10 THINGS TO DO IN QUITO, ECUADOR
Discover the highest capital in the world
Welcome to the highest capital in the world!
Quito, Ecuador’s capital, located in the Andes Mountains 2,850 meters above sea level, is the highest capital in the world! Many people think it is La Paz in Bolivia but the official capital is Sucre and that is located in an altitude of “only” 2,808 meters.
Capitals are always a great place to go to because their names sound great, famous and promising. It’s cool to say that you have been there and to put it on your “visited capitals” list. But after arriving and fighting the way through to the center you often realize that it’s like any other big city. Pollution, traffic, noise, stress and hectic dominate the place. Of course every city has something to offer but in some places you have to search for the little hidden beautiful things.
I can promise you in Quito it’s absolutely different! Why? Because Quito has so much to offer and it’s right in front of you. Of course it is also full of cars, busses, people and and and. But there are so many totally different things you can do and explore. You don’t believe me? I will show you 10 fantastic things to do in Quito that make this place to an amazing destination!
And if you need more information about Quito and Ecuador, have a look on AllYouNeedIsEcuador.travel. Here you can explore Quito even from home. 25 – 360° panoramas invite to discover the city on your screen. Check it out here. Don’t forget! You can vote for Quito as one of the New 7 Wonders Cities.
Note: All prices are given in Ecuador’s currency, the U.S. dollar.
1. STROLL THROUGH QUITO’S OLD TOWN
Funny golf ball BoB in front of the Presidential Residence
The best preserved Old Town in the Americas
La Iglesia de la Compañía de Jesús
is decorated with tons of gold.
Plaza de la Independencia, locally known as Plaza Grande, is the heart of the historic center. This beautifully arranged square is surrounded by La Catedral Metropolitana (entrance fee 1 to 2 dollar), Carondelet Palace comprising the Presidential Residence, Archbishop’s Palace and the City Hall.From Plaza de la Independencia you stroll further into the direction of Plaza San Francisco, passing one of the most spectacular churches, La Iglesia de la Compañía de Jesús (entrance fee 4 dollar, free on every first Sunday of a month). It is decorated with tons of gold. Taking pictures is unfortunately prohibited. On Plaza San Francisco you should have a look into Iglesia y Monasterio de San Francisco (free entrance). Also don’t miss La Ronda. It is said to be the oldest street in Quito and offers a great atmosphere with small restaurants, bars, cafés, museums, shops, street vendors and live-music at night.
But the best of all highlights that Quito’s Old Town has to offer is the impressive Basílica del Voto Nacional. It is the largest neo-Gothic basilica in the Americas and an absolute must-see. It is not just a church; it is a special church with a unique architecture. The external façade is decorated with mystical gargoyles in the form of local Ecuadorean icons, such as pumas, monkeys, penguins, tortoises, and condors that guard the outsides of the church. In the first moment it looks like a normal façade but then, step by step, you discover all the different animals.
Enjoy a stunning
view from the towers.
Be brave and climb up the 115 meter high towers. Take the elevator or stairs and make your way up to the top. Walk above the roof of the nave and enjoy a stunning view of Quito from the towers. In one of them is also a café with a huge glass front. Have a coffee or a snack here. It’s not overpriced.
Tip: Take part in a Free Walking Tour! It’s a great way to explore the Old Town of Quito. The travel agency CarpeDM Adventures offers a Free Walking Tour every morning at 10am from Monday till Friday. They start at their office in Calle Jose Antepara. The tour is in English and Spanish. We have done different Free walking Tours during our travel and this one was definitively one of the most interesting.
2. WAVE TO THE PRESIDENT
President Rafael Correan on the balcony of the Presidential Residence waving to the crowd
You want to do something that’s unique?
Here we go… wave to Ecuador’s president! Now you are irritated and not sure how you can do this? What’s almost impossible everywhere else in the world is possible in Quito! Every Monday morning at 11am president Rafael Correan and some of his ministers stand on the balcony of the Presidential residence on Plaza de la Independencia in front of the public.
Every week it’s a big highlight and a few hundred people, locals and tourists likewise, join the change of the guards. Musicians of the parliament in their beautiful colorful uniforms perform the Ecuadorian anthem, horsemen trot through the crowd and the whole ceremony finishes with the fly of the ensign. The whole spectacle is for free but you should get there around 10am to find a good spot. Don’t miss it!
