Quito Ecuador – A Complete Travel Guide 

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Plaza Grande in old town Quito Ecuador at night
Image Credit: f11photo / DepositPhotos

What's up in Quito? The world's second-highest city offers wondrous and memorable experiences for travelers bound for Quito, Ecuador.

Aside from the Old City or Centro Historico, its well-preserved historical center built on ancient Inca ruins and later designated as a UNESCO World Heritage site, Quito prides itself on its rich culture, warm people, unique gastronomy, colonial architecture, year-round spring-like weather, breathtaking natural wonders, and exciting outdoor adventures.

San Francisco de Quito is also known as “Carita de Dios” or the “God's Dear Face” because of the capital's amazing landscape. Discover the best things to see, savor, and experience in Quito with this list, and find out why this city should be on your bucket list.

What's Special About Quito, Ecuador?

Quito, the capital of Ecuador, is a vibrant and historical city in northern South America. Its unique Andean culture celebrates both the country's glorious pre-Columbian Inca roots and the deep-seated influence of its Spanish colonial era.

Quito's bustling downtown features cobbled streets that take you back to centuries prior; its architecture and cuisine testify to its complex colonial legacy.

Most notably, Quito sits at such a high altitude–the second-highest city in the world at around 9,350 feet (2,850 meters).

Although Ecuador is most famous for its Galapagos Islands, the mainland capital city is not one to miss if you are looking for the perfect blend of a historic and modern experience.

Best Things To Do in Quito, Ecuador – Sights

The Basílica del Voto Nacional

Visiting Quito, Ecuador, and not seeing the glorious Basílica del Voto Nacional? Unthinkable! To prepare to pay homage to this architectural wonder, all you need is an adequate amount of awe and admiration. Admission is free.

The basilica is located in the historic center of Quito, near the Plaza de la Independencia. Ecuadorian architect Emilio Tarlier designed it, and construction began in 1892.

This majestic basilica can be found in most guidebooks with a recommended time frame between one and two hours.

Iglesia de la Compañía de Jesús

Regarding churches, few compare to the sheer beauty of Quito's Iglesia de la Compañía. From its towering columns to the intricacy of its detailed frescoes, visitors can easily spend an entire afternoon exploring this beautiful Ecuadorian landmark.

Before you plan your visit, budget in time and money. Bus tickets cost around $5, and most tours take three to four hours.

Parque La Carolina

If you're visiting Quito, Parque La Carolina should be on your list of places to check out. This 165-acre (0.67-square kilometer) green haven in the middle of the city's central business district will easily take up a good chunk of your day, so remember to bring lunch and plenty of water if you plan to spend an extended period there.

With activities ranging from biking and jogging to boating and even rollerblading, you won't run short on things to do at Parque La Carolina. You'll need around $3.50 for entrance fees, depending on the activities you'd like to partake in.

Templo del Sol Pintor Ortega Maila

The Templo del Sol Pintor Ortega Maila, founded in the 17th century, is breathtakingly beautiful with its unique architecture and design. You'll need approximately two hours of your time to get there.

Once inside, you can expect plenty of awe-inspiring surroundings as you explore this captivating piece of history. Be prepared for a great adventure at Templo Del Sol Pintor Ortega Maila–one of Quito's best-kept secrets.

Best Things to Do In Quito, Ecuador – Activities

TelefériQo Ride

This 2.9-mile (4.7 km) cable car journey offers an unforgettable city view. As you are taken through four mountainous stations, you can expect breathtaking views and a unique experience at each stop.

To prepare for the 30-minute adventure, remember to wear comfortable shoes and attire and bring extra camera batteries or a backup phone charger–you will want to snap all the incredible sights. The cost of this journey is $8.50.

Visit Old Town

Getting around Quito's old town or Centro Histórico is easy. You can enjoy a leisurely stroll or take local taxis and buses and marvel at the old-world charm of this colonial enclave with its stunning architecture and distinct cobbled streets.

The cost depends on what you choose to do during your stay. Grabbing lunch at a local café or taking in the sights of famous monuments will cost more compared to walking around Quito. For the most immersive experience, take a tour with a private local guide to learn the fascinating history of old town Quito.

If you want to genuinely experience everything the old town offers, plan for at least two days.

Fun Activities at Intiñan Museum

Head to the Intiñan Museum in Quito, Ecuador, for an exciting day of exploration, learning, and entertainment. When you visit the museum, be prepared to spend at least a few hours since it offers many interactive activities from which to choose.

Guests can expect admission fees ranging from $4-$5 depending on age and additional activity packages.

Best Things to Do In Quito, Ecuador – Food/Drinks

Empanada

If you're in Quito, Ecuador, you've got to try their cheese-filled empanada. The delectable combination of savory flavors, crispy pastry dough, and golden-brown perfection will satisfy your cravings in no time.

Ceviche de Corvina

Ceviche consists of raw white fish marinated in lime juice and served with onions, peppers, tomatoes, and herbs. It's the perfect balance of freshness and flavor. When prepared correctly using only the freshest ingredients, it's sure to be one of the most memorable meals you'll ever experience.

Fritada

The delicious delicacy Fritada is native to Quito and served hot and sizzling at street stalls from the Andes to the Pacific. A beef patty topped with tomatoes, onions, fried potato chunks, and eggs, this treat will tantalize your taste buds with its savory flavors.

Llapingachos

Famous in Quito, fried potato patties called llapingachos are a savory combination of potatoes, cheese, and spices all rolled into one.

Some people serve them as a side dish with cream or avocado sauce, while others make them even heartier by topping them off with a sunny side egg.

Locro de Papa

A hearty cheese and potato soup made colorful with achiote (annatto powder), Locro de Papa is a true staple of Quito culture today. Those familiar with the city will tell you it tastes best made by a local grandmother—there's just something magical about their recipe.

Best Day Trips From Quito, Ecuador

Quilotoa Crater

Quilotoa Crater, located in the Ecuadorian Andes, is a must-see on any South American itinerary. The crater sits at 12,841 ft (3,914 m), so travelers should prepare themselves for the hike – which can be done as a breathtaking 3-day hike known as the Quilotoa Loop.

Cost-wise, the crater can be accessed by bus or car from Lago Quilotoa. Both options cost around $2. Bring sunscreen and a hat—it can get scorching during the day. One of the most popular private tours is to Quilotoa Crater, and it often sells out, so make sure to book early.

Mitad del Mundo Monument

This historical landmark in the middle of the world's equator is 16 mi (26 km) north of Quito. It stands to inform visitors of the fascinating story behind its creation. Admission fees are $5 for adults and $2.50 for kids.

Keep an eye out for demonstrations that showcase experiments conducted using the equatorial line–these activities will make your experience even more exciting.

Climb Pasochoa

Carley Rojas Avila of the travel platform Explorers Away recommends hiking Pasochoa. “Located in the Valle de los Chillos just over the crest from Quito, Pasochoa is a long-extinct volcano towering over the area. While it isn't as often visited as nearby the active, snow-capped Cotopaxi volcano, Pasochoa is one of the best spots for hiking around Quito, offering a moderate hike with great conditions, stunning vistas, and an off-the-beaten-path feel that will bring you closer to the Ecuador locals.”

She continues, “Take the bus from Quito's Playón de la Marin bus station towards Amaguaña; once you arrive, grab a taxi or pickup truck to the reserve's entrance. The hike takes about five hours, though different routes to the summit can take longer. No special gear is required for this hike! Bring a good jacket, even in summer, as it gets cold at the top.

“If you get lucky with the weather and attempt your summit on a clear day, you'll see snow-capped Cotopaxi up close from Pasochoa's summit; it's one of the most impressive views of Cotopaxi you'll find anywhere.”

Hike to Rucu Pichincha

Hiking up the Rucu Pichincha volcano, located 21 miles (35 km) outside Quito, Ecuador, is an experience like no other. Take the TeleferiQo cable car, which will take you to Cruz Loma Peak in 20 minutes and costs around $8.50.

Then prepare for a three to four-hour hike, and you'll be rewarded for your efforts with incredible views over the entire city and the iconic snow-capped Andes mountain range. Bring plenty of water, as you'll need to stay hydrated, and sturdy hiking boots that can handle rocks and dirt terrain.

Celebrate Carnival in Amaguaña

Rojas also mentions the carnival in Amaguaña is something you can’t miss. She adds, “The carnival celebrations of Rio de Janeiro might steal some of Ecuador's thunder, but this tiny Andean nation has its share of carnival fun.” 

She continues, “The tiny town of Amaguaña, just outside Quito, is one of Ecuador's best places to celebrate this holiday. Amaguaña is a favorite spot to play traditional Ecuadorian carnival games, which include throwing colored powders, flour, water, and foam at passersby in the street. It's messy fun you'll never forget. Amaguaña also puts on a great Carnival show with days of nonstop music and dance performances, rides, games, parades, and delicious local street food.

“While the exact dates of Carnival change yearly, it usually falls during February. While travel costs can be a bit higher during Carnival as locals also have time off work, it's a great time to experience Ecuadorian culture like a local.”

Shopping at Otavalo Market

Shopping at Otavalo Market, also known as Plaza de los Ponchos and Centenario Market, promises an unforgettable experience. Located in Imbabura province, two hours north of Quito, Ecuador, it is a bustling marketplace of locals and tourists worldwide.

Expect to find a variety of handmade goods, such as traditional clothes, jewelry, and textiles, at highly reasonable prices. It is also essential to come prepared with cash, as credit cards are generally not accepted in most stalls.

How To Get To Quito, Ecuador?

If you want to get to Quito, Ecuador, the most direct route is flying directly into the Mariscal Sucre International Airport.

Several major airlines fly directly into the city, including American Airlines, JetBlue, LATAM Airlines, Avianca Ecuador, Avianca, Delta, Korean Air, and United.

Getting Around in Quito, Ecuador

Getting around in Quito is relatively easy and inexpensive, making it an ideal location for those on a budget.

Until 9 p.m., you can easily navigate the city streets with Metrovia, an intra-city bus service that covers much of the urban terrain and connects with two major city districts. Bus tickets are very affordable at around $0.25 per person.

Metered taxis are available in Quito, with a minimum fare of $1.50-$2.00. You can also try Uber ridesharing or car rentals. An interesting option is BiciQuito, a free bike-sharing program with stations throughout the city.

Quito is a very walkable city: stroll through colorful cobbled streets past the towering mountains and sample some delicious local dishes and vibrant markets during your stay in this stunningly beautiful South American capital.

Quito, Ecuador – Accommodations

Quito offers a variety of places to stay, with multiple accommodations ranging from budget-friendly hostels to luxurious hotels and everything in between.

While several types of lodging are available, hotels and hostels are among the most popular choices for visitors to the city.

Hotels To Stay In Quito, Ecuador

Wyndham Garden Quito

Wyndham Garden Quito is the perfect place to stay when visiting Quito! It's conveniently located just 700 meters from La Carolina Park. Everything is available, from a restaurant, bar, and business center to free private parking, room service, 24-hour front desk, airport transfers, and free wifi.

Chakana Hotel Boutique

Located only moments from the iconic Sucre Theatre, guests will always be close to culture and entertainment. Chakana Hotel Boutique boasts 4-star amenities such as a bar, restaurant, terrace, private parking, room service, airport transfers, and wifi!

Ilalo Garden Hotel & Restaurant

Nestled comfortably between the airport and Quito, guests can enjoy a peaceful, tranquil stay. Ilalo has a garden, shared lounge, terrace, and restaurant offering modern comforts and amenities.

Hostels in Quito, Ecuador

Community Hostel Quito

Community Hostel Quito offers guests the perfect place to stay in Quito. With a lush garden, shared lounge, spacious terrace, and bar, it has all the amenities that today's travelers could need.

Quito Terrace

Quito Terrace is the perfect place for travelers looking for a central spot in Quito to stay. It has free wifi and comfortable, modern rooms, and you can quickly check out some of the city's most exciting attractions. In addition, El Ejido Park is just a short stroll away.

Quito, Ecuador – Weather

Quito has a cool, spring-like climate all year round because of its altitude and location on the equator. With temperatures hovering from 48 to 66 degrees Fahrenheit (9 to 19 degrees Celsius) all year, it's hard to go wrong.

If you enjoy sightseeing or other outdoor activities during warm, sunny days, the best time of year to visit Quito is during the dry season, from mid-June to mid-September. Be prepared with rain ponchos and umbrellas during the rainy season, which happens twice a year: from March to April and October to December.

Because the city's elevation can get chilly at night, it's best to pack a sweater or a light jacket for nighttime activities.

Important Travel Tips To Enjoy Quito Ecuador

If you're planning a visit to Quito, Ecuador, some tips can make your trip more enjoyable.

Bring Cash

Ecuador uses the US dollar as its primary currency, but you may want to bring cash rather than do card-based transactions since not all places accept card payments.

Keep Your Money Safe

Consider protecting valuables with a money belt or similar accessories.

Take Meds and Snacks

Health-wise, stocking up on frequently used drugs beforehand is a good idea. Add snacks like crackers and tea to help with altitude sickness caused by Quito's high elevation.

For Solo Female Travelers

Avoid hopping in unregistered taxis or wandering alone at night–consider taking public transportation after dark if possible. With these safety tips for Quito, Ecuador in mind, let your travels around Quito be the adventure you had dreamed of!

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) – Things to Do in Quito Ecuador

What Is Quito Most Known For?

Quito is home to many UNESCO-recognized sites. Its historic center, Centro Historico, is best known for its centuries-old cathedrals, ancient plazas, temples, and cobblestone streets. It is also the world's second-highest capital city.

Is Quito a Spanish Speaking Country?

Yes, the Spanish language is officially spoken in Quito. While English is generally spoken in hotels, restaurants, and other tourist hubs, it would be best to learn some useful Spanish phrases and always keep your guidebook on hand.

Is Quito the Highest Capital in the World?

No, the city of La Paz, Bolivia's capital, holds that distinction at 11,975 ft (3,650 m) above sea level. Quito is the world's highest national capital, with an elevation of about 9,350 ft (2,850 m).

This article originally appeared on Savoteur.