There are so many awesome things to do in Quito, Ecuador!
Home to the country’s largest international airport, Quito is frequently used as a gateway city to access the rest of Ecuador. Often travelers visit Quito as a quick one-day stopover on the way to the Galapagos. But there are so many fun things to do in Quito, that a longer stay is easily justified.
The many things to do listed within this detailed Quito travel guide have been carefully curated. Here you’ll find the best attractions and activities in Ecuador’s high-altitude capital city.
Welcome to Quito, Ecuador!
Quito, Ecuador: Introduction & Fast Facts
Quito is the capital of Ecuador and the country’s second-largest city. At an elevation of 2,850 meters (9,350 feet, or nearly 2 miles high), Quito is also the highest constitutional capital city in the entire world.
This high-flung capital dates way back to its founding, in 1534. Some of the architecture from that century can still be found in Quito’s Old Town today!
But fast-forward to 2019 and visitors will realize that Quito is a fascinating mix of old-meets-new. Historic alleyways and baroque buildings are situated against a backdrop of modern skyscrapers with trendy eateries. Quito is a land of beautiful contrasts. Quito is indeed a busy and sprawling metropolis. Yet the looming volcanos and tranquil Andean mountain peaks surrounding the city provide a stark reminder of the serene landscapes all around.
Best Things to Do in Quito Ecuador
There are plenty of things to do in Quito itself to fill several days of a packed itinerary. Quito contains:
- dozens of historic buildings to discover in Old Town,
- more than fifty museums to tour,
- great city parks to stroll,
- the unique opportunity of visiting the equator line,
- hundreds of ornate churches to admire,
- hiking trails to trek from right within the city, and
- a ride from the city into the Andes one of the highest cable cars in the world.
Add to all that some fantastic local cuisine to eat plus some interesting local drinks to tip back and you’ll begin to comprehend that there really are so many things to do in Quito.
Yet those who like adventure activities should budget extra time into their Ecuador itinerary for Quito’s day trips. Quito acts as an excellent travel hub to organize day excursions, all within a two-hour drive of the city. There’s an abundance of popular Quito day trips to consider, from summiting an icy volcano to river tubing through a lush cloud forest. Or consider overnight journeys to these many worthwhile destinations in the Andes.
We’ve now spent two full months on the ground in Quito on two separate trips, thoroughly researching and scouting out all the Quito’s best travel pursuits. This Quito travel guide contains our personally-vetted recommendations of things to do. It goes further to reveal all the practical information you’ll need for a trip to Quito, such as directions, tips, and logistics.
This is all in a grand effort to help travelers make the most of a visit to Quito. So we hope this Best Things to Do In Quito Travel Guide proves helpful to anyone planning a trip to this great South American capital.
The following lists our top 20 recommendations. And here’s a handy Quito map to help find everything!
1) Wander Quito’s Historic Center
Quito’s Old Town acts as a show-stealer within Ecuador’s capital city. Wandering through the bustling streets among centuries-old architecture is not just something to see in Quito. The Old Town is something to experience.
Quito historic center is recognized as having the best-preserved, least altered historic center in all of Latin America. It’s this accolade that led Quito to become the first city in the world to be declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site (alongside Krakow, Poland) back in 1978. Read the full Quito UNESCO description.
Quito Old Town delivers not only cultural significance. Quito’s historic center exudes charm. Despite earthquakes and modernization, the baroque buildings throughout Quito’s Old Town remain largely intact. It can feel like another era wandering amongst the beautiful architecture that’s been here for nearly a half-millennium!
To begin exploring Quito Old Town, head to its heart. That’s Plaza Grande.
All within a 10-minute walking radius of this centrally-located plaza are dozens of notable buildings and attractions to see within Quito’s historic center.
To help narrow down some points of interest, Quito’s Center of Touristic Services suggests the following six locations as the must-sees of Quito Old Town:
- Plaza Grande is Quito’s main central square and is a great place to start. Surrounding Plaza Grande is:
- Presidential Palace: also known as Carondelet Palace, this is where Ecuador’s president lives and works.
- Metropolitan Cathedral: Catholic church completed in 1565 and now the archdiocese. Has tour & museum ($3).
- La Compañía de Jesus: a 17th-century Jesuit church a few blocks away from Plaza Grande, known for its gold-covered interior.
- Plaza San Francisco: Quito plaza that contains the city’s oldest church (St Francis), street vendors, a chapel, a museum with religious art, and cafes. But it’s the Andes views here that provide a beautiful natural backdrop during a clear day.
- La Merced: White, domed Catholic Church (1736) that contains important artworks and library.
- San Agustin: Historical convent (1617), where Ecuador’s Independence Act was signed and houses many paintings from 17th-century artist Miguel de Santiago. Hourlong tours of the halls and interior courtyard are $2.
- City Museum: Learn all about the history of Quito through the chronological exhibits in this former hospital building.
For those interested in architecture, churches, and history, it’s easily possible to spend an entire day, or more, exploring Quito Old Town. Yet even those with a casual interest should still be fascinated for hours strolling through the historic center’s cobblestone alleyways.