3. TAKE THE CABLE CAR AND HIKE TO VOLCANO PICHINCHA
Track to the top of Volcano Pichincha
Located in the Andes Mountains Quito is surrounded by numerous mountains and volcanoes. It’s definitely a must to climb one of these volcanoes. The closest one is Volcano Pichincha which is 4,690 meters high. It is located right next to the city and with Quito’s cable car called TelefériQo you can leave 800 meters elevation behind you and get up to 4,100 meters. The trip with the modern 2,5 kilometers long cable car takes roughly 20 minutes and costs 8 dollar return. As soon as the gondola leaves the visitor center at the base the stunning view of Quito becomes visible.
Usually it’s better to go up early and to catch one of the first gondolas before the fog comes in and blocks the view of the city. The cable car opens at 8am. At the visitor center on the top you can take amazing photos of the city and from here you also realize how long Quito is and how it is running through the valley.
Explore the beautiful landscape
of Volcano Pichinchashort.
The trail to Volcano Pichincha starts right at the visitor center. Take the path that leads away from the city and passes a little church. A few hundred meters further the path splits. Here you have to go straight into direction of the first hills, don’t turn left. The trail guides you through a beautiful landscape. The first part is dominated by small bush and grass. The higher you get the steeper is the hillside and the cooler is the air. Even when the sun shines you have to bring a jacket and a hat. And don’t forget sunscreen! The trail is not a loop. When you reach the top you will come back the same way. Once in a while there are signs guiding you up the volcano. Also take good and robust hiking shoes as you climb over rocks.
Before you start your trip in the morning, first have a look up to the peaks of the mountains and check how cloudy it is. When you can’t see the peaks then it is not recommendable to go up as you won’t see anything. The fog and clouds are so heavy that you can’t see the city nor the path. It won’t be much fun and it can also get dangerous. So, only chose sunny or slightly cloudy days and you will spend an unforgettable time.
4. TRY A TRADITIONAL SNACK & HAVE A BATIDO
Street vendor selling grilled plantains
Quito’s special charm does not only come from the beautiful historical architecture, it’s the people in the streets who give the Old Town a unique atmosphere. Street vendors shape the image of the streets and every few meters your nose is spoiled by different delicious aromas. You are surrounded by freshly grilled nuts and almonds, a variety of soups, freshly cut fruits, dishes with mixed sausages and potatoes and much more.
But what you shouldn’t miss to try are the very traditional grilled plantains. The whole raw plantain is grilled on charcoal till they are slightly charred. They are sweet and absolutely filling. It’s a great snack in between and you won’t need to eat anything else the next hours.
And for drinking a freshly prepared juice or a freshly blended milkshake should be on your list! For a cheap price you get an excellent healthy and very yummy drink. It’s just great! Our personal recommendation is the juice shop Los Jugos le la Sucre in Calle Sucre between La Iglesia de la Compañía de Jesús and Plaza San Francisco. We loved the batido de mango, which is a mango milkshake. A glass/cup only costs 1,40 dollar. And the best of all is that you also get the rest that didn’t fit into your glass so that you can refill it! Where else is that possible!? Cheers!
5. TRAVEL TO THE MIDDLE OF THE EARTH
No, this has nothing to do with Hollywood!
Middle Earth is the place where the equator is located and where the northern and southern hemisphere meet. You definitely have to go there and take a picture!
To get there take a bus from the center of Quito to the Northern bus terminal Ofelia. There you change into the bus to Mitad del Mundo. Each trip takes 40 minutes so calculate at least 1,5 hours for one way. The price is less than 1 dollar for both busses together. Locals in the bus will let you know when you have to leave the bus.
Both attractions are very different and it’s worth seeing both of them. The monument is great for taking pictures and the museum is funny with its tour and experiments. It’s a perfect trip for a day.
6. CLIMB VOLCANO COTOPAXI
Golf ball BoB in front of Volcano Cotopaxi
Oh no, not another volcano!
Oh yes, because it’s not just another volcano. Cotopaxi is one of the highest active volcanoes in the world! It is located 50 kilometers south of Quito in the National Park Cotopaxi. The volcano is 5,897 meters high and you can climb it! You have two choices.
The easier option is to do a day tour where you get to the first glaciers at 5,000 meters. You start your hike from the parking space at 4,658 meters. It’s impressing to see the ice and snow and you have a fantastic view of the beautiful national park and the icy top of the volcano.
Put on warm clothes, it gets really cold! Also take a cap and gloves.
View of the surrounding National Park
PS: Unofficial world record: “BoB is the first golf ball ever who reached an altitude of 5,000 meters.” 🙂
7. HAVE A DRINK ON THE TERRACE OF HOSTEL SECRET GARDEN
Wow! What a view!
