If you’re traveling to Ecuador you need to visit Quito. Quito is a very exciting city, full of history, beautiful buildings, and great natural surroundings. There are many awesome things you can do in Quito, so schedule at least three days to see it all.
What makes Quito very appealing is the breathtaking setting around the bustling town. Quito is surrounded by volcanoes. Furthermore, it’s the perfect gateway to explore some of the remarkable sites of Ecuador.
In this Quito travel guide, we will mention all the most important things you have to see in Quito. And also, three ideas for your day trips when visiting Educators’ capital, Quito.
ABOUT QUITO, THE CAPITAL OF ECUADOR
The capital of Ecuador, Quito, was founded in the 16th century and was built on top of the ruins of a former Inca city.
Quito is a very special capital and hitting rankings in my categories. So if you think that there are not many things to do, don’t worry, Quito will keep you busy for days.
FUN FACTS ABOUT QUITO
And why Quito is such a special capital? Here are fun facts to explain why Quito is such a cool town in Ecuador.
- Quito is the 2nd highest capital (after La Paz in Bolivia) in the world. To be precise, Quito lies at 2.849 m (9,350ft) above sea level in the Ecuadorian Andes. La Paz (3.500 m) is higher than Quito, but La Paz is not Bolivia’s constitutional capital (Sucre is).
- The official name of Quito is: San Francisco de Quito
- Actual Panama hats (Straw hats that are white with black stripe) were invented here and not in Panama.
- Quito has one of the best-preserved city centers in Latin America.
- Also, Quito was announced UNESCO HERITAGE CITY in 1978. And we guarantee the streets of Quito will leave you breathless.
- There are many active volcanos in Ecuador, but Cotopaxi is one of the world’s highest active volcanoes and is just 50 kilometers of Quito.
HOW TO GET TO QUITO
If you have a limited schedule you probably will be flying directly to Quito‘s international airport.
We traveled to Ecuador overland from Colombia. It wasn’t the most pleasant journey of our life, but definitely the cheapest for our budget. Just to quickly summarize it. We traveled 41 hours from the capital of Colombia Bogota by bus.
And honestly speaking, we wouldn’t do it again. You never know when you arrive, what can happen on the road, and buses are usually crappy too. We didn’t even have working seat belts.
HOW MANY DAYS DO YOU NEED FOR QUITO?
We spent in total 4 days exploring Quito and we felt like it was just enough time to see the most exciting things. Our four days in Quito also included day trips to Mitad del Mundo, Quilotoa laguna, and Otavalo Market.
MIND THE ALTITUDE
If it’s your first day in Quito, or in general in Ecuador, take it easy.
Many people underestimate altitude sickness, and when it hits you, you won’t enjoy your time much. So, if you are planning your travel itinerary, I recommend taking it slow.
Make sure to drink a lot of water or strong green tea. If you can find coca tea, even better.
If you feel like you are feeling unwell, take a break and stop until the feeling passes. It happened to me many times as I do not cope well with the altitude. There is also a certain medication that you can get in the pharmacies against altitude sickness.
And that doesn’t mean that you have to sit in your hotel room and stare at the wall. There many things to do in Quito that are chill, such as going to Mitad del Mundo, explore museums and walk around the city. But I would definitely wait around 2-3 days until you go up to Teleferico or to Quilotoa.
HOW TO GET AROUND QUITO?
The best way how to get around Quito is on foot as the most fascinating things are located in the old part of Quito.
We also love using Uber in Quito as it is available and also for us the best way how to travel in South America. We felt very safe and all our drives were super friendly.
If you would like to learn about our experience on traveling with Uber in South America, head to our guide to find out more.
BEST THINGS TO DO IN QUITO
You guessed it right. There are many awesome things you can do and see in Quito. If you would like to explore Quito and learn at the same time about the history of Ecuador, then we suggest you to join a free walking tour. Like this, you will see the most important buildings and learn Quito’s story from a local.
Let’s see all the exciting things which you cannot miss in Quito.
BASICILICO DEL VITO NACIONAL
Our guided tour started in front of the Basilico del Vito Nacional. This huge gothic church cannot be missed by anyone coming to Quito.
Basilico del Vito Nacional was built in 1926 and it is one of the most picturesque churches in Quito and in Ecuador.
If you look closely, you will notice many animals depicted on the walls of the church, that you can find in Ecuador, such as llamas, turtles, iguanas and more. We definitely recommend you climb the church tower for a beautiful view of Quito.
The entry fee is only two dollars and definitely worth it (if you think you are handling the altitude well).
We decided not to do it, as we just got to Quito, and we weren’t acclimatized enough to do this climb 😀
OLD TOWN OF QUITO
Let’s move to the heart of Quito. There is so much to do and see here. We really enjoyed strolling around the historical old town. And there are several buildings you need to see. Once you’re in Quito’s old town you will know notice that is many beautiful churches.
I am not sure if you are into churches and fancy buildings, but even for an iliac, there many impressive structures.
PLAZA GRANDE OR PLAZA DE LA INDEPENDENCIA
Start at the Plaza Grande, also called Independence Square.
If you are looking at the photo below, this beautiful white building is where the president sits and has his office.
Definitely a great place for people-watching, just watch out for your belongings. There are a few vendors selling souvenirs here, so if you do not want to buy any, try to avoid eye contact.
Our guide told us a story of president Gabriel Garcia Moreno who was one morning walking among these pillars and got assassinated on the 6th of August in 1875 by a man with a machete. There is also a plague monument.
LA COMPANIA DE JESUS OR GOLDEN CHURCH
One of the most ornate church is definitely La Compania de Jesus with its baroque features and with perfect symmetry.
There are free guided tours, and you can check times here. There are many ornaments on pillars that symbolize the history of Quito and Ecuador, and also Ecuadorian plants and indigenous faces.
PLAZA SAN FRANCISCO
Another beautiful square which you will pass by is Plaza San Francisco with Iglesia y Monasterio de San Francisco.
Ecuador has a lot of history of earthquakes and this church was often destroyed and rebuilt again. However, the chapel of Senor Jesus del Grand Poder is still original. So go in, and check it out.
Here we were told a very interesting legend. Once upon a time, there was a man called Cantuña and he made a bet with the devil.
The story goes like this…
The main priest asked Cantuña to build the atrium for San Francisco Church. However, Cantuña was being lazy and ran out of time. He prayed to God to help him, but he didn’t answer.
So he asked the devil for help. The devil came right away, and they signed the contract together. The devil would build the atrium in exchange for Cantuña’s soul. However, the contract said that the devil’s workers (diablitos) have to finish by 6 AM, and there cannot be anything missing, not even one stone.
Right before the deadline, Cantuña removed one stone and hide it underneath his poncho. The contract was broken and Cantuña finished the atrium on time but tricked the devil and kept his soul.
Our guide asked us to find that missing stone. And whoever would find it, would get a free ice cream.
We were on fire.
Fortunately, Nico was the winner and found the missing stone. We will not show you the stone, so you can find it yourself once you are there.
Plaza San Francisco is a huge square full of pigeons and great for people watching as well.
LA RONDA STREET
We really like this part of Quito which is located in the western part of town. Calle La Ronda is a place with so much history and we enjoyed walking around here.
In the 17th century, it was here, where famous sculptor Torbia Avila was hanging out. La Ronda street is a place for folk art and crafts and it is definitely a part of Quito which has changed a lot.
Back in the 19th century, it had a reputation as a dangerous district full of drugs and prostitution.
Luckily this time passed, and now La Ronda has many beautiful streets with many pastel colors houses and colorful lampions hanging from the houses. Now it is becoming a hipster quarter. It reminded me of other colorful towns in Colombia such as Guatape or Cartagena.
Our guide showed us several different stores here. We stopped at a chocolate store and at an ice cream shop, called Dulce Placer, which you definitely need to visit (and where we claimed our free ice cream). They have one of the craziest flavors ever. I had a champagne flavor. But you can choose from sangria, baileys, petal roses, choco chilly, meringue and many more.
LOCATION: Miércoles 11 De Marzo
VIRGIN MARRY STATUE
From La Ronda, you can walk to the statue of the Virgin Marry quite easily. The statue is located on the hill and from there you can also have a gorgeous view of Quito.
La Virgen de Quito was finished in 1975 and this beautiful white statue of Virgen Marry has a crown of stars and angelic wings. Ecuadorians are proud to have the only statue of Madonna in the world with wings.
MUSEO DE LA CUIDAD
If you are feeling like visiting one museum, then head to Museo de la Cuidad. This museum depicts Quito’s history with a few replicas of indigenous houses.
If you speak Spanish you can also join a free guided tour, otherwise, you would need to pay $4 for English or French guided tours.
GO UP WITH THE TELEFERICO
Telefèrico is definitely one of the coolest activities to do in Quito. And if you would like to see Quito from above, then you need to go there.
Take a cable car which will take you up to 4.100 m. From here you can see Pichincha Vulcano clearly.
If you would like to climb to the summit of Rucu Pichincha you need to be aware that it is located at 4.680 meters above sea level, and it’s a very hard trek due to altitude.
HOW TO GET TO TELEFERICO?
The easiest way how to get to Telefèrico is to take an Uber or if you would like to go on your own, take a bus to the Colon Station and then you need to switch to another bus which goes to La Comuna. Let your bus driver know that you want to get off at Telefèrico.
The cable car ride takes around twenty minutes.
COST: US$8 PER PERSON
DAY TRIP TO MITAD DEL MUNDO
Yes, you are going to the middle of the earth. How exciting?
Ciudad Mitad del Mundo or middle of the World City is one of the most famous places in Ecuador.
Maybe the place doesn’t ring a bell yet, don’t worry. In our Mitad del Mundo guide, we will explain why you need to visit and what to do there. Especially, we will answer the question if the equator really passes here. And if not, where is it?
Mitad Del Mundo Coordinates: 0° 0′ 0″ S, 0° 0′ 0″ W
If you come to the monument, walk to the right, until you get to a small museum, where we can learn more about how latitudes work. And this is where the precise equatorial line is. We highly recommend you to take a guided tour for $5.
HOW TO GET TO MITAD DEL MUNDO
If you would like to get there on your you can take Uber or take a bus from the Ofelia bus station in Quito. Mitad del Mundo is located just 25 kilometers north of Quito and is a perfect morning trip. The journey takes around an hour and the bus stops right in front of the monument. Easy.
DAY TRIP TO QUILOTOA LAKE
Quilotoa Laguna is one of the most favorable day trips from Quito. Ecuador has many vulcanoes but this one is special. In just two hours you can reach one of the most beautiful lakes in Ecuador. We wrote a full guide on how to get to Quilotoa lake on your own, so I have a look at what to spend a perfect day in Laguna de Quilotoa.
DAY TRIP TO OTAVALO MARKET
Another awesome day trip that you can do from Quito is visiting one of the biggest markets in Latin America, Otavalo Market. If you guys know me, I love souvenirs and collecting unique things from all around the world and that’s why Otavalo was so high on our bucket list. Check our online store, where we have some of the nicest Wayuu bags.
Here, you can get unique crafts, hand made items, such as rugs, alpaca sweaters, scarves, bags, basically anything.
It’s so nice to walk around the market and be surrounded by so many colorful items.
EXTRA TIP: Otavalo markets are only open on Satursdays and Thursdays.
HOW TO GET TO OTAVALO MARKET?
You can get to Otovalo Market by bus from Ofelia bus station in Quito, and it should take you around 2 hours.
WHERE TO STAY IN QUITO?
The best area to stay in is the old town, although the prices for accommodation will be higher. There are other areas in Quito such as La Mariscal or La Floresta area, where most tourists are staying. Locals call this area gringolandia.
We stayed in two hotels during our four days in Quito. The first one was called Colonial House Inn and the second one Hostal El Arupo. They have both affordable rooms and the possibility to cook there as well. If you prefer Airbnb, $37 off on your first stay on your first booking.
CHECK ALL HOTELS IN QUITO
WHERE TO EAT IN QUITO?
If you ever travel to Ecuador you will quickly notice that Ecuadorians love to eat guinea pig. They call guinea pig ‘cuy’. We were explained that when you kill a guinea pig, it makes cuy – cuy sound, which is so sad.
Nico only tried it once and it tasted like dry chicken. Now it is more like a delicacy but, indigenous people still eat guinea, as it is rich in protein. I am not saying that you should try it, but it is up to you.
There are many restaurants, where they offer guinea pigs. However, we liked to go to more local restaurants and eat quinoa meals. Our favorite restaurants were Ari , which has affordable and local food, try their quinoa soup, you will love it.
WHEN TO VISIT QUITO?
Quito is located near the Equator, and that means that you will have more or less 12 hours of daylight, no matter what month you come.
The sun rises between 6:00 AM – 6:30 AM and sets most of the time between 6:00 PM– 6:30 PM all year long.
There are only two seasons in Quito. The dry season starts from June till September and during this time the air is drier and the temperatures are colder than in the rainy season.
The rainy season starts in October and lasts until May, during which the temperatures are higher, but you will have more rainfall. However, the difference between these two seasons is not that dramatic. So you can visit all year round.
WHAT TO PACK FOR QUITO?
If you noticed in our photos, we had mostly moody and cloudy weather. This is very typical for weather in the Andes. And there are certain things you should have on you.
- WATERPROOF JACKET & SHOES
- LONG SLEEVES & WARM CLOTHES: You do not have to necessarily bring heavy jumpers, as it will take to much space in your luggage. Layering is the best way how to save on space and stay warm too.
- WATERPROOF BACKPACK
- SUNCREAM: Just because it is cloudy, doesn’t mean that there is no sun. Remember, that you are at 2.850 meters above sea level and higher. I love to use Raw Elements as their creams are chemical-free (use code Gigi10 for 10% off).
- UMBRELLA OR PONCHO
- SNACKS: Sugary snacks, rich in protein will help you to cope with altitude sickness better.
- WATER FILTER BOTTLE: With such an attitude you need to drink at least 2.5 liters a day so you do not get severe headaches.
- ALTITUDE SICKNESS MEDICATION: If you really can’t handle altitude sickness, have altitude sickness medication on you for emergencies.
IS QUITO DANGEROUS?
We felt very safe during our 5 days in Quito. However, we never really walked home at night. We also heard rumors particularly in Quito that there is a taxi mafia. Basically the taxi driver will stop at every possible ATM and you need to withdraw money until your card is maxed out. We only took a taxi once and we really had a great experience. It was late and our taxi driver was super helpful and friendly.
However, we mostly took Uber or a bus when traveling around Quito and in general in Ecuador. We love taking Uber as it is safe, and you can pay online.
Petty theft is also common, so be careful with your belongings.
If you are concered about safety in South America and have more questions, then head to our comprehensive guide on HOW TO STAY SAFE IN SOUTH AMERICA.
We hope that you will enjoy Quito and Ecuador. As you can see, there are so many things you can do in Quito, so do not just run off to Galapagos but explore Quito fully.
Are you planning to visit Quito? Then Pin our Quito Guide to read it later.
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