Budget some time to take a break at one of the many cafes in order to simply watch life in Quito pass by. Or consider winding down a stroll through the historic center at 🍺 Bandido Brewing for what we say is the best craft beer in Quito Old Town. (Note: it’s $3 pints during happy hour from 4:00-7:00).
2) Climb the Basilica del Voto Nacional for Views & Oddities
If a visitor were to only go to one of Quito’s numerous churches, our recommendation is to definitely visit the Basilica del Voto Nacional.
Quito’s Basilica is not just another church in South America. Visit this church, even if you’re not into churches. It is actually the largest neo-Gothic church in all of the Americas.
But it’s not just the Basilica’s grandiosity that makes a trip here one of the best things to do in Quito. It can be such an adventurous experience to climb the towers! The brave who make it to the top are rewarded with stunning views of Quito down below. Definitely make sure that climbing this rickety route is on your list of things to do in Quito. Yet below are three more great reasons of why the Quito Basilica deserves a visit.
See the Armadillos that Have Replaced Gargoyles
Ecuadorian iguanas, armadillos, and Andean condors can all be found lining the Basilica’s exterior. It’s such an interesting sight! Those who don’t know to look may miss it entirely.
Pursue the Harrowing Climb atop This Church
After ascending many steps midway up one of the Basilica’s towers, visitors can walk directly atop the enclosed church roof on a wooden plank walkway. Then the climb begins on a series of steep & stairs and even ladders. Children and adults regularly turn back out of nervousness. Those who are able to climb higher and higher will finally reach the top to enjoy incredible views of Quito.
It can all be a little nerve-wracking for those with even the slightest fear of heights. But it’s this adventure involved that helps to make a visit to the Basilica such a fun thing to do in Quito! The ladders are sturdy and there is railing.
Have a Beer in Church – Really!
Perhaps the most unique thing to do in the Quito Basilica is to have a beer in this church! It’s a great way to calm your nerves after the climb, while also taking in those sweet Quito vistas.
Before exiting the other tower in the Basilica, walk up the spiral staircase to reach the Basilica’s somewhat hidden café. The views are great here too! So grab a table by the windows overlooking Quito Old Town and enjoy a cold cerveza from inside this place of worship. Doing so may be one of the more unusual things to do in Quito, Ecuador!
3) Take the Quito TelefériQo High Into the Andes
The TelefériQo is Quito’s awesome cable car that flies passengers high up into the Andes. It’s pretty incredible to be able to go from the middle of this bustling capital city to then be transported to the peaceful mountaintops. This occurs all within an ultra-scenic 18-minute cable car ride. Personally, taking the teleferiQo is our favorite thing to do in Quito.
Quito’s TelefériQo is one of the highest cable car lifts in the world. It brings passengers up to an altitude of about 4,000 meters (about 2.5 miles high). The 2.5-kilometer ride on the aerial gondola itself is a lot of fun. Yet there are even more things to do once at the top of this beloved Quito attraction.
The upper TeleferiQo station is actually on the eastern slope of the Pichincha Volcano! After arriving to the upper station, there’s a lookout platform to soak in the views. You’ll also find hiking trails to trek, horseback riding ($10 per hour), a few cafes to relax at, a church, a swing soaring off the side of this mountain, and some touristic photo opportunities with resident llamas.
Gazing way back down towards the city, the lookout platform offers some of the best sweeping views of Quito. It gives perspective of just how big the city is, tucked into the mountain valley.
There’s also now a thrilling swing for adventurous souls to fly right over Quito! And it’s free.
Yet it’s the hiking trails way up here that make for a particularly awesome recreational pursuit.
For those who are well-acclimatized, it’s possible to trek the high altitude trail to summit Rucu Pichincha. It takes about 4-5 hours to complete the 10-kilometer roundtrip hike up this active volcano. The trail starts out fairly easy and well-defined. But it becomes a steep and strenuous climb in parts.
Patchy snow can even be encountered along the way. This makes it one of the few places in the world to find snow in the equatorial zone. There’s also a rock scramble towards the Rucu Pichincha summit. So this should only be pursued by experienced hikers.
4) Go to the Equator and Its Quirky Attractions
La Mitad del Mundo (the Middle of the World) is one big tourist attraction near Quito. This is where the equator passes through Ecuador. It’s all at latitude zero, just north of Quito.
Is Going to the Equator Really Worth It?
Quito’s equator attractions are completely touristy and out of the way from central Quito. Also, the main monument isn’t even actually on the equator. Despite these downsides, visiting the equator can still be a quirky and fun thing to do in Quito. It’s a half-day diversion on the northern outskirts of the capital.
For those with only one day or two days in Quito, perhaps the equator attractions could be something to skip. But if you’re in Quito for more than a few days, it’s almost necessary to add it to your Quito itinerary. Come see what all the fuss is about and snap a few equator-selfies!
Understand there are two separate Quito equator attractions:
- Ciudad Mitad del Mundo,
- Museo Solar Intiñan
Quito Equator Attraction #1: Ciudad Mitad del Mundo
Mitad del Mundo is the location of the main equator monument and that big yellow equator line to snap an equator selfie on top of. Just realize that modern GPS technology shows that the monument was actually erected about 230 meters south of the actual equator. Oops!
