Day 1 - Historical Centre Walking Tour & Basílica del Voto Nacional
Breakfast - En Dulce or Honey Cafe
First thing’s first, breakfast. Depending on where you stay, there are several options.
If staying close to Plaza Foch, try Honey Café for a great selection of bread, baked goods, and coffee.
Alternatively, head over and have breakfast in Old Town before you start sight-seeing. En Dulce Bakery in the historic centre has the best reviews in Quito with a range of set breakfasts and freshly baked bread and croissants each morning.
Morning Activity - Quito Free Walking Tour
- Start: 10:30AM or 2.30PM
- Timings: 3 hours
- Days: Monday to Saturday
- Cost: Free but bring $2-3 for a tip as it’s run by volunteers
- Website: Free Walking Tour Ecuador
One of the first UNESCO heritage sites in the world, Quito’s historical centre is filled with enough museums, European architecture, and cultural attractions to keep you entertained for most of the dat. The best way to get yourself accustomed to the city is by booking on to the Community Hostel walking tour. The tour takes you to most of the main sights in the historic centre, including:
- Plaza Grande – the main square which includes the presidential palace
- La Compañia – a 17th-century church with beautiful architecture and a gold interior
- Plaza San Francisco – another huge plaza lined with churches, cafes and with great views of El Panecillo and the surrounding mountains
- La Ronda – a long winding street filled with galleries, craft shops and restaurants
Want to spend the whole day exploring the historical centre? Quito is home to several museums suiting every interest including modern art, archaeology, religious art and pre-Colombian indigenous history.
Two of the best museums are:
- Museo Casa Del Alabad – holds a permanent exhibit of more than 600 Ecuadorian pre-Columbian objects and artefacts.
- Museo de la Ciudad – set inside the city’s first hospital, it tells the long history of the capital from the Incas and the Spanish conquistadores to its time as a colony and its eventual fight for independence. For more information on the museums of Quito, check out this article.
While in the historic centre, make sure you try Ecuador’s famous chocolate. Here are four places to visit, all selling organic Ecuadorian grown chocolate:
After the walking tour, you may wish to return to your favourite sights, alternatively head to one of the food or drink recommendations given on the tour. The tour ends at La Ronda, so this is the perfect time to try some Ecuadorian cuisine.
Lunch - La Ronda Street
Time to sample some traditional Ecuadorian food such as the hearty soup, Locro de Papa, with a side of empanadas, or if you are feeling brave, you can try deep-fried guinea pig, a speciality in Ecuador.
Check out La Casa Los Geranios along La Ronda street, it’s known for serving traditional Ecuadorian dishes with flair.
If you aren’t ready for lunch yet, why not stop for a warm drink? Time to try Ecuador’s popular local drink canezalo – a spiced hot drink made by boiling water with cinnamon and sugar and mixing it with local sugar cane alcohol.
Can Ferran Restaurante is another recommendation where the Trip Advisor reviews rave about the canezalo.
Afternoon Activity - Climb The Basílica Del Voto Nacional
- Opening times: 9AM to 5PM weekdays, 6AM to 6PM weekends
- Cost: $2 for the church entrance, $2 for the tower entrance
- Timings: It will take you 30 minutes to an hour to climb to the top and explore the church
The Basílica del Voto Nacional is the largest neo-Gothic church in South America and climbing up the central tower is quite an adventure. The steep steps and narrow passageways leading to the top are not for the faint-hearted or those scared of heights, but the views are spectacular and well worth the journey.
Make sure to go around to the side entrance in the courtyard for the viewpoint entrance, which will cost you $2. The entry to the towers isn’t inside the main church.
Reaching the top of the tower is the highlight of the visit as it offers fantastic panoramic views across the city. There is also a café and tourist shop in one of the towers if you want to stop and have a coffee or beer.
Don’t forget to check out the Basílica’s unique gargoyles around the edges of the church – they all represent animals endemic to Ecuador such as iguanas, tortoises, armadillos, and condors.
Dinner - Bandido Brewing
Bandido Brewing is a fantastic craft beer and pizza place in the old town. The establishment is right opposite Community hostel so it’s perfect if you’re already staying there. Share a pizza and a few Ecuadorian craft brew specialities to celebrate your first successful day in Quito.
We don’t expect you to eat out every day, these are just some suggestions which you can spread over this 3-day itinerary. Eating out as a backpacker adds up and eating out three times a day will break the bank.
For tips on how to stick to a budget in Ecuador, read more here:
Day 2 - Visit The Middle Of The World & Drinks At Plaza Foch
Breakfast/Lunch - Mercado Central
We won’t suggest breakfast, lunch, and dinner options for each day of this itinerary as we’ve only visited so many of these places ourselves. But if you are looking for a cheap meal, Mercado Central offers great set meals costing $2-3.
You usually get a soup, then a rice and meat dish along with a drink—great value for money. You can also buy fresh fruit smoothies for $1 a go. The perfect way to start the day!
Afternoon Activity – The Middle Of The World (Mitad Del Mundo)
- Cost: $5 entrance fee to Mitad del Mundo, $4 for Museo Solar Intiñan
- Transport cost: $8-10 taxi each way or $1 local bus each way
- Opening hours: 9:00 AM – 6:00 PM
- Timing: Allow 3-4 hours. It’s a 45-minute journey to get there, you’ll need one hour at the equator or two if you want to visit the second museum and then 45 minutes getting back to central
Head to the central bus station in town and look out for buses displaying ‘Mitad Del Mundo’ (middle of the world), buses leave every hour. If you feel lazy, Uber is up and running in Quito. One way will cost around $8.
Quick Tip – we often found yellow taxis cheaper than Uber because we could haggle, however, it’s good to know what it would cost on Uber before haggling so make sure you download the app. The middle of the world is in North Quito and takes about 45 minutes to get there via bus or taxi.
So, what is there to do when you are in the middle of the world? Take photos of you standing on the equator of course!
Then take the elevator up to the top of the museum where, on a clear day, you can see Cotopaxi Volcano and spend a bit of time wandering through the museum learning about science, local culture, and more. An interesting fact – during the summer solstice your shadow disappears entirely at the equator because the sun is perfectly positioned over-head.
After the equator line and museum, you will find several tourist shops, cafes, and a second museum called Museo Solar Intiñan where a tour guide will take you through some scientific demonstrations if you want to stay longer.
For example, demonstrating the Coriolis effect where water travels clockwise or anti-clockwise down a drain depending on the hemisphere (we think this is a trick played by the tour guide though and not an actual scientific fact – but fun to watch nonetheless).
Another option is a tour. This one costs $30 and includes your entrance fee, a good choice for those who don’t want to organise their own transport.
Evening Activity – Community Hostel Bar Crawl Or Drinks At Plaza Foch
- Cost: $10 for the bar crawl + whatever else you spend on drinks that evening
Quito has a buzzing nightlife scene, and Plaza Foch is the place to party.
Looking to meet some fellow travellers on a night out? Community Hostel and Secret Garden both run bar crawls at the weekend. Don’t worry if you’re not staying at the hostels, anyone can join. Both are great hostels we’ve recommended here:
Day 3 – Ride The Teleferico & Head Up To The Volcano Pichincha Viewpoint
Morning Activity – Riding the Teleferico (Quito's Cable Car)
- Cost: $8.50 for the cable car round trip, and $4-6 for a taxi to the entrance and home once you are back down
- Timing: Full day alongside the Volcano Pichincha trek
The cable car is just outside of the Old Town, so we took an Uber which cost around $2-3. The cable car is a $8.50 return and takes about 18 minutes each way.
Riding the cable car up to the summit of Pichincha is good fun, and you will get some fantastic views of the Old Town and the entire city. But the best views are once you reach the top.
Spend about half an hour at the top taking in the views of all the volcanoes surrounding Quito. You should be able to see Cotopaxi Volcano in the distance on a clear day. And obviously, jump on the famous swing so you can get some photos for Instagram. There’s also a small café to have a coffee or buy snacks before climbing Pichincha.
Afternoon Activity – Volcano Pichincha Summit Trek
- Cost: Free (factor in $5-10 for snacks and drinks to bring on the trek)
- Timings: 3-5 hours round-trip depending on fitness
Time to start your first trek in Ecuador. Two days in Quito should be enough to acclimatise to the altitude. If you’re planning more trekking, this is a great first trek to get you used to hiking at altitude.
The start of the trail is well signposted when you exit Teleferico at the top. Follow the path to the swing and carry on from there.
The trek takes roughly 3-4 hours (10km in total) and will take you up to 4,784 meters, so come prepared.
The early section is clearly marked, and it’s more of an amble at first with a gradual incline. The last hour is challenging as the trail gets steeper and sandier. For the last 15 minutes, you will have to scramble a bit and climb rocks.
Don’t let that put you off though as the views from the top are insane. This is a great acclimatisation hike if you plan to do further treks in the country such as Cotopaxi Glacier.
Check out our packing guide for the Quilotoa loop which should give you a good idea of how to pack for hikes in Ecuador:
If hiking isn’t for you, then head back down to the city and pick one of the many other great activities to do in Quito. You can find the full list here:
How Much Should I Budget For 3 Days In Quito?
As a backpacker, you should budget between $35-$45 a day for accommodation, food, transport, and activities whilst in Quito.
Here’s a summary of activity costs listed above in the 3-day itinerary:
Walking Tour Tip
Mitad Del Mundo Entrance
Taxis To Mitad Del Mundo
Bar Crawl Ticket
Extra Drinks On Night Out
Taxis To Teleferico
Average Cost Of Activities (Per Day)
*take the local bus if you want to save money here
None of the backpacker hostels cost more than $10 a night in a dorm, giving you $20-30 for food, activities, and transport.
Most hostels include breakfast, if you eat at local markets or food stalls, it will cost $2-3 a meal, which keeps costs down. If you want to eat at a restaurant once or twice a day, increase your daily budget to factor this in. A meal at a restaurant in tourist areas like La Ronda costs between $8-12.
Average costs per day:
- Accomodation – $8-10
- Food – $6-10
- Transport – $5
- Activities – $15-20
For more information on budgeting for Ecuador:
How Many Days Do You Need In Quito?
Two full days is the perfect amount of time needed in Quito.
You can spend the first day exploring the old town and wandering through the historical center.
On the second day, you should ride the Teleferico up to Volcano Pichincha for incredible views of the city and the surrounding backdrop of volcanoes.
Depending on what time you arrive and where from, you may want to plan an extra day to adjust to the altitude. Quito sits at a mean 2,850m (9,350 ft), so you may want to take it easy for the first day or two and see how you adjust, especially if you had a long flight.
Quito 2-Day Itinerary
If you don’t have 3 days to spare in Quito, then here’s what we recommend:
- Day 1 – Walking Tour, La Ronda and the Basilica Del Voto Nacional
- Day 2 – Ride the Teleferico, Volcano Pichincha Hike and a night out at Plaza Foch
We would cut out Mitad del Mundo from the above itinerary for those of you who don’t have three days. It’s good fun, and not many people can say they’ve visited the equator, but we understand why it might not be for everyone. Seeing the beautiful historical centre and riding the Teleferico are the two best things to do in our opinion and you won’t miss out if you just do these.
Check out our longer backpacking itineraries to plan out your time in Ecuador:
Quito 4-Day Itinerary
If you aren’t travelling through Ecuador (you may just be visiting Quito and the Galapagos Islands, for example), then taking an extra day for a full day tour outside of the city is a must. Ecuador has so many incredible sights 1-2 hours away that would be a shame to miss them.
- Day 1 – Historical Centre, La Ronda and the Basilica
- Day 2 – Mitad Del Mundo
- Day 3 – Teleferico and Volcano Pichincha Hike
- Day 4 – Day Tour (Cotopaxi Volcano)
What Are The Best Day Tours From Quito?
The three best day tours from Quito are:
- Cotopaxi Volcano
- Mindo Cloud Forest
- Otavalo Market
These three are the cheapest tours from the city (between $40-100), are a maximum of 2-3 hours away and also some of the best sights in the whole of Ecuador.
1. Cotopaxi Volcano
This is the tour we recommend picking out of all three options. With the close proximity to Quito (1 hour) and the beauty of Cotopaxi Volcano, this makes it the best and most time-efficient tour of all three options.
You also need a guide to enter Cotopaxi National Park, so this isn’t something you can organise yourself.
- Get Your Guide – Cotopaxi Volcano Tour From Quito
If you are staying in Ecuador for longer, then we recommend visiting for a couple of days. Secret Garden Cotopaxi Hostel offers a $95 package which includes all your meals, 2 treks and 2 nights accommodation. Our guide below has everything you need to know:
2. Mindo Cloud Forest
In the small town of Mindo, there’s a wealth of activities to suit every traveller. You can go on a chocolate tasting experience at one of the chocolate farms, hike through the cloud forest along the ‘Route of Waterfalls’ or if you prefer something more extreme, go tubing down the jungle rivers.
How To Get There: The bus leaves from the northern bus terminal called Terminal de la Ofelia. It’s a bit of a journey outside the city and took us around 40 minutes to get there in a uber (costing $8), or you could take a metro bus from the central terminal in town. Once at the bus station, find one of the counters selling tickets to Mindo and hop on the next available bus. Buses in Ecuador are super cheap, and the ticket cost us no more than $2 each.
Due to the time spent on transport for this one, we think it’s best to book a tour, so your journey is efficient. If you prefer to have the transportation and day organised, we recommend this tour:
- Get Your Guide: Mindo Cloud Forest Full Day Tour
This is only if you are short on time and need to come back to Quito the same day though. The better option is to pack a day bag and stay for the night. Mindo is a great town for backpackers and well worth the time.
Everything else you need to know about Mindo is here in our guides:
3. Otavalo Market
If there’s one market to visit during your time in Ecuador, it should be this one. Otavalo’s market is the oldest and largest Indian handicrafts market in all South America.
It spreads out from the main square for a couple of blocks in each direction. It sells everything from blankets and ponchos to jewellery, instruments, leather goods, platters, spices and more, all made by the talented indigenous craftspeople living in the region. Saturday is the best day to visit as the animal market joins the main one.
How To Get There: Getting to Otavalo from Quito is straightforward, taking two hours by bus. The bus leaves from the northern bus terminal in Quito, called Terminal de la Ofelia (same as the journey for Mindo). Once at the bus station, find one of the counters selling tickets to Otavalo and hop on the next bus.
Again, if you prefer a guided tour, then here is one option:
- Get Your Guide: Otavalo Market Tour
But in our opinion, it’s best to visit yourself and save money.
Or alternatively, stay a night or two. The crater lake trek just outside of town is a great experience and worth an extended trip if you can spare the time. Read our complete Otavalo guides for more information here: