BEST THINGS TO DO IN QUITO
One of the first UNESCO heritage sites in the world, it’s a world away from the metropolises of some other South American capital cities, and Quito’s colonial centre and European architecture give it a certain laidback charm.
Exploring the historical centre is a great way to spend a day or two but there’s also a lot more going on outside the city to enjoy. Here’s a list of some of the best things to do in Quito:
1. Climb The Basílica Del Voto Nacional
The Basílica del Voto Nacional is the largest neo-Gothic church in South America. Climbing the towers is quite an adventure, with steep steps and narrow ladders leading up to the top – its not for the faint of heart.
Reaching the top of the tower is the highlight of the visit, offering fantastic views across the city. There is also a café and tourist shop in one of the towers if you want to stop off and have a beer.
The building itself is also impressive. Be sure to check out the unique gargoyles of the Basílica del Voto Nacional around the edges of the church – they all represent animals endemic to Ecuador, including iguanas, tortoises, armadillos, and condors.
2. Take A Day Trip Outside Of Quito
A 2-hour journey from Quito can get you to Otavalo, Mindo or Cotopaxi National Park, making the city a great hub for planning day trips.
If you are short on time but have to see Cotopaxi Volcano then a day trip if definitely worth it. We’ve compared a host of different Quito day trips on offer to see which ones are worth it if you are interested.
Whilst you can find many companies offering day trips to these all places including as far as Quilotoa, if you have the time, we think these places are best enjoyed over a couple of days – read our Mindo, Cotopaxi and Otovalo guides here.
3. Ride The Teleferico Up To Volcano Pichincha Summit
The Teleferico is Quito’s cable car that will take you from 3000m at the edge of the city, all the way up to 3495m to the summit of Volcano Pichincha.
It costs $5 for a return trip and takes 18 minutes to reach the summit. Expect beautiful views of the city, as well as of the many volcanoes surrounding Quito, but wrap up warm as its cold and windy at the top. It’s also up here were you can find Quito’s famous swing.
4. Enjoy The Swing At The End Of The World
The swing at the end of the world is just a short walk away once you get off the cable car. Try visit on a weekday to avoid crowds as there’s usually a queue of people all trying to get a photo for the gram. Just like we did!
There’s also a small café where you get off the cable car if you fancy a coffee and to sit down to enjoy the views more.
5. Hike Volcano Pichincha
The start of this hiking trail is found once you get off the Teleferico. The trek takes roughly 3-4 hours and will take you up to 3,945 meters so come prepared.
The early parts of the trail marked well and it’s more of an amble at first with gradual inclines. The last hour becomes more of a struggle, getting much steeper and the trail becoming sandier. Then for the last 15 minutes you will have to do a bit of scrambling and climbing up rocks.
Don’t let that put you off though as the views from the top are insane. If you plan on doing this make sure you’ve acclimatised to the altitude in Quito for a couple of days first. This is a great acclimatisation hike if you are planning to do further treks in the country such as Cotopaxi Glacier over 4000m!
6. Explore The Historical Centre
If mountains and viewpoints aren’t your thing, then a historical centre filled with museums and other cultural attractions has more than enough to keep you entertained.
The free walking tour from Community Hostel will take you to the main sites in the old town such as Plaza Grande and the Presidential Palace, as well as giving you a political and economic history of Ecuador, and great list of places to eat and drink for after.
7. Step On The Equator
Have you ever had one foot in the North Hemisphere and one in the South at the same time? Not many people have, so whilst you are so close to the equator, make sure you go and visit.
Mitad Del Mundo (Middle of the World) is a small village and monument that has been constructed around the equator site.
The monument lies directly on the equator and you will see a thick yellow line running through it to denote the north and south hemispheres. Inside the monument, there’s a museum which focuses on the science surrounding the equator and all the weird and wonderful things that can happen there.
8. Head To La Ronda Street And Try Some Traditional Ecuadorian Cuisine
La Ronda is a long, winding pedestrian street in the heart of Quito’s old town. Lined with floral balconies and hidden courtyards leading to restaurants, its the perfect place to find some local cuisine.
For a warm treat, try the local drink Canezalo – a spiced hot drink made by boiling water with cinnamon and sugar and mixing them with a local sugar cane alcohol. If you are looking to sample some Ecuadorian food then try the hearty soup, Locro De Papa with a side of empanadas or if you are feeling brave, try deep-fried guinea pig which is a specialty in Ecuador
9. Visit The Quito Food Market
If you join the community walking tour, they will take you to Mercardo Central but only for a quick look.
Make sure you come back to try some of the cheapest but also tastiest food in town. You will be able to get huge local meals for as cheap as $2-3 dollars, buy fresh fruit over the counter and get a look into the daily life of Ecuadorians.
10. Check Out Another Viewpoint
Sitting at a mean 2850m above sea level, the city is one of the highest in the world surrounded by a picturesque backdrop of mountains and volcanoes.
You will be treated to spectacular views, whether meandering through the historic centre or heading up to one of the many viewpoints surrounding the city. The Teleferico and Basilica are our two favourites but here are a couple of suggestions for other high up places that also provide great views:
Itichimbia Park – a popular park with great view of the city. It’s best visited in the morning as the sun lights up the whole city or go for sunset and have a beer at one of the restaurants nearby.
El Panecillo Viewpoint – the Virgin of El Panecillo is one of Quito’s most recognizable landmarks and visitors can head up the hill for a good view of the city below.
HOW MANY DAYS DO YOU NEED IN QUITO?
A minimum of 3 days is enough to see everything the city has to offer but you may want to plan longer to adjust to the altitude . Quito sits at 2850m (9350’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 3 DAY ITINERARY
Are you interested in the colonial history of the city or do you want to fit in some hiking as well? Or is the equator and middle of the world a must-see on your list? Our 3-day itinerary has suggestions for activities, food, drink and how to plan these into each day. You can pick and choose from there to suit your needs.
If you are going to do some hiking such as Volcano Pichincha or fancy a day trip alongside exploring the city, then 5 days is more than enough. We’ve outlined a short 5-day itinerary below that builds on our 3-day one.
Day 1 - Walking Tour, Old Town and Basilica Del Voto Nacional
Get yourself accustomed to the city by booking on to the Community Hostel walking tour. Tours start at either 9:00 AM or 2:30 PM and take 3 hours long, so plan your day around this.
After the tour finishes, feel free to go back and explore any places you enjoyed or want more time in, alternatively head to one of the food or drink recommendations given on the tour such as Yumbos to taste Ecuador’s famous chocolate. Or for one of our recommendations, head over to Bandido Brewing for some incredible pizza and craft beer.
Your next stop is the Basilica for a great view of the city. It’s open from 9:00AM to 5PM Monday to Friday, and from 6:00AM to 6:30PM on weekends. The entrance fee is $2, which will let you ascend to the top of the towers. If you want to go inside the church it will cost $2 however the stairs to the viewpoint aren’t in here so be careful.
Make sure to go around to the side entrance in the courtyard for the viewpoint entrance. Head up for an amazing view of Quito and have a beer in the café at the top if you fancy.
Day 2 - The Middle of The World & Drinks At Plaza Foch
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 so grab an uber or taxi for around $8 one way.
Quick Tip – We found the yellow taxis to be cheaper than uber most of the time because we could haggle them down, however, it’s good to have an idea of what it would cost on uber before you start haggling. The middle of the world is in North Quito and takes about 30-45 minutes to get there via bus or taxi.
What is there to do when you are at 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 and to see Cotopaxi Volcano in the distance on a clear day and spend a bit of time wandering through the museum and learning about all the interesting things that happen at the equator. For example, during the summer solstice, your shadow disappears completely because the sun is directly over-head.
Head back into the city and get prepared for a night out on the town. You can join up with one of the hostel bar crawls we previously mentioned or simply start at Plaza Foch and work your way around the bars from there.
Day 3 – Teleferico, The Swing At The End Of The World & La Ronda
The cable car is a little bit outside of the old town, so we just took an Uber which came to $5. The cable car is a $5 return and takes about 18 minutes to take you up and vice versa back down.
Spend about an hour at the top taking in the views and take some photos for Instagram sitting on the swing at the end of the world.
Your other option whilst at the top is to summit Volcano Pichincha, although we weren’t the avid hikers we are now back then, so we can’t offer much advice on this. From friends and fellow travellers we met, we heard it’s a tough hike so make sure you do your research and have the right gear!
After spending some time among the clouds in Quito you will probably want to warm yourself up and get some food. Head back to the historical centre and to the famous La Ronda street – a pedestrian street lined with bars and restaurants offering local cuisine. Here is the best place to try some of the items we mentioned above such as the local drink, the hearty soup, Locro de papa, empanadas or fried guinea pig.
QUITO 5 DAY ITINERARY
If you have the time then here’s a 5-day plan, however Ecuador has much more to offer and it might be better to spend that time in some other great cities such as Mindo or at Cotopaxi.
Check out our month-long itinerary for a better idea of how to plan your time in Ecuador.
- Day 1 – Historical Centre, Walking Tour and Basilica
- Day 2 – Mitad El Mundo
- Day 3 – Teleferico and Pachincha Hike
- Day 4 – City Day, Museums, La Ronda
- Day 5 – Cotopaxi Volcano Tour
IS QUITO SAFE?
Many travellers have concerns about Quito and whether it is safe. Like any other capital city, if you stay in the right area and keep your wits about you, then safety is rarely an issue. However, Quito is a huge sprawl and figuring out where to stay and what areas to avoid can be tricky. Here are some simple tips to follow to keep safe in Quito:
- Stay near Plaza Foch – If you have concerns about safety then make sure to stay around Plaza Foch which is a residential area with lots of bars and restaurants.
- Avoid the historical centre at night – whilst a popular area in the day, the historical centre becomes deserted by night, with tourists and backpackers getting off the streets because the area becomes dangerous.
- Avoid public transport at night and watch your belongings when on public transport
- Make sure to only take yellow taxis with the official meters or use Uber
- Leave valuables if heading to viewpoints at the edge of the centre of town such as El Panecillo – our walking tour guide told us to avoid taking anything valuable if heading to this viewpoint due to robberies that can occur there. If you do decide to go, go in a group, and take a taxi rather than walking.
WHERE IS THE BEST AREA TO STAY IN QUITO?
There are two main areas to stay in with hostels and hotels – Plaza Foch and the Historical Centre. It’s best to stay close to Plaza Foch and avoid the historical centre even if this is where you will spend most of your time in the day.
The historical centre is a lovely place to explore, however, as mentioned, at night it isn’t as safe and most of the streets become abandoned by tourists. However, there are still some great hostels there so don’t let this put you off – it just gives you less freedom if wanted to walk around after dark to go for food for example.
Plaza Foch is a residential area with lots of hotels, bars, and clubs with lots of people around, locals and travellers alike, so it’s much safer. And as you can imagine this is the best area to go out in if you like to party or want to find some good food.
BEST HOSTELS IN QUITO
We cover our 5 favourites here in greater detail if you’re looking for a selection to choose from. However, our top picks (one from Plaza Foch and one from the centre) are:
- Community Hostel (Historical Centre)
- El Patio Hostel (Plaza Foch)
HOW TO GET TO AND FROM QUITO
How To Get From Quito Airport To The City
If you are flying directly into Quito, then you will land at Mariscal Sucre International Airport, 43km outside of the city.
Coming out of baggage claim, the taxi counter should be directly in front of you. This is your best and safest bet for getting into the city as everything is official. A taxi should cost between $15-25 to get you to the centre and will take 45 minutes roughly.
If you are looking for some Wi-Fi, take a right and walk to the end to find a small café which has internet (which they kindly let us use it without having to buy something). We tried Uber but couldn’t find any cars although it was 11PM when we landed.
If you are going from the city to the airport, then an Uber will be easier as there are more cars available in the city centre and it will probably cheaper than a yellow taxi.
How To Get From Quito To Otovalo/Mindo
Going to places North from Quito is simple. Buses leave from the northern bus terminal in Quito, 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 or Otavalo. Buses in Ecuador are super cheap, and the ticket cost us no more than $2 each.
Bus timetables don’t seem to exist for these smaller journeys in Ecuador and buses will leave when they are ‘full enough’. You can just turn up to the station and shouldn’t have trouble finding buses as they leave frequently.
Otavalo takes about 2 hours by bus and Mindo takes 2 ½ hours.
How To Get From Quito To Cotopaxi/Baños
For heading south from Quito, you need to take a bus from the Quitumbe Bus Terminal, located in the south of the city.
If heading to Cotopaxi National Park, then the stop you need is Machachi. This journey takes 2 hours max and should cost no more than $2.
For Baños, the bus takes about 3.5 hours, costs around $4, and may stop in Ambato on the way to Baños.
QUITO WEATHER AND CLIMATE
Because its bang on the equator, the weather in Ecuador is a bit strange. The weather tends to vary by regional geography with each place having its own micro-climate. However, there are two main seasons to use as a general rule. The wet season (summer) is cool and overcast and the dry season (winter) is comfortable and partly cloudy.
When Is The Best Time To Visit Quito
Weather Spark provide a detailed breakdown of annual weather in Ecuador for more information.
The winter is the best time of year to visit Quito from June to September if you want to avoid rain.
The wetter summer season lasts around 5 months, from December to May.
Quito is the second highest capital city in the world at 2,850 metres (9,350 ft). For many travellers this may be there first experience of being at high altitude and you may experience altitude sickness.
As mentioned before, we recommend you take your first few days in the city easy and not do anything to strenuous. If you are coming from sea level then even more so, as abrupt changes in altitude can make symptoms worse.
Altitude sickness usually manifests itself in insomnia, headaches, and/or nausea. If you start to feel symptoms, then make sure to take a break and drink lots of water. If you are doing a trek such as Pachincha Volcano and the symptoms don’t stop, return to a lower altitude.
Some people may suffer badly from altitude sickness and if this is the case then we suggest you take altitude sickness pills. We didn’t have any issues with altitude so can’t give any advice on pills, however here are a few tips:
- Always take a couple of days to acclimatise before doing a strenuous activity such as trekking.
- Drink lots of water
- Avoid alcohol or heavy drinking for the first couple of days as this will lead to dehydration, making symptoms worse