They haven’t changed the line, nor is there any mention of the inaccuracy at the famed monument. It’s close enough.
The monument here is the main attraction. But there’s an entire “equator city” that surrounds it. That’s known as the Ciudad Mitad del Mundo (Middle of the World City). Here, visitors will find loads of tourist shops, cafes, a planetarium, a train ride, and other little attractions.
Quito Equator Attraction #2: Museo Solar Intiñan
The Museo Solar Intiñan is a smaller and lesser-visited attraction in Quito’s equator zone. Yet, it’s no less interesting. The Intiñan Museum is closer to where the equator passes through. Although our GPS showed their equator line was still 90 meters south of latitude 0.
Upon entering the open-air museum, guests are taken for an included 45-minute tour to see kitschy exhibits that have nothing to do with the equator. There’s a shrunken head, a preserved anaconda, and other Ecuadorian oddities.
Then it’s on to the main show: the equator.
On Intiñin’s equator line, a guide leads visitors through a few funny “experiments,” that many are 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 purportedly changes on either side of the equator. (Watch closely at the direction the water was poured from and judge for yourself.)
It’s also possible to attempt walking a straight line on the equator. It’s supposedly more difficult since both hemispheres are tugging at you. We’re doubtful of this too. Yet the results of our attempt, captured on video, speaks for itself:
Despite our suspicions of scientific misrepresentations, the Museo Solar Intiñan is all good fun! Go there, have a laugh, and judge the experiments for yourself.
Directions to Equator Attractions from Quito
So which of the two equator attractions to visit? We suggest to go to both. They are both inexpensive, don’t take much time, and are two completely different equator experiences. If you’ve taken the time to reach this area, visit the two attractions together.
6) Check Out the Guayasamín Collection and Quito’s 50+ Museums
There are dozens of museums all 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 the perfect solution for things to do in Quito on a rainy day.
There is a museum for just about every interest in Quito, whether that's art, culture, history, religion, and more. There are even more obscure museums like a water museum and even an artisan beer museum at the equator. Yet some of Quito’s most popular museums include:
- For Everything Ecuador: *Museo Nacional* – Ecuador’s expansive National Museum contains a large and impressive collection of Ecuadorian artwork, historical exhibits, and artifacts. It's a great free museum - go!
- For Culture: Mindalae Museum – ethno-historical craft museum that explores Ecuador’s indigenous people. ($3)
- For Ancient Relics: Casa del Alabado – houses a large collection of well preserved pre-Colombian artwork. ($4)
- For Quito's History: Museo de la Ciudad – exhibits in a former hospital chronologically showcasing Quito’s history. ($3)
Guayasamín's La Capilla Del Hombre Museum
Yet perhaps the most popular museum in Quito is the adjoining La Capilla Del Hombre and Museo Guayasamín ($8). If only visiting one museum in Quito, this is likely the best bet. And particularly so for art-lovers.
Oswaldo Guayasamín is arguably Ecuador's most famous painter. Even for those who have never heard of this artist, there's much to learn about Guayasamín at this museum. Most visitors depart with a newfound respect and fascination for Guayasamín.
“The Chapel of the Man” is his masterpiece building. Guayasamín personally designed it before his death (1999) to showcase his masterworks. The neighboring home/museum offers a peek into Guayasamín’s life. It also shows off the artist's prized collections, his bedroom, his working art studio, and more of his art pieces.
7) Enjoy Quito's Central Park and Botanical Gardens
For such a busy South American capital city, there's a refreshing number of parks and green spaces throughout Quito. If the busy streets and bus exhaust become a bother, these parks are the perfect escape right within the city. In Quito's parks, visitors can be greeted by hummingbirds in the fresh air amongst a forest of trees.
Our best Quito park suggestion is: Parque Carolina. This big park right in the middle of the city is somewhat reminiscent of New York’s Central Park. But Parque Carolina is distinctly and charmingly Ecuadorian.
Carolina Park can be best experienced on weekends. That's when it seems all of Quito comes here for some outdoor fun. Lots of food vendors are set up to serve Ecuadorian favorites like fritada, ceviche de chocho, fresh juices, and more.
Quiteños come to Parque Carolina for a bit of recreation within the city. Or a fiesta. It's never surprising to find a local festival or even a concert happening within this park.
Parque Carolina also holds more than just futbol fields, playgrounds, and running tracks. It also boasts the largest free skatepark that we've seen anywhere in the world. Additionally, there's a man-made river, where park-goers can rent paddle boats for a leisurely float around the park ($4.50 per boat, per half hour).
Explore Quito's Botanical Gardens
Perhaps most notable for travelers, within Parque Carolina there's the really well-done Quito Botanical Gardens. Visitors will find multiple greenhouses offering a glimpse into the different regions of Ecuador, from the high paromo (alpine) to lowland jungle environments. It's an expansive and impressive garden, with meandering trails throughout.
Both the rose garden and orchid garden are highlights. There's even a Japanese zen garden. But perhaps most interesting is the greenhouse showcasing carnivorous plants!
8) Climb the Steps to Itchimbía for Views and the Crystal Palace
It's a healthy climb up the many flights of stairs on the eastern side of Quito’s Old Town to reach the area known as Itchimbía. Itchimbía is where that big orange Quito sign makes for great photo ops overlooking the city. So after catching your breath from climbing the stairs, go check out the sign and pose for a selfie.
Itchimbia is also home to Quito’s Crystal Palace. This massive structure of iron flanked with glass walls was shipped over from Germany over 100 years ago. It's said to resemble the Las Halles market in Paris, and as such, has served as a market itself.
The Crystal Palace now functions as a cultural center that hosts events. Yet it often sits empty, making for a particularly pleasant chill-out spot in Quito that is complete with bean bag chairs.
A third great reason to make the trek up to Itchimbia is simply for more sweet views of this awesome city. For the best photos, visit Itchimbia during the morning. That’s when the eastern sun lights up the Old Town to the west.
While the afternoon sun isn't favorable to taking pictures towards the west, there is a great reason to visit Itchimbia after 4:00 pm.
On the street just below Itchimbia Park, Manuel Samaniego, there are three restaurants directly next to one another. They each offer spectacular views of the city as you dine and are in the perfect position to watch the sunset over Quito. At the very least, consider popping in for a drink to reward yourself for climbing up all those steps. We enjoyed Cafe Mosaico. But you can also try Vista Hermosa and Pideme La Luna.
9) Plaza Foch: It's What to Do in Quito at Night
Plaza Foch is THE party place in Quito. All around this central plaza in New Town, there are many cafes, bars, and clubs. It's in this area that young Quiteños mix with travelers who frequent the area, each looking for a good time. An evening partying around Plaza Foch is among the most fun things to do in Quito at night.
Plaza Foch is a place for celebrations and revelry. Grab a table outside. 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! Here's a video to give an idea of what the scene is like in Plaza Foch on December 31.
But Plaza Foch is more than just loud clubs. Cozy bars and even a number of craft beer pubs are also found in this area. (More on the latter in section #12 of this Quito travel guide!)
10) Drink Canelazo on Calle 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. With its balcony-lined cobblestone street, La Ronda may just be one of the most scenic stretches of Quito's historic center.
A few shops and many cafés line this picturesque cobblestone alleyway. These buildings actually date way back to the 1600s. So La Ronda makes for a particularly inviting setting in Quito to stop in for a drink. Find an empty table at any one of these second-level balconies and order the specialty here: a canelazo.
Canelazo is a warm alcoholic drink found throughout the Ecuadorian highlands. This distinctly Ecuadorian beverage is made from hot cinnamon-sugar water that’s usually flavored with local fruit, most commonly naranjilla. Aguardiente (sugarcane alcohol) is added to give canelazo its kick. Know that the strength of canelazo can vary drastically based on how much aguardiente is used.
Canelazo tends to be quite sweet, with lots of panela (raw sugar) added. But the spiciness of the cinnamon and the citrusy tang of the naranjilla fruit helps to balance it out.
Canelazo is a popular drink throughout Ecuador during December, particularly so for Fiestas del Quito and Christmas. But on La Ronda, canelazo is popular all year long. And we can't think of a more perfect setting to sip canelazo than perched on a balcony in La Ronda.
11) Eat Your Way Around Quito: Try the Local Specialties
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 to be on the lookout for.
Here are a few favorite local Quito dishes we recommend to try:
Eat Locro de Papa in Quito
This is a creamy and hearty soup that’s quite popular throughout the Ecuadorian Andes. But it is most iconic to Quito to the point that it's sometimes even called Locro Quiteño. It’s a soup made with three of our favorite local ingredients: potato, cheese, and avocado!
This rich & creamy soup is a perfect way to keep warm in these higher elevations. A white mozzarella-like cheese is what’s plunked into the milk-based broth. Locro de papa is further flavored with onion, garlic, cumin, and ground annatto seed (achiote). The soup is completed by being topped with freshly sliced avocado - yum! 🌱 It's vegetarian-friendly too!
Locro de papa is commonly found throughout Quito. In Old Town, try the locro de papa in the historic courtyard surroundings of Hasta la Vuelta. At $8, it's a bit pricey for this soup. But the atmosphere and quality helps to justify it.
Eat Empanadas de Viento in Quito
Translated to "wind empanadas” because of the airy interior that’s created when it’s fried. Gooey melted cheese is tucked inside the crispy fried dough and a bit of sugar is sprinkled on top. These snacks are often huge and sharable.
Empanadas de viento pair great to pair with a canelzao. They can be found throughout Quito. Empanadas de viento are most commonly found in La Ronda. Expect to pay $2-$4, depending on the size and location.
Eat Fritada in Quito
Fritada has many local Ecuadorian components, anchored by flavorful pork. That pork is boiled in spiced-up water until it evaporates, when the pork is then fried in its own fat.
This culminates in some tasty pork morsels that are good on their own merit. But one of the best aspects of fritada is the variety of sides it comes with. Here's what you normally get: hominy, toasted corn, avocado, ripe plantain, and llapingachos.
What are Llapingachos? They're fried potato pancakes stuffed with cheese. Often served as a side to many dishes in Quito. Be sure to try them too, whether with fritada or on their own!
Where to find good local food in Quito?
For lunch in Old Town, one of the best places to try local Quito cuisine is at the Mercado Central. An array of food stalls awaits to compete for your business. Prices are inexpensive and all of Quito's classics can be found here. It's also a great place to mix with the local Quiteño crowd.
For dinner in La Floresta, try the street food stalls in Parque Navarro, which similarly sports a charmingly local vibe amidst this neighborhood that's better known for its upscale restaurants.
If you're either a foodie who wants to explore Ecuadorian cuisine further or simply hesitant to approach unfamiliar street foods on your own, then definitely consider taking this Quito Food Tour. It's a deal at only $25, including lots of nibbles. But it's only offered on Friday nights.
12) Stumble onto a Quito Craft Beer Pub Crawl
There's no better way to wash down Quito's street food than the city's delicious craft beer. Quito’s craft beer scene is exploding right now and there are great microbreweries scattered all throughout the capital. In traveling extensively in Ecuador, we can definitively say that Quito has the best craft beers and the most brewpubs anywhere in the country.
This makes for a fantastic opportunity to go on a craft beer pub-crawl in Quito. It's possible to create your pub crawl or leave it to the professionals by joining an organized Quito Craft Beer Tour. Both options are a blast for any beer-lovers traveling to Quito.
Quito Craft Beer Tour
For an easy and fun way to discover the best craft beer places in Quito, book this Quito Craft Beer Tour. A designated driver conveniently takes drinkers around to three notable Quito brewpubs. The modest $44 price not only includes the transportation, but also beer at each brewery and a liquid welcome gift! Besides the convenience of a driver, guests also learn a lot about the flourishing Quito craft beer scene and potentially meet some of the brewers. Check the availability calendar and recent reviews here.
A DIY Craft Beer Pub Crawl
Or form a craft beer pub crawl of your own. Some Quito brewpubs are within close proximity of each other to walk. Uber and taxis make it easy getting to further-flung microbreweries. All in the name of research, we visited over a dozen craft breweries in Quito. Below are some of the favorites that we recommend, with happy hours noted to save you a few bucks while sampling Quito's finest brews!
Best Quito Craft Breweries in Old Town:
🍺 Bandido Brewing is our favorite brewpub in Quito Old Town. During the weekday 4-7 happy hour pints are $3.
🍺 Santa Rosa Cerverza recently opened this second location to now offer Old Town some of the best beers in Quito.
🍺 La Oficina brews up their own San Blas beers, which are decent and very well-priced. $4 pints drop to $2 during their generous 5:00-7:00 happy hour.
Best Quito Craft Breweries in New Town:
🍺 ABYSMO Brew Pub has some high-quality brews in Quito. Great IPAs, but it's the bourbon stout that is the best of its kind in Ecuador. Half-liters $5.50-$6.50.
🍺 Santa Rosa Cerverza Artesanal Bar arguably has some of the best craft beer in Quito. The IPAs are excellent, particularly the Dark IPA. Pints: ~$6. A Tuesday-only happy hour drops select taps to $3.50 from 4:00-8:00.
🍺 Bandidos del Paramo: This Quito brewpub is a taproom collaboration of two established Quito craft breweries: Bandidos and Paramo. Happy hour is 3x2 beers until 8:00. Now with two locations (1) Plaza Foch and (2) Whymper.
🍺 3 Monjes: La Floresta staple with some particularly strong and tasty brews. $5.50 half-liters.
Honorable Mentions in New Town
🍺 Cherusker Cerveceria: Cherusker goes for a German flair and it’s their German styles that shine the brightest. We recommend the Bavaria Wheat Beer. 5 beers on tap. $3.50-$3.90 per pint.
🍺 Indie Beer Company: 6 beers on tap (2 of their own, 4 guest taps.) $4.50 per pint, or 2 for $6. Pleasant atmosphere with okay beer.
🍺 Cervecería Camino del Sol: This is a fairly common craft beer brand in Ecuador and their Plaza Foch brewpub makes a convenient location. 5 beers on tap. $4.90 per half-liter. The beer is decent and the label artwork is awesome.
13) Explore and Admire La Floresta's Street Art
La Floresta is a trendy Quito neighborhood in New Town with some excellent restaurants. Big historic hacienda-style houses help to define this Quito enclave. Yet it's the flourishing street art scene that's really beginning to make this neighborhood stand out.
Dozens of intricate murals and tasteful graffiti can be found all throughout La Floresta. It can be like walking through an outdoor art museum! But to see the best works, you must know where to look.
Thankfully there's a great street art walking tour of La Floresta. The free (tip-based) walking tour hits all the most notable places in La Floresta, led by a passionate and knowledgable street artist. While street art is the focus of this La Floresta tour, it also takes in some of the neighborhood's best viewpoints, a visit to an artist's workshop, markets, and more.
This Floresta waking tour makes an interesting exploration to discover a different side of Quito.
14) Join Quito’s Sunday Bike Ride: Quito Ciclopaseo
Every Sunday morning beginning at 8:00 am, a 30-kilometer stretch of Quito's streets are 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 a few of Quito's parks!
Many places in the city tend to be closed on Sunday. So the Ciclopaseo can be one of the best things to do in Quito on Sundays. Take to two wheels and explore Quito from behind the handlebars!
Here's a glimpse into what that's like.
15) Tour the Government Palace and Meet the President of Ecuador
How cool is this! Every Monday in Quito, there is a big changing of the guard ceremony outside of the Presidential Palace, also known as Carondelet 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 a choreographed moment. And then everyone in the plaza gets a chance to wave to the President of Ecuador.
If in Quito on a Monday, it's highly recommended to squeeze this procession into your Quito itinerary. Greeting the President may be one of the most unique free things to do in Quito. Occasionally the president misses the weekly tradition, but the changing of the guards still takes place, regardless of his attendance or not. It all goes down in Plaza Grande every Monday at 11:00 am.
⚠️ Important tip: Be extra vigilant of pickpockets as the plaza gets crowded during the ceremony and many become distracted while sneaky pickpockets are out in force.
It's also possible to tour Quito's presidential palace! This is an interesting opportunity to be able to tour the Ecuadorian equivalent of the White House. And it's yet another free thing to do in Quito. The grand tour can take up to two hours, visiting the stately interior of offices, banquet rooms, courtyards, and the balcony. Note, there is no longer a ticketing system as there once was. Now advanced reservations are required. Info below.
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, those who have time should consider doing some of them as overnight excursions. You'll get a chance to explore each place deeper. That said, each can still be accomplished on a day trip from Quito.
16) Go to the Mindo Cloud Forest for Birding and Adventure
The Mindo Cloud Forest is a fascinating environment located less than a two-hour drive from Quito. This cloud forest is similar to a rainforest. But the elevation and nearly constant low-lying cloud cover is what makes Mindo a cloud forest instead. People come to Mindo from all over the world for its biodiversity that boasts over 500 bird species!
Yet Mindo is highly recommended not only for its nature and birding, but also for adventure!
In Mindo, there are many recreation pursuits. Common outdoor activities in Mindo include hiking, canyoning, repelling down waterfalls, zip lining, hand-pull cable cars, rope bridges, and river tubing.
Additionally, Mindo may have some of the best value adventure activities we've seen anywhere in the world! To give an example, zip-lining starts at $10 for a half-course run through the cloud forest and tube rafting is $6!
In addition to the many adventures in Mindo, there’s also a worthwhile butterfly garden ($7.50), a chocolate factory ($10), and quaint riverside cafes to relax at over a beer.
While it is possible to visit Mindo as a day trip, those who enjoy outdoor adventure should consider a minimum of staying one night. Personally, Mindo is one of our favorite places in Ecuador. If you also enjoy nature and adventure, then be sure to read our separate travel guide that details the: 10 Best Things To Do in Mindo Cloud Forest. And check out all the video highlights below:
17) Cotopaxi Day Trip: Hike Towards the Snowy Summit of an Active Volcano
A day trip from Quito to Cotopaxi is a must-do excursion for any travelers who enjoy 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 high)!
To reach the summit of Cotopaxi, it takes a grueling overnight ascent that is occasionally off-limits due to heightened volcanic activity. But during Cotopaxi day trips from Quito, it's possible to 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 and up the side of Cotopaxi. Wild horses can often be spotted in this area of Cotopaxi National Park.
The dirt road eventually ends and that’s when the hiking begins. It’s a steep yet short trek, a bit more than 1 km. But the lower oxygen levels at this altitude make it a more difficult trek up the volcanic terrain. Depending on weather conditions at the time, there's a chance of snow towards the Cotopaxi base camp. It’s there that hikers can warm up with some hot chocolate or try the coca tea to help combat any 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, mountain bikes provide 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) Take a Laguna Quilotoa Day Trip to this Scenic Crater Lake
A day trip to Laguna Quilotoa Crater is a very popular and worthwhile thing to do from Quito. This former volcano collapsed from an eruption that is estimated to have occurred about 600 years ago. Now the remaining crater lays filled with water, transformed as a deep crater lake. And it's an awe-inspiring sight.
Pictures don’t even really do it justice. Quilotoa is simply one of those places that you have to see in person. It’s jaw-droppingly gorgeous.
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, there's an awesome swing that flies over the edge of the crater. Amazing!
Once at the bottom of Laguna Quilotoa, there's a chance to kayak around the crater lake ($2.50). It’s then a tough hike back up to the top. For those who don’t quite have the energy, some men with some mules are happy to offer their services.
While going to Laguna Quilotoa does make a good day trip from Quito, it's also possible to pursue an awesome 3-day trek in around the crater and through Andean farming villages, with great hostel stays and filling meals. This is known as the Quilotoa Loop. It's one of our favorite treks in South America.
For more info on that, see our separate post: How To Trek the Quilotoa Loop the Cheap & Easy Way.
19) Day Trip from Quito to Otavalo for Crafts and Crater Lake
Otavalo is home to Ecuador’s most famous local market, which is one of the largest and 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 the best craft shopping in all of Ecuador here.
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. This famous Otavalo market really expands on Saturdays, and to a lesser extent, on Wednesdays.
On Saturday the market sprawls out across dozens of blocks of Otavalo's streets. The market runs from 8:00 am to 6:00 pm. Although we notice people begin to start packing up after 4:00 pm. While Saturday and Wednesday are best, it is possible to visit the craft market any day of the week.
On Saturdays, there's also an animal market. It may seem like a novelty, but we suggest passing on that. There's really not much to it, other than disturbing animal conditions.
More things to do around Otavalo
There’s an impressive condor rehabilitation center, Parque Condor, which can be reached by taxi from Otavalo for $4. Near there is a beautiful waterfall, Waterfall Peguche, accessible by a short hike. Also nearby are many stunning Andean lakes, such as Laguna Cuicocha (below).
It's so worth it to take a day tour to Otavalo since they easily include stops at many additional locations. Due to timing and connections, it would be impossible to visit them all on your own during a single day. The highlight of a day tour in the Otavalo area is the stunning crater lake known as Laguna Cuicocha! If going to Otavalo, ensure this is a stop on your day tour.
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, scenic crater lakes abound. 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 is 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!
While it may be among the most beautiful places in the region, it does take a bit more effort to reach from Quito than the aforementioned day trip suggestions. Unfortunately there are no organized day tours go to Lagunas de Mojanda.
Quito Ecuador: Travel Tips
Before pursuing all the fun things to do in Quito, there are other logistics and travel tips to be aware of. We've scouted out the cheapest flights to get to Quito, the best places to stay in Quito, and important travel tips you need to know.
How to Score Cheap Flights to Quito Ecuador
🇺🇸 Finding a Cheap Flight: US to Quito
The best-priced airfares from the US to Quito can be found departing from Florida. Orlando, Fort Lauderdale, and Miami. Each of those locations regularly have airfare to Quito under $250 each way. Try to book at least three weeks in advance. There’s a nonstop JetBlue flight from Fort Lauderdale to Quito that we've even seen 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: Europe to Quito
The cheap ticket from Europe to Quito is likely through Spain. As of 2o2o, we've regularly seen direct flights between Madrid and Quito listed around $330, one-way.
So if flying from Europe, it can be worth considering flying to Madrid first, then onward to Quito. Elsewhere in Europe, you may be spending well upwards of $1,500 on a round-trip ticket to Quito. You can flights these cheap flights from Madrid to Quito using three different airlines that serve this route: Iberia, Air Europa, and Plus Ultra Lineas Aereas.
Again, we’ve found the best rates from Europe to Quito by searching Skyscanner.
Where to Stay in Quito Ecuador: Old Town vs New Town
Although it's a very large city, there are two main areas most Quito visitors stay in:
- Old Town
- New Town: La Mariscal & La Floresta
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 for those who are in Quito for a longer stay, New Town may prove a better option. New Town enjoys a location with more modern conveniences. There are lots of restaurants, malls, supermarkets, and bars. There’s also more of a nightlife scene around Plaza Foch compared to Old Town. So those looking to party may also be better situated in New Town. And it can be a bit safer at night.
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 Uber/taxi.
Hostels in Quito Are Best for Solo Travelers ⭐
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:
🏨Best in Old Town: The Community Hostel: This Quito favorite has a 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.
🏨 Highest Reviews: 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 some of the highest reviews on HostelWorld.
🏨 Best in New Town: 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. And the $7 dorm beds even include breakfast!
🏨 Best for Day Trips & Sweet Views: The Secret Garden: This is another popular hostel in Quito Old Town with a consistent track record of reviews. It's also home to the Carpe DM tour agency, which makes for added convenience for early morning excursions and to have a pulse on when day trips occurring. 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.
Great Deals for Private 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.
🏨 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 not located in Mariscal nor in the historic center, 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.
Excellent 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 La 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 ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐
For a little luxury, Quito has some fantastic value 5-star hotels to consider. Each of these can be booked for around $100 per night, which is a steal for the high-quality accommodation they deliver. Even if it's out of your price range, just take a look at some of these elegant properties in Quito.
🏨Casa San Marcos Hotel Boutique: If 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 #1 choice.
🏨 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.
For Long-Term Stays in Quito: Airbnb 🏢
For longer stays in Quito, Airbnb can be a great option to have the conveniences of a kitchen, laundry, etc. There are plenty of Airbnb throughout the city. We stayed in a modern one-bedroom furnished Airbnb apartment for as low as $400 for the month (28 days) including utilities. $600/month can be a good price range to shoot for in a centrally located area.
Of course, shorter stays are possible too. But we find that quick stays in Quito can be better served by a hotel or hostel, which are similarly inexpensive. If interested in Airbnb and have never used it before, feel free to use our referral link to save up to $40+ on your first Airbnb booking.
More Quito Travel Tips:
🌩️ Don’t check the weather in Qutio
Seriously, don’t bother. It’s usually wrong. The weather in Quito is very unpredictable. The forecasted temperatures can be somewhat trusted. But Quito's sun/cloud/rain forecasts have proven to be consistently wrong.
☔ Always bring a rain jacket with you
Or a compact travel umbrella like this. 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 or umbrella with you even if it appears to be a bright sunshiny day. June through August are the driest months in Quito. But it still rains then too.
🍽️ Get to know the “almuerzos”
The Spanish word for lunch is almuerzo. But in Quito, it takes on a slightly different meaning. 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, so they are great options for budget travelers to eat amongst the local crowd in Quito. The incredible values are very common. Simply look for the sandwich boards or a handwritten sign outside of restaurants during lunchtime.
⛰️ Beware of Quito's 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! Altitude sickness can occur at altitudes higher than 2,400 meters. Quito is 600 meters beyond that.
Some people visiting Quito from sea level experience symptoms of altitude sickness. Allow a few days to acclimatize before pursuing physical activities like hiking Cotopaxi and Quilotoa.
For those who are particularly prone to altitude sickness, consider taking this natural medication. It's well worth it, as evidence from these great reviews it gets on Amazon. Avoid that throbbing headache and instead enjoy your trip to Quito!
☀️ Use lots of sunscreen.
In Quito, visitors are hit with a double-whammy of the equatorial sun and altitude. The sun in Quito is no joke. Visitors manage 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.
🚱 Don’t drink the water in Quito
The tap water in Quito is regarded as 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
Ecuador uses the US dollar as its currency. While some businesses in Quito do accept credit card, most don’t. Some places that do accept credit cards may add a fee. ATMs are frequent, so it's best to use those and have cash.
💵 Use small bills
Most businesses generally won’t accept $50 or $100 bills. Come with small change as you’ll otherwise have a very difficult time breaking a hundo spot. Even twenties can sometimes be tough 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). It is almost always required if you do make any credit card purchases. Some of Quito's free attractions, such as museums, also require an ID upon entry.
🚇 Reconsider public transportation for short trips
We’re often advocates of public transportation as a cost-effective and more ecological means of transport. But in Quito, we often noticed the $0.25 Ecovia, Troles, and buses can become completely packed to the point that you can barely breathe. With all the people up against you and further threats of pickpockets, you may want to reconsider taking the $0.25 ride during busy times.
It can definitely be worth it to spend a few extra quarters to take an Uber or taxi. Uber & taxi rates to be very reasonable. Traveling a few kilometers across town is typically less than $2.
🚕 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.
🚗 Better yet, Uber in Quito.
We found Uber rates tend to be about the same, or slightly cheaper than a taxi. Ubers in Quito are safe and reliable.
Uber is also a good option for non-Spanish speakers. The destination is input into the app, so there's no need to explain directions.
As long as you have an international data connection, the same Uber app you use at home works in Quito.
👛 Watch out for pickpockets.
Keep very vigilant, particularly in crowded places frequented by tourists. We found Quito to be safe overall. But there is a real threat of pickpockets in touristic areas. This holds particularly true in Old Town and in crowded public transport.
Be very mindful if someone seems to be innocently bumping into you. Keep belongings close in these instances.
⚠️ 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. It will also 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 activewear and sun protection. Be sure to check out our Ultimate Travel Packing List for all our packing tips and travel gear ideas, which we wrote while based in Quito.
Traveling To Quito Ecuador?
We hope this Quito travel guide has helped to show what we've found are the best things to do in Quito. If you've used this guide to help plan a trip to Quito, please let us know in the comments. We always love to hear from people who may have stumbled across our posts.
Or if you have any questions while planning a trip to Quito, feel free to ask and we'll try to answer. Finally, if you've been to Quito and have your own favorite thing to do in Quito, let us know so we can check it out next time.
And there will be a next time. We've already made two lengthy trips to Quito and I'm certain we'll be back again. Quito is way too fun not to return!
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Where to Next in Ecuador?
If you found this Quito Travel Guide helpful, then you may be interested in other travel guides we've published about Ecuador.
🇪🇨 For the most comprehensive round-up on traveling Ecuador, be sure to check out our article that sums up the best experiences and where to go.
🐢 Did you know that you don’t have to take a pricey Galapagos tour? You can actually visit the Galapagos independently for cheap! This post reveals exactly how it's possible.
⛪ Cuenca is Ecuador's colonial gem and is another one of the country's Unesco World Heritage Sites. It's nicknamed the Athens of Ecuador for its historic center and being a cultural hub. Yet adventure abounds in the Andes that surround and our latest guide spills all the details.
🎡 Guayaquil is Ecuador's largest city and when comparing to Quito it's so different. Guayaquil is near the coast with a warm and tropical vibe. There's also lots to do in Guayaquil to consider a stopover of a few days.
🚣 We weren’t sure if it was possible to travel by boat from Ecuador to reach the Amazon River. So we set off on a rural adventure to find out. Read our tale to see how.
🏔️ Riobamba is a 3h 15m bus ride from Quito further into the Andes. This city sits at the base of Ecuador's tallest mountain, Chimborazo, and hence is an awesome gateway to numerous adventures that about in the area.
Publishing note: This article about the Best Things To Do in Quito is continually updated to best reflect the latest and up-to-date info. Last updated January 29, 2020.