor, museums can be a good idea for things to do in Quito on a rainy day.
Some of Quito’s more popular museums include:
• San Francisco Museum – take a 2-hour guided tour of the church’s artwork ($2)
• Mindalae Museum – ethno historical craft museum that explores Ecuador’s indigenous people. ($3)
• Casa del Alabado – houses a large collection of well preserved pre-Colombian artwork. ($4)
• Museo de la Ciudad – contains exhibits showcasing Quito’s history. ($3)
• Museo Nacional – Ecuador’s National Museum supposedly contains a large and impressive collection of archeological artifacts and artwork, but at the time of posting this article Museo Nacional was closed for renovation, as it has been for the past year.
Yet perhaps the most popular museum in Quito is the adjoining La Capilla Del Hombre and Museo Guayasamín ($8). If you were to go to only one museum in Quito, this may be your best bet. “The Chapel of the Man” is famed Ecuadorian artist’s Oswaldo Guayasamín’s masterpiece building that he designed personally before his death to showcase his works. His neighboring home/museum offers a peek into Guayasamín’s life while showing off more of his art. You can visit the official website for Capital Del Hombre here (mostly in Spanish), where you can purchase tickets in advance for a modest $0.50 up-charge.
8) Join Quito’s Sunday Bike Ride: Ciclopaseo
Every Sunday morning beginning at 8:00 am, a 30-kilometer stretch of streets is closed-off to vehicular traffic so that cyclists can enjoy a car-free ride around Quito. It’s a fantastic way to mix with locals and cover a lot of ground across Quito. The Ciclopaseo has an interesting route that meanders from highways in New Town to the cobblestone streets of Old Town and even passes right through Quito parks!
Many places around town tend to be closed on Sunday, so we think the Ciclopaseo is one of the best things to do in Quito on a Sunday!
9) Enjoy Quito's Green Spaces: Visit a Park
For such a busy South American capital city, there's a refreshing number of parks and green spaces scattered around Quito. One minute you may be on a busy street breathing in bus exhaust. But head over to one of Quito's parks and you'll be greeted by hummingbirds in the fresh air amongst a forest of trees.
Parque El Ejido is a nice smallish park with a convenient location between Old and New Town. There always seems to be something going on here. We’ve seen markets, volleyball tournaments, food vendors, and music performances pop up in El Ejido.
Meanwhile Parque Carolina, right in the middle of New Town, offers loads of recreation. You can find a good running track and even a skate park. Perhaps most notable for travelers, there's a nice botanical garden ($3.50) that offers a glimpse into the many different regions of Ecuador. Parque Carolina is a big park in the middle of the city and is somewhat reminiscent of New York’s Central Park.
Yet perhaps our favorite is park in Quito is the expansive Parque Metropolitano, where you can escape for a hike from right within the city itself. There are many trails and viewpoints throughout this park where you can expect to encounter a variety of hummingbirds.
10) Soak in the Views at Itchimbía
If you walk up the many, many flights of stairs on the eastern side of Quito’s Old Town, you’ll eventually reach Itchimbia. Itchimbia is where you can find that big orange Quito sign. Once you catch your breath from climbing those stairs, go check out the sign and pose for a selfie.
Itchimbia is also home to Quito’s cultural center. The large glass building was empty during our last visit, but it looked like a nice place to relax with many bean bag chairs set up inside.
Yet the best reason to make the trek up to Itchimbia is simply for the views. Go to Itchimbia in the morning for the best photos. That’s when the eastern sun lights up the Old Town.
On the street just below Itchimbia Park, Manuel Samaniego, you’ll find three restaurants all directly next to one another. They each offer spectacular views of the city as you dine. At the very least, consider popping in for a drink to reward yourself for climbing up all those steps. Of the three restaurants, a local Quiteño told us that he prefers Cafe Mosaico the best. But you can try Vista Hermosa and Pideme La Luna too. They're all slightly overpriced, but you have to realize that you're paying a premium of the awesome views!
🍺 Beer note: Upon walking down the stairs from Itchimbia, you'll find a little craft beer pub - La Oficina - that has a few decent beers on tap at great prices.
11) Things To Do in Quito at Night: Plaza Foch
Plaza Foch is the party place is Quito. In this Plaza and the surrounding blocks, you’ll find loads of cafes, bars, and clubs. Here young Quiteños mix with travelers who often frequent the area, each looking for a good time. An evening partying around Plaza Foch is one of the many fun things to do at night in Quito.
Plaza Foch is a place for celebrations and revelry. Grab a table outside, as Plaza Foch can be equally as good for people watching as it is for drinking. Celebrating in Plaza Foch also makes for a great thing to do in Quito on New Year’s Eve!
12) You've Gotta Try Some Canelazo on La Ronda
Speaking of drinking in Quito, La Ronda street is another good place to do that. This quaint pedestrian walkway slices right through Quito Old Town. You’ll find a few shops and loads of cafés lining this picturesque cobblestone street.
Pop into one of these cafés and order a canelazo. This warm beverage is unique to the Quito area. It’s a homemade drink concocted from aguardiente (sugar cane alcohol), boiled water, cinnamon, sugar, and local fruit like naranjilla (a local citrus-tasting fruit) or mora (blackberry).
Canelazo is a popular drink throughout Quito during December, particularly so for Fiestas del Quito and Christmas. But on La Ronda, canelazo is popular all year long.
13) Stumble onto a Quito Craft Beer Pub Crawl
Quito’s craft beer scene is exploding right now and there are some great microbreweries scattered all throughout Ecuador’s capital. This makes for a fantastic opportunity to go on a craft beer pub-crawl around Quito. You can create your pub crawl or leave it to the professionals and join an organized Quito Craft Beer Tour.
Quito Craft Beer Tour
For an easy and fun way to discover some of the best craft beer places in Quito, book this Quito Craft Beer Tour. You'll have a driver that conveniently takes you around to three notable Quito brew pubs. The modest $42 price not only includes your transport but also includes beer at each brewery and a liquid welcome gift! Besides the convenience of a driver, you'll also learn a lot about the flourishing Quito craft beer scene and potentially even meet some of the brewers, which you won't get with the DIY Craft Pub Crawl we've also suggested below. Check the availability calendar here.
A DIY Craft Beer Pub Crawl in Quito New Town
You’ll find the greatest concentration of craft breweries in Quito around the neighborhood of La Mariscal and into La Floresta. Here’s a route we can suggest, although, this is a VERY aggressive plan for a single evening. Instead, we suggest to pick and choose which of these microbreweries best suit you.
If you want to stay closer to Plaza Foch, go to the first 3-4 breweries on this pub crawl. If you want to go to what we vouch to be the best craft beer places in Quito, go to the three craft beer pubs that we marked with **asterisks** Abysmo, Santa Rosa, and Bandito del Paramo. For those looking for value, Tuesdays are a particularly great night to visit those latter three brew pubs as you'll enjoy Tuesday-only promotions at each. You'll get 2 pints for the price of 3 at Abysmo, and $4 pints at Santa Rosa & Bandido del Paramo.
If you attempt to complete this entire Quito craft beer pub crawl in one night, you'll be visiting 7 craft brew pubs across 3 kilometers. Good luck with that!
👣 It’s easy to begin your Quito craft beer crawl in the familiar & central location of Plaza Foch.
🍺 1. Cervecería Camino del Sol - Plaza Foch: Here you’ll find your first cerveceria, which is a fairly common craft beer brand around Ecuador - Camino del Sol. 5 beers on tap. $4.90 per half liter. The beer is okay but the label artwork is awesome.
👣It’s only a two-block stumble from Plaza Foch to get to the small but friendly Indie Beer Company.
🍺 2. Indie Beer Company: 6 beers on tap (2 of their own, 4 guest taps.) $4.50 per pint, or 2 for $6. The beer is okay.
👣 Simply walk right across the street from Indie to find Cherusker.
🍺 3. Cherusker Cerveceria: Cherusker seems to be going for a German flair and it’s their German styles that shined the brightest. We recommend the Bavaria Wheat Beer. 5 beers on tap. $3.50-$3.90 per pint.