Quito offers many great places from where to enjoy a stunning view of the historical Old Town. One of them is the rooftop terrace of Hostel Secret Garden which is located in Calle Antepara in San Blas. Have a glass of wine, a refreshing beer or dinner and enjoy the breathtaking view at daylight or after sunset. It’s always good for a break.
View of Quito from the terrace
Picture taken by: www.thebluelyweds.blogspot.com.
8. ENJOY A GREAT VIEW FROM EL PANECILLO
El Panecillo with the monument of the Virgin Maria
Welcome to Quito’s “small bread”!
El Panecillo means “small bread” and it’s the name of the 200 meters high hill that marks the division between south and downtown Quito. From everywhere in the Old Town you can see the hill with its aluminum monument of the Virgin Maria.
Take a taxi for a few dollar (Don’t walk up! The way up is not safe!) and get to the top of El Panecillo. From there you have an amazing 360° view of Quito and the whole valley. You will be impressed how far the city stretches… until the horizon and even further. The Statue of the Virgin Maria consists of 7,000 pieces and represents a replica of the winged Virgin Maria of Iglesia y Monasterio de San Francisco on Plaza San Francisco. Don’t forget your camera!
9. DANCE UNTIL YOUR FEET HURT IN MARISCAL
Quito’s vibrant neighborhood
Until now you read a lot about churches and landscapes. But that’s definitely not the only thing Quito has to offer! In the suburb La Mariscal you find another, totally different, Quito. This is the place where international travelers and locals alike enjoy the nights and dance to salsa, ska, merengue, bachata and rock until the early morning. Most clubs get full around 9pm and close around 2am. On Sundays it is not allowed to sell alcohol.
During the day La Mariscal is a neighborhood full of restaurants, cafés, book stores, souvenir shops, cultural centers and artisan markets. Many hostels are located here and when you want to make party this is the perfect location for you. When you prefer a quieter place, then I recommend to stay closer to the Old Town. Have a look on my hostel tip at the end of this post.
La Mariscal at night
10. TAKE A BREAK AT ITCHIMBIA PARQUE
Panorama image with the view of Quito’s valley
Located on one hillside of the valley, close to Quito’s Old Town, Itchimbia Parque is the perfect spot for a relaxing break. Although the way up to the park is a bit exhausting as you have to climb some stairs. But when you reach the park it offers 54 hectares for strolling around, lying in the grass or watching kids playing around and football teams training.
In the middle of the park is a Cultural Center located; only made of glass and metal. Exhibitions, fairs, festivals and other cultural and social events take place there. But the best of all is the stunning view. From the terrace of the Cultural Center you have a great view of Quito and its suburbs. There is also a small café just next to the Culture Center where you can enjoy a cup of coffee while admiring the fantastic view. The park is open every day from early morning until 6pm. Entrance is free.
AND WHERE TO SLEEP?
The reception and bar at Hostel Revolution
Quito offers a variety of hostels and hotels. Especially La Mariscal is full of them. You just have to decide how much money you want to spend and if you want to stay close to the party zone. When you look for something quieter than you should stay in the Old Town or close to it. We stayed at Hostel Revolution which is located in the suburb San Blas.
Hostel Revolution is not too big and has a very personal atmosphere. It has three 6 bed dorm rooms and two private double rooms. Everything is very clean and they even make your beds every day. The kitchen is very well equipped. It was definitely one of the best we have seen on our trip so far.
Hostel Revolution is a
great place to stay
The owner Sandra is Canadian and she is a lovely person. She makes you feel home very quickly. A bed in a dorm costs 10 dollar per night.
You find it here:
Julio Castro and Los Rios, San Blas Quito
Contact: (593-2) 254-6458
I hope you liked my recommendations for 10 things you can do in and around Quito! It would be great if I could inspire you to spend some more days in this great city on your trip through Ecuador. And it’s not only a perfect location for day trips, it’s also a good place to visit other worth seeing spots in Ecuador like the caldera Quilotoa, the world famous market in Otavalo or Baños with its many waterfalls, the popular treehouse swing and Volcano Tungurahua.
We stayed in Quito for two months as we volunteered there and we enjoyed our time a lot. When planning your trip through Ecuador you should consider some days for Quito. Also keep in mind that you need 3 to 4 days to acclimatize. Many travelers underestimate the change of the climate due to the high altitude. When you come from a lower area your body will feel tired and some even get headaches or feel dizzy and sick. Take your time!
I wish you a fantastic stay and a lot of fun in Quito! I’m sure you will like it!
And if you have been to Quito already… Did I miss any highlight or must-do? What did you like the most? Do you have more recommendations for other travelers? Please let us know and leave a comment below.
Thanks for reading and safe travels!