The 19 Best Things To Do In Quito As A Backpacker

Quito is the central transport hub for Ecuador and a starting point for most travellers flying to the Galapagos Islands or heading south along the country’s backpacker trail. Don’t skip the city though, as there are many great sights and experiences to be had. Here’s a list of the best things to do in Quito as a backpacker and a detailed city guide with everything you need to know about hostels, restaurants and transport.

Contents

1. Explore The Historical Centre

  • Cost: Free ($2-3 tip is always welcome at the end as its run by volunteers)
  • Times: Tours start at either 9:00 AM or 2:30 PM. Every day except Sunday
  • Duration: 3 Hours

One of the first UNESCO heritage sites globally, Quito’s historical center is filled with museums, European architecture, and cultural attractions to keep you entertained.

 

The Community Hostel Free Walking Tour takes you to most of the main sites in the old town, such as Plaza Grande and the Presidential Palace, and gives you a political and economic history of Ecuador. We always recommend joining the free talking tour as an introduction to any big city and you’re always given a wealth of recommendations for places to eat, drink and visit afterward as well.

 

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

 

Head here for more information on the tour: 

 

 

2. Climb The Basílica Del Voto Nacional

  • Cost: $2 entrance fee for the tower, $2 to enter the church
  • Opening hours: 9 AM to 5 PM Monday to Friday and from 6 AM to 6:30 PM on weekends.
  • Duration: Spend an hour or so climbing to the top and enjoying the views

The Basílica del Voto Nacional is the largest neo-Gothic church in South America.

 

Climbing the main tower is quite an adventure. The steep steps and narrow passageways leading to the top are not a journey for the faint of heart or those scared of heights. Reaching the top of the tower is the highlight of the visit as it offers fantastic panoramic views across the city. You can stop for water, beer, or coffee in the café located in the tower as well.

 

The building is also impressive. Be sure to check out the unique gargoyles surrounding the edge of the Basílica – they all represent animals endemic to Ecuador, such as iguanas, tortoises, armadillos, and condors.

 

If you want to go inside the church, it will cost an extra $2; however, the stairs to the viewpoint aren’t in here. Make sure to go around to the side entrance in the courtyard for the viewpoint entrance.

How To Get There

If you’re staying in the historical centre, the church is a short walk away from most backpacker hostels. The address is Quito 170130, Ecuador.

 

If coming from Plaza Foch, you will need to take a short taxi (5 minutes) or walk (25-30 minutes).

Google Maps

3. Ride The Teleferico Up To The Volcano Pichincha Summit

  • Cost: $8.50 round trip for the ticket.
  • Duration: 18-minute one-way ride, 1 hour at the top to enjoy the views
  • Opening hours: 8 AM – 8 PM

Quito’s cable car (Teleférico) will take you from 3,000m at the edge of the city, all the way up to 3,495m to the summit of Volcano Pichincha. 

 

Expect beautiful views of the city and volcanoes surrounding Quito. Wrap up warm though as its cold and windy at the top. You’ll also find Quito’s famous ‘Swing at the End of the World’ at the summit.

How To Get There

The easiest way to get there is to take a taxi or an uber as it’s outside of the old town. From the historical centre, it should be a 5-minute journey costing between $2-3. 

Google Maps

4. Play On 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 trying to get a photo for the gram – just like we did!

 

There’s also several viewpoints and hiking trails to follow, and a small café if you need to escape the wind.

 

See how the walking tour, Basilica and Teleferico all fit in to a 3-day itinerary:

 

 

5. Climb Volcano Pichincha

  • Cost: Free but bring snacks and drinks
  • Duration: 3-4 hour round trip depending on fitness

This trek takes roughly 3-4 hours and will take beyond 4,000 meters, so come prepared.

 

The start of the trail is where you get off the Teleferico. The early parts of the trail are well marked, and it’s more of a gentle amble at first with gradual inclines. The last hour becomes challenging as it gets steeper and the path becoming sandier. For the last 15 minutes, you need to scramble across rocks to reach the top.

 

Don’t let that put you off, though, as the views from the top are insane. Just make sure you plan it on a clear day.

 

Before attempting the hike, it’s recommended to spend at least 24-48 hours in Quito acclimatising to the high altitude. This is a great acclimatisation hike if you plan to do further treks in the country, such as Cotopaxi Glacier, over 5,000m!

 

Check out our packing guide for the Quilotoa loop, which should give you a good idea of how to pack for hikes in Ecuador:

 

 

6. Step On The Equator At 'Mitad Del Mundo'

  • Cost: $5 entrance fee
  • Opening hours: 9 AM – 6 PM
  • Duration: 1-2 hours wandering around the equator line and the museums there

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 visit!

 

Mitad El 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, a museum focuses on science at the equator and the weird and wonderful things that occur, such as the summer and winter solstices.

How To Get There

The most convenient way to reach the equator is by taxi or uber. It’s a 45-minute journey outside of the city and costs $5-8 in a uber (based on our visit to Quito in 2019). Coming back, we took a yellow taxi, and the price was $10.

 

The local bus is the cheaper option, costing $1 each way, leaving from the central station.

 

Another option is taking a tour. The one linked costs $30 and includes your entrance fee so you aren’t paying any extra fees compared to doing it by yourself. This is a good option if you want to avoid organising your own taxis.

 

Google Maps

7. El Panecillo Viewpoint

  • Cost: the viewpoint is free, and it costs $1 if you want to go inside the La Virgen de Quito statue

Sitting at a mean 2,850m above sea level, the city is one of the world’s highest and is surrounded by a picturesque backdrop of mountains and volcanoes. You will be treated to spectacular views, whether walking through the historic centre or heading up to one of the many viewpoints.

 

 El Panecillo Viewpoint and the Virgin of El Panecillo statue is one of Quito’s most recognisable landmarks. Visitors can head up the hill for a good view of the city below.

 

Our walking tour guide mentioned that the pathway isn’t safe due to people being robbed. So make sure you go during the day and take a taxi,. It should cost around $2 from the historical centre to the top and ask it to wait for you to take you back down.

8. Head To Itichimbia Park Viewpoint

The Teleferico and Basilica are our two favourite viewpoints in Quito, but Itichimbia Park is another excellent place to spend some time and enjoy the views.

 

This is also where you can find the massive Quito sign if you want to get some good photos sitting inside the letter ‘O’.  Visit in the morning for the best lighting, or alternatively go at sunset and enjoy watching the day end with a beer at one of the nearby restaurants.

 

The park is just behind part of the old town where you can find popular backpacker hostels such as Secret Garden and Community Hostel. You can either climb up the massive flight of stairs or take a short taxi if you feel lazy.

9. Walk Along La Ronda Street And Try Some Traditional Ecuadorian Cuisine

For a warm treat, try the local drink canezalo – a spiced hot drink made by boiling water with cinnamon, sugar and mixing them with a local sugar cane alcohol. If you are looking to sample some Ecuadorian food, try the hearty soup, Locro de papa, with a side of empanadas. If you’re feeling brave, try deep-fried guinea pig, a specialty in Ecuador.

 

La Casa Los Geranios is a restaurant along La Ronda to check out, and they are known for serving traditional Ecuadorian dishes with flair.:

 

 

10. Visit Plaza Foch & La Mariscal District

Plaza Foch and La Mariscal are the entertainment district of Quito, also known as ‘new town’.

 

The weekly artisan market is known as the ‘Asara Fair’, on every Saturday and offers a large selection of indigenous crafts, clothing, and gift items.

 

Plaza Foch is a relaxed square full of bars, cafes and restaurants, and the perfect place to sit with a coffee and people-watch; however, it’s one of the more expensive places to eat. We recommend wandering away from the square to find something more suited to a backpacker budget.

 

Plaza Foch is also the heart of Quito’s nightlife scene. It’s where locals and tourists come to eat, drink, dance, and bounce from the bars and restaurants to nightclubs.

11. Night Out On The Town

Quito has a buzzing nightlife scene and Plaza Foch is the place to party.

 

The atmosphere is electric as locals and travellers mix in the bars and clubs around the central plaza. Have dinner overlooking the main square and then head out for drinks. Try Cherusker Cervecaria for artisanal beer or Bungalow 6 for a good club if you prefer a late one.  

Looking to meet some fellow travellers on a night out? Community Hostel and Secret Garden both run their own bar crawls at the weekend. These are two great hostels we have recommended here:

 

 

12. Sunday Bike Ride

  • Cost: Bikes can be rented along the route between 8 AM – 1 PM.  It costs $3 per hour.
  • Timing: 8 AM – 2 PM

Sundays in South America can be slow as most tourist attractions are shut. There is one activity that is slowly becoming popular across the continent – the Sunday bike stroll.

 

The main north-south road going through Quito is blocked off from vehicular traffic from 8 AM to 2 PM so that cyclists, skaters, people on rollerblades and walkers of all ages and abilities can get some exercise.

 

Riding up and down a car-free stretch of road is a great way to see the city, and the route takes you past some of the city’s attractions such as El Ejido Park, La Carolina park, and the beautiful Quito Botanical Garden. The bike route changes often, so ask your hostel for the latest up to date info.

 

For more information, head here:

 

 

13. Eat At Mercado Central

On the Community Hostel walking tour, you’ll briefly visit Mercado Central. Make sure you come back for some of the cheapest and tastiest food in town.

 

You’ll get enormous meals for as cheap as $2-3 dollars, freshly made smoothies for $1, buy fresh fruit over the counter and get a look into the daily life of Ecuadorians.

Eating at markets is a top tip to stick to a budget when backpacking in South America. Check out our complete budget guide for Ecuador here:

 

 

14. Go Chocolate Tasting

Ecuador is one of the largest cocoa-producing countries globally, so you must try their home-grown chocolate products whilst you’re here. Their dark chocolate is known as some of the best in the world. 

 

Three of the best places to visit are:

 

 

15. Plan Your Trip To The Galápagos Islands

Quito is one of two cities where you can fly to the Galápagos Islands, alongside Guayaquil in the South. If you plan to go as a backpacker, you will need to prepare whilst in Quito.

 

We have guides packed full of tips and tricks to visit on a backpacker’s budget. Check out our posts below:

 

 

16. Take A Day Trip To The Mindo Cloud Forest

A two-hour journey from Quito will take you into the cloud forests of Mindo.

 

In this small town there’s a wealth of activities to suit every traveller. You can visit the chocolate farms to see how it’s grown and made, go hiking in the cloud forest along the ‘route of waterfalls’, or if you prefer something more extreme, go tubing down the jungle rivers.

 

There’s lots to do in Mindo. We recommend taking a small backpack and staying the night or visiting for 2-3 days. We stayed for 2 days and loved it.

 

If you are short on time, however,  you can fit it in in one day.

Everything else you need to know about Mindo is here in our guides:

 

How To Get There

The bus to Mindo 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 bus.

 

Buses in Ecuador are super cheap, and the ticket cost us no more than $2 each.

 

If you prefer to have the transport and day organised for you then you can check out this tour:

 

Google Maps

17. Visit Cotopaxi National Park

You can book a day tour from Quito to Cotopaxi for around $60-90.

 

As you spend less time on transport and see one of the best sights in the country, it’s worth the money compared to day tours to Otavalo and Mindo. You also need a guide to enter Cotopaxi National Park, so this isn’t a trip you can organise by yourself.

 

We’ve outlined some tours and other ways of getting to Cotopaxi here in more detail:

 

 

 

However, if you have the time, it’s better to go and stay in the park for a couple of nights. Secret Garden Cotopaxi Hostel is located in the middle of the park, directly opposite Cotopaxi Volcano. They offer an incredible $95 package deal that includes all your meals and two guided hikes for free.

 

Read our review here for more information:

 

 

18. Visit South America’s Largest Indigenous Market In Otavalo

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 who live in the region. Saturday is the best day to visit as the animal market also joins the main one.

How To Get There

Getting to Otavalo from Quito is easy and takes about 2 hours by bus. The bus leaves from the northern bus terminal in Quito, called Terminal de la Ofelia, the same one you use for Mindo.

 

Again, if you prefer a guided tour, then here is one option:

 

 

The 2 hour journey time (not including the 40-minute journey to the bus station) makes this a lot for one day.

 

So again, we think it’s best to stay for at least one night or two if you can.  If you love to hike, there’s a great hike around a crater lake called Laguna Cuicocha just outside the city. It’s a fantastic acclimatising hike for the altitude in Ecuador. We stayed for two days in town and enjoyed our time.

 

Read our complete Otavalo guides here:

 

19. Visit Quilotoa Crater

The final option for a day trip from Quito is the Quilotoa Crater. This is the longest journey of all, whether you go self-guided or with a tour. But it is also one of the best sights in the country so worth it.

 

Once at the giant crater, you can either go kayaking or hike around the rim, which takes 3-4 hours.

How TO Get There

How to visit by yourself: Take an early morning bus from the Quitumbe Bus Terminal in Quito to Latacunga. Buses are frequent, so you shouldn’t be waiting for long. The journey takes roughly 1 hour and costs around $2.