👣 A 500-meter (8-minute) stroll will bring you to your next beer destination:
🍺 4. **ABYSMO Brew Pub**: ABYSMO has some high quality brews in Quito. The IPAs are nice but it was the strong & rich bourbon stout that really won us over on a chilly evening. Half-liters $5.50-$6.50. About a dozen taps. This is must-visit craft brewery in Quito.
👣 Mosey onward for another 500 meters to find one of the best craft breweries in Quito.
🍺5. **Santa Rosa Cerverza Artesanal Bar**: Santa Rosa arguably has some of the best craft beer in Quito. The IPAs were excellent, particularly the Dark IPA. And we must give creativity points for having the only sour beer we’ve seen in Ecuador (the Sour American Wheat). 10 taps. Pints $6-$7. ($4 pints Tuesdays, 4:00-8:00) Excellent.
👣 Walking just a few minutes around the corner will take you to La Quiteña.
🍺 6. La Quiteña: La Quiteña boasts a cozy atmosphere, a few taps, and the beer is good yet forgettable. Pints $5.
👣 The final stretch is the longest yet, at 1.5 kilometers (about 20 minutes walking), so you may want to consider taking a taxi. Note: you’ll pass by Hops Craft Beer Pub along the way. Stay focused.
🍺 7. **Bandidos del Paramo** This new craft brew pub is a collaboration between two established breweries in Quito: Bandidos and Paramo. It seems like a match made in heaven and the beer shows. Half of their beer menu is from Bandido and half are Paramo. All are fantastic. With 18 taps, you'll find loads of creative brews on each side of the menu. Go Tuesday when pints prices drop to $4.
14) Eat Your Way Around Quito: Try All the Local Ecuadorian Cuisine
One of the best things to do in Quito is simply to eat! Ecuadorian food is delicious and there are some particularly tasty regional dishes to the Quito area you should be on the look out to try. Here's a few of our favorites dishes that we recommend:
• Locro de Papa - this creamy potato and cheese soup is topped with avocado and even more cheese. It's a classic Andean dish that will warm you upon those chilly nights and a big bowl can sometimes eat like a meal.
• Llapingachos - are fried potato pancakes stuffed with cheese (yum!)
• Fritada - Fritada has many components but is anchored by pork that is boiled in spiced-up water until it evaporates, when it's then fried in its own fat. The pork is good but perhaps one of the best aspects of fritada is the variety of sides it comes with such as what you see here: hominy, toasted corn, avocado, ripe plantain, and llapingachos.
Perhaps one of the best places to try this and other Quito cuisine is at the Mercado Central in Quito Old Town. Go around lunchtime and you'll find an array of food stalls all competing for your business. Prices are inexpensive and you'll find all of Quito's classics here.
If you're a foodie who wants to explore Ecuadorian cuisine further, consider taking this Food Tour which is only $10. It takes place only on Friday nights from the Community Hostel.
15) Here's How To Meet the President of Ecuador in Quito
How cool is this! Every Monday in Quito, there is a big changing of the guard ceremony outside of the presidential palace. During this procession, it’s a weekly tradition for the president to come out and wave to the crowd gathering on Plaza Grande down below.
It’s all quite the pomp and circumstance! A marching band parades through. Guards on horses have their choreographed moment. And then you’ll get to wave to the President of Ecuador.
If you're in town on a Monday, we highly recommend squeezing this into your Quito itinerary. Greeting the President may be one of the most unique free things to do in Quito. Occasionally (about 10%) the president will skip out on the tradition, but the changing of the guards still takes place every Monday 11:00 regardless of his attendance or not. Note: if you take the free walking tour on Monday, it includes the changing of the guards.
Important tip: Be extra vigilant of pickpockets as the plaza gets crowded and you become distracted. We thwarted a few attempts by otherwise innocent-looking little old ladies.
Best Quito Day Trips & Excursions
Perhaps one of Quito's best attributes is its Andean location. This lends itself to so many awesome Quito day trips & excursions throughout the region. We attempted to explore the surrounding mountains at length so that we can give you our recommendations for the best Quito day trips.
Although each of these suggestions can most certainly be accomplished by day trips, you may want to consider doing some of them as overnight trips if you have the time. You'll get a chance to explore deeper and you likely won't regret the decision.
16) Mindo Cloud Forest Is Paradise for Adventure Travel on a Budget
The Mindo Cloud Forest seems to be receiving a lot of attention lately, and for good reason. This cloud forest is a fascinating environment just a few hours down the Andes from Quito. In fact, National Geographic recently listed Mindo in their 2017 list of Best Trips To Take for Nature!
This cloud forest is similar to a rain forest but the elevation and nearly constant fog cover is what makes Mindo a cloud forest instead. People come to Mindo from all over the world for the biodiversity that boasts over 500 bird species!
But we recommend Mindo not only for its nature, but for adventure!
In Mindo there’s tons of recreation pursuits to last several days. Common outdoor activities in Mindo include an endless array of hiking trails, canyoning, repelling down waterfalls, zip lining, hand-pull cable cars, rope bridges, and river tubing. And Mindo may have some of the best value adventure activities we've seen anywhere in the world! To give you an example, zip-lining starts at $8 for a half-course run through the cloud forest!
In addition to the many adventures in Mindo, there’s also a worthwhile butterfly garden ($6), a chocolate factory ($10), and quaint cafes to relax at over a beer. 🍺 Beer note: You can find home brewed beer at the Beehive but it sometimes runs dry. Mishqui Quinde Sweet Hummingbird also carries a few craft beer bottles, but instead we highly recommend their delicious homemade dark chocolate liquor.
2 Days of Adventure in Mindo
You could easily spend much longer, but if you really want to pack in two full days in Mindo, here's what we recommend:
One Day in Mindo:
• Mindo River Tubing ($6)
• Mindo Canyoning Tour with 3 Waterfall Repels ($15)
• Butterfly Garden ($6)
Other Day in Mindo:
• Tarabita hand-crank cable car ($5)
• Nambillo Waterfalls and hiking ($3)
• Mindo Ziplining ($14)
For the best prices (as listed above) book these Mindo activities once you arrive. There is no shortage of agencies in town to do so and they all seem to offer the same rates and activities.
17) Quito to Cotapaxi Day Trip May Be Quito's Best Adventure!
A day trip to Volcan Cotopaxi from Quito is a must-do for anyone who likes adventure. This glacier-capped beauty is one of the tallest active volcanoes in the world and is the 2nd highest point in Ecuador. The summit is 5,897 meters (that's an elevation of about 3.6 miles)!
Due to heightened volcanic activity, the grueling ascent to the top is currently off-limits at time of writing. But during the Cotopaxi day trip from Quito, you can trek as far up as base camp at an elevation of 4,864 meters. The journey begins after breakfast with a drive through the clouds, up the side of Cotopaxi. You’re likely to see some of the wild horses that frequent this area within Cotopaxi National Park.
The dirt road will eventually end and that’s when the hiking begins. It’s steep yet short trek of perhaps a kilometer or two. But you can really feel the altitude as you climb up the volcanic terrain. Depending on weather conditions at the time, you may even find snow towards the Cotopaxi base camp. It’s there that you’ll be able to warm up with some hot chocolate or try the coca tea to help combat potential altitude sickness.
Yet perhaps the most thrilling part of the Cotopaxi day tour is the descent. For those who have opted to take a Cotopaxi day tour, you’ll take to mountain bikes for a bumpy ride down the side of this active volcano! It’s awesome, and the entire experience makes for one of the best Quito day trips.
18) On Laguna Quilotoa Day Trip You Can Swing on the Edge of a Crater!
A day trip to Laguna Quilotoa Crater is a very popular thing to do from Quito. It’s here that you’ll find a magnificent and colorful crater lake. Words don’t do it justice, so just take a look.
Actually, pictures don’t even really do it justice, as Quilotoa is simply one of those places that you have to see in person. It’s jaw-dropping.
There are some great views from the Quilotoa Crater rim, but it’s a fun hike down the steep path to the bottom. Along the way, you’ll even come across an awesome swing that flies over the edge of the crater. Amazing!
Once at the bottom of Laguna Quilotoa, you can have the opportunity to kayak around the crater lake ($2.50). It’s a tough hike back up to the top. For those that don’t quite have the energy, there are some men with some mules who will be happy to offer their services.
19) Day Trip from Quito to Otavalo Is More Than Craft Markets
Otavalo is home to Ecuador’s most famous local market, which is one of the most renown markets in all of South America. We recommend an Otavalo day trip for anyone who enjoys shopping for local crafts, as you’ll find loads here. If you’re not much of a shopper, you may be underwhelmed by Otavalo, and we would recommend other Quito day trips instead.
The Otavalo market tradition goes back hundreds of years all the way to pre-Incan times. The craft market is a particular highlight with so many colorful items on display. The Otavalo market really expands on Saturdays, but you can visit the craft market any day of the week.
There’s also a Saturday animal market that may seem like a novelty, but we recommend passing on that. There really wasn’t much to it, other than some disturbing animal conditions.
Other things to do in Otavalo: There’s an impressive condor rehabilitation center, Parque Condor which you can reach by taxi for $4. Also nearby is Lagunas de Mojanda, which we found to be an even better reason to journey up this way from Quito, particularly if you enjoy hiking! More on that in the next section.
20) Lagunas de Mojanda is a Hiking Utopia on a Clear Day
This area just outside of Otavalo is a hiker’s paradise on a clear day. What looks like picturesque green foothills are actually high-altitude alpine volcanoes! In between them, you find scenic crater lakes. It can be a magical place to visit when the weather cooperates.
There are dozens of treks to pursue at Lagunas de Mojanda, but the summit of Fuya Fuya seems to be the most popular. It’s a great (and steep) hike to the summit of Fuya Fuya (4,263 meters) that offers some specular views of the lakes below and the many volcanoes that surround. Pro tip: pack some cardboard to slide down this volcano on the descent!
How To Score Cheap Flights to Quito Ecuador
The best-priced airfares from the US to Quito can be found departing from Florida. Orlando, Fort Lauderdale, and Miami all have fares to Quito under $150 each way, if you book at the right time. Try to book at least three weeks in advance. There’s a nonstop JetBlue flight from Fort Lauderdale to Quito that is sometimes even priced less than $100 each way! Other flights from many airports in the US to Quito can cost upwards of $1,000, so it’s worth considering booking a separate flight to Florida first in order to save several hundred dollars in airfare. New York City also tends to have competitive rates to Quito, although usually a layover is involved.
We’ve found the best rates to Quito by searching Skyscanner.
Finding a Cheap Flight from Europe to Quito:
Your cheap ticket from Europe to Quito is likely through Spain. Iberia has a direct flight from Madrid that is sometimes as low as $300-$400 each way! Elsewhere in Europe you may be spending well upwards of $1,500 on a round-trip ticket to Quito, so it may be worth popping over to Madrid for that cost savings.
Again, we’ve found the best rates to Quito by searching Skyscanner.
Where to Stay in Quito
Although it's a very large city, there are two main areas most Quito visitors stay in:
• Old Town
• New Town / Plaza Foch / Mariscal
So which should you choose? It’s a tough call, but we lean more towards recommending a stay in Old Town, particularly so for shorter stays. In Old Town, you’ll be right in the heart Quito’s historic center to more easily experience some of the capital’s cultural highlights.
Yet if you’ll be in Quito for more of a longer stay, you may want to favor New Town, as it enjoys a location with more modern conveniences. You’ll find lots of restaurants, malls, supermarkets, and bars. There’s definitely more of a nightlife scene around Plaza Foch compared to Old Town, so if you came to Quito to party, that’s also a consideration to take into account.
Either way, it really doesn’t make too much of a difference, as these two locations are only separated by a few stops on the Ecovia or a $2-$3 taxi.
Where We Stayed in Quito: Airbnb
Whenever we stay somewhere for longer periods of time, we always rent an apartment or house through Airbnb to have the conveniences of our own place, a kitchen, etc. In Quito we found modern one-bedroom furnished apartments as low as $400 for the month (28 days) including utilities. Of course, shorter stays are possible too, but you may be better served by a hotel or hostel, which are similarly inexpensive throughout Quito. Yet if you’re interested in Airbnb and have never used it before, you can use this link to save $20+ on your first Airbnb booking.
Hostels in Quito Are Best for Solo Travelers and Those on a Budget:
Hostels in Quito are a great option for solo travelers. But those traveling as a couple or group may be able to find better rates at hotels. These are some of the better hostels in Quito we found:
• The Community Hostel: This Quito favorite has great location right in the heart of the Old Town, wedged between Mercado Central (with great inexpensive local meals) and Bandido Brewing. Conveniently, this hostel also runs the free walking tour and offers many inexpensive tours all throughout Quito. Excellent helpful staff and dorm beds start at only $10! Enter your dates here to check Community Hostel rates & availability on HostelWorld.
• Hostel Revolution: is a good choice for those who can't decide whether to stay in Old Town and New Town, as it's kinda right between the two. This hostel boasts rave reviews on HostelWorld.
• Color House: For those wanting to stay in Quito New Town on a budget, this cheap and cheerful hostel may be the best option in the area. It's only one block away from all the fun of Plaza Foch. The $7 dorm beds even include breakfast!
• The Secret Garden: This is another popular hostel in Quito Old Town with a consistent track record of reviews. It's also home to and the meeting point for Carpe DM tour agency, which makes for added convenience for early morning excursions. Yet perhaps its best feature is the hostel's namesake rooftop bar with sweeping views of Quito - take a look at the pic below! Secret Garden dorm beds start at $10.
Here's Some Great Deals for Budget Rooms in Quito:
You can actually find some very decent private rooms in Quito for under $20 per night! They may be fairly basic, but they're clean & comfy crash pads. We scoped out a few places, and our recommendations are below. Clicking on the links take you to the respective hotel's page on hotelscombined.com which conveniently searches all the major booking sites (Booking.com, Expedia, Priceline, etc.) to find you the site with the lowest rate.
• Hotel Yumbo Imperial: You can't beat the location, smack in the middle of the historic center just two blocks form Plaza Grande. Hotel Yumbo boasts small but colorful rooms, at an incredible bargain, with a great location.
• Hotel Margarita 2: This hotel has very nice rooms for under $20 price. Thus, it may be one of the best values in Quito that includes private bathrooms(rather than shared). It's next to a park and only about a 10-minute walk to the historic center.
• L'Auberge Inn: While neither Mariscal nor the historic center is particularly convenient, the hotel's location in between the two, making either area accessible. With great reviews and a great value, this is certainly a place to consider staying in Quito.
Be A Little More Comfortable in These Good Value Quito Hotels:
There are a few 3 & 4-star hotels with excellent reviews, yet with prices at only around $50 per night! Both of the steals even include breakfast, and can be found in Mariscal close to Plaza Foch:
• Embassy Quito: This must be the most modern and stylish hotel you can find in Quito for under $50 and includes breakfast.
• Sierra Madre: This is another great option near Plaza Foch, with breakfast, and rooms under $50 per night.
Enjoy Luxury for Less:
If you want a little luxury, these 5-star hotels still offer great value, as most are only slightly over $100.
• GHL Hotel Le Parc: Add some elegance to your stay in Quito with this swanky hotel in the financial district right next to Parque Carolina.
• NH Collection Royal Quito: This modern hotel is all class in the trendy La Floresta neighborhood.
• Casa San Marcos Hotel Boutique: If you're looking for a classy place in Quito Old Town that retains the area's historic charm, look no further. This boutique hotel offers all the modern conveniences amongst gorgeous antiques and old world charm. This intimate space boasts an excellent location in Old Town. If we were to splurge in Quito, this would be our first choice.
Quito Travel Tips
Don’t check the weather. Seriously, don’t bother. It’s always wrong. Apparently the weather in Quito is very unpredictable. I’ve never witnessed forecasts to be so wrong anywhere in the world.
Always bring a rain jacket. Weather changes in an instant in Quito. A beautiful sunny day can turn into a torrential downpour with almost no transition. Always take a rain jacket with you even if it appears to be a bright sunshiny day.
Get to know the “almuerzos.” The Spanish word for lunch is“Almuerzo.” But in Quito it takes on a slightly different meaning, as restaurants offering “almuerzos” are generally dishing out a set 3-course set menu of soup, a main w/ sides, dessert, and juice. Almuerzo prices typically range $2.00-$3.50. The incredible values are very common all over Quito. Look for the sandwich boards or a handwritten sign.
Use lots of sunscreen. In Quito you have the double-whammy of the equatorial sun and altitude. The sun in Quito is no joke and we managed to get burned even on cloudy days. Pack sunscreen with you. It tends to be much more expensive in Quito compared to US prices. Use at least SPF 50. We like this Banana Boat sunscreen that Amazon sells at a good price.
Beware of the altitude. Quito is one of the highest capital cities in the world with an altitude of 3,000 meters (that’s about two miles high)! Some people visiting Quito from sea level experience symptoms of altitude sickness. Allow a few days to acclimatize before pursuing physical activities like Cotopaxi and Quilotoa. For those particularly prone to altitude sickness, consider taking this natural medication. It's a bit pricey, but seems to be well worth it from all the great reviews. Avoid that throbbing headache and instead enjoy your trip to Quito!
Don’t drink the water. The tap water in Quito is generally not safe to drink. Use bottled water only. Also, consider traveling with this compact LifeStraw. We have one and it really came in handy a few times when we realized we were out of bottled water at night, after all the stores were closed.
Cash is king. While some places do accept credit card, most don’t. Some places that do take plastic may add a fee. ATMs are frequent.
Never pay above $20. Places generally won’t accept $50 or $100 bills. Come with small change as you’ll otherwise have a very difficult time breaking that hundo spot. Even twenties can sometimes be cumbersome to break. Carry small change if possible.
Carry your ID. It’s not only the law. Bars often ask to see your ID upon entry (even when you’re clearly of age) and it is almost always required if you do make any credit card purchases.
Avoid public transportation for short trips. We’re usually strong advocates of public transportation as a cost-effective means of transport. But in Quito we found taxi rates to be very reasonable (a few kilometers across town is typically less than $2). Meanwhile the $0.25 Ecovia, Troles, and buses would be crazy packed that you can barely breathe. It’s definitely worth it to spend a few extra quarters.
Use the meter for taxis in Quito. Often a taxi driver will turn on his meter upon you entering the cab. If he does, go with it. It’s a good rate. If not, be sure to negotiate a price immediately or you could end up paying more than expected.
Watch out for pickpockets. Keep very vigilant, particularly in crowded places frequented by tourists. While we found Quito to be safe overall, we noticed that pickpockets seemed to be out in full force in touristic areas. We thwarted three separate attempts during our time in the city. Be very mindful if someone seems to be innocently bumping into you.
Important: Be Sure to Have Travel Insurance in Quito. You never know what could go wrong during a trip to Quito, from a minor incident like lost luggage or flight cancelation to a major disaster like an earthquake or a car accident, travel insurance will not only come to your rescue but will cover those unexpected costs. Whether you sprain an ankle while hiking Cotopaxi or become a pickpocketing victim in Plaza Grande, don’t let something like this ruin your trip to Quito. We always use travel insurance while roaming around Ecuador and recommend it. We like World Nomads, which has what we’ve found to have the best price and coverage combination (particularly for longer trips). Enter the dates for your trip to get a quick estimate.
What to Pack for Quito: Pack for Quito as you would for any cool weather destination. We also recommend plenty of active wear and sun protection. Be sure to check out our Ultimate Travel Packing List for all our packing tips and travel gear ideas. Fun fact: we wrote that post while in Quito.
Best Things to Do In Quito?
We hope this Quito travel guide has helped to show all of our favorite things to do in Ecuador's capital. If you've used this guide to help plan a trip to Quito, please let us know in the comments, as we always love to hear from people who may have stumbled across our posts. Also, if you've been to Quito and have your own favorite place, let us know so we can check it out next time. And there will be a next time - Quito is way to fun for us not to return!