 

Once you reach Latacunga, you need to jump on a second bus to Quilotoa. This takes around 2 hours and costs another $2.

 

This is a long day of travelling, so if you decide to go this route, we suggest staying the night in Quilotoa and journeying back the next day.

 

We’ve compared visiting by yourself vs a tour here for more information:

 

 

Tour: A tour is less admin but will cost more. The tours begin early, between 6:30-7 AM, picking up passengers in both the Old Town and La Mariscal.  You’ll spend the same time on a bus, but now you don’t have to worry about changing.

 

We’ve heard good things about CarpeDM tour company which can be found inside the Secret Garden Hostel.

 

Or here’s an tour from Viator:

 

 

In our opinion, it’s best if you visit Quilotoa by yourself and for one night at least. 

 

The Quilotoa Loop is an even better choice. It’s a 3-day trek through the region that is a great experience, or you can just stay the night in Quilotoa before moving on to your next destination. Check out our guide for more information:

 

 

 

We’ve compared the previous three day trips and a host of other’s on offer from Quito to see which ones are worth it.

 

 

How Many Days Do You Need In Quito?

Three days is the right amount of time you need to spend in Quito.

 

Take one day to get to know the city, explore the historical centre and enjoy views from either the Basilica or El Panecillo Viewpoint.

 

On your second day, you can visit the Equator line and enjoy a night out at Plaza Foch.

 

Then on your third, ride the Teleferico to the summit of Volcano Pichincha, swing at the end of the world, and trek to the peak.

Quito 3-Day Itinerary

Day 1

Morning

 

  • Community Hostel Walking Tour

 

Afternoon/Evening

 

  • Climb Basilicca Del Voto or El Panecillo for views of the city
  • Head to La Ronda for traditional Ecuadorian cuisine (La Casa Los Geranios)

Day 2

Morning

 

  • Mitad del Mundo

 

Evening

 

  • Community Hostel Bar Crawl to Plaza Foch

Day 3

All-day

 

  • Teleferico, Volcano Machachi Hike & The Swing At The End Of The World

 

Check out the full planned itinerary with timings, restaurant recommends, and a cost breakdown in this post for more:

 

 

The Best Restaurants In Quito

  • En Dulce (Historical Centre) – bakery in the historical centre
  • Honey Coffee (Plaza Foch) – great coffee, selection of pastries and a relaxed vibe on Plaza Foch
  • Fried Bananas (Plaza Foch) – small local café with a good selection of dishes
  • Las Empanadas del Negro – the place for empanadas
  • Bandido Brewing (Historical Centre) – pizza and craft beer; what else do you need?
  • Mercado Central – for cheap ‘menu of the day’ meals
  • La Ronda – most restaurants on this street are great for traditional Ecuadorian cuisine 

Where Is The Best Area To Stay In Quito?

There are two main areas to stay in Quito – Plaza Foch and the Historical Centre.

 

It’s best to stay around Plaza Foch if you want to be closer to the bars, restaurants, and nightlife. It is also safer, and you can walk around at night. It’s about a 25-minute walk to the historical centre from the plaza.

 

Stay close to the historical centre if you want to be close to the tourist attractions. However, at night it isn’t as safe, and most of the streets become deserted. You will need to take a taxi out a night if staying here.

Is Quito Safe For Backpackers?

Many backpackers 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 yourself, safety is rarely an issue.

 

However, Quito is a vast sprawl and figuring out where to stay and what areas to avoid can be tricky. Here are some tips to follow to keep safe in Quito:

 

  • Stay near Plaza Foch – if you have safety concerns, stay around Plaza Foch, a residential area with many 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.
  • Public Transport – avoid public transport at night and watch your belongings when on public transport
  • Taxis – make sure to only take yellow taxis with the official meters or use Uber
  • Viewpoints – leave valuables at your hostel when heading to viewpoints at the edge of the town, such as El Panecillo – a guide told us to avoid taking anything valuable if heading to this viewpoint due to robberies that can occur there. If you decide to go, go in a group, and take a taxi rather than walking.

The Best Backpacker Hostels In Quito

The best backpacker hostels are in the historical centre. Everything will be within walking distance if you stay here. However, taxis are so cheap in Ecuador; it really doesn’t matter.

 

All the bar crawls from the backpacker hostels will go to Plaza Foch, but you will have a longer walk to reach the historical centre if you stay around here.

1. Community Hostel (Historical Centre)

Community Hostel is a perfect all-rounder with something to suit every traveller’s needs.

 

They create a welcoming and social feel with organised nights for meeting other travellers. It’s a fantastic place to stay if you’re looking to keep busy, and you can join in with the social nights such as free salsa classes, happy hours, and communal dinners.

 

They have something going on every night of the week, and Saturday is their famous bar crawl taking you to the best bars and clubs around Plaza Foch.

 

  • 4-bed dorm – $12.50 a night
  • 10-bed dorm – $10 a night
  • Private-  $30 a night

Booking.com / Hostelworld / Website

2. Secret Garden Quito (Historical Centre)

Secret Garden Hostel is another great choice close to the historical centre.

 

They have a fantastic rooftop terrace with a bar, hammocks, and nets to lounge in and enjoy views out over the city. It’s also a great place to meet fellow travellers or just relax with a book. They have our favourite pod-style dorm beds with a plug socket and locker next to your head and a curtain for an added layer of privacy.

 

Like Community Hostel, they have a roster of activities every night. They serve cheap, delicious dinners from $5 and run numerous happy hours and activities every day, such as salsa and Spanish lessons.

 

  • 4-bed dorms – $6.48 a night
  • 9-bed dorm – $3.48 a night
  • Privates – from $10 a night

 

Booking.com / Hostelworld / Website

3. El Patio Hostel (Plaza Foch)

El Patio Hostel is set in a beautifully remodelled colonial house that features numerous common socialising areas.

The hostel is a 5-minute walk from Plaza Foch, located two blocks from the heart of La Mariscal, Quito’s entertainment and tourist area with artisan markets, bars and restaurants to suit any budget. 

 

  • 4-bed dorm – $10.80 a night
  • Privates – from $28 a night
  • Breakfast included

 

Booking.com / Hostelworld / Website

We cover our top 10 favourite hostels here in greater detail if you’re looking for a wider selection to choose from, with something to suit every backpacker from luxury hostels to budget:

 

 

How To Get To And From Quito

Quito is a big city and has multiple bus stations for journeys to the north or south, so you have to make sure you are going to the right one when travelling. 

How To Get From Mariscal Sucre International Airport To Quito City

If you are flying directly into Quito, you will land at Mariscal Sucre International Airport, 43km outside the city.

 

The taxi counter is on your way out of the airport. This is your best and safest bet for getting into the city as everything is official. A taxi should cost roughly $25 to get you to the centre and take approximately 45 minutes.

 

If you are looking for Wi-Fi, take a right and walk to the end to find a small café which has internet (which they kindly let us use without having to buy something). We tried Uber but couldn’t find any cars, although it was 11 PM when we landed.

How To Get From Quito To Mindo Or Otavalo

Going to places North of 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’. Turning up to the station and jumping on a bus worked for us most times.

 

Otavalo takes about 2 hours by bus, and Mindo takes 2 ½ hours.

How To Get From Quito To Cotopaxi or Baños

For heading south from Quito, you need to take a bus from the Quitumbe Bus Terminal, located in the South of the city.

 

Stop at Machachi if you are heading to Cotopaxi National Park. 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.

The ease of travel in Ecuador is one of our 12 great reasons for visiting and backpacking Ecuador in 2022. For more reasons to inspire you, check out the post below:

 

 

Quito Weather And Climate

The weather tends to vary by regional geography in Ecuador, with each place having its own micro-climate.

 

However, there are two main seasons; the wet season (summer) is cool and overcast, and the dry season (winter) is comfortable and partly cloudy.

 

The winter is the best time of year to visit Quito from June to September to avoid the rain. The wetter summer season lasts around 5 months, from December to May  

Quito Elevation

Quito is the second-highest capital city in the world at 2,850 metres (9,350 ft). This may be their first experience at a high altitude for many travellers, and you may experience altitude sickness.

 

Take your first few days easy. 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 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, we suggest you take altitude sickness tablets. We didn’t have any issues with altitude, so we can’t give any advice on tablets; however, here are a few tips:

 

 

  • Always take a couple of days to acclimatise before doing strenuous activity such as trekking;
  • Drink lots of water; and
  • Avoid alcohol or heavy drinking for the first couple of days as this will lead to dehydration, making symptoms worse

 

For more South America backpacking routes and itineraries, follow the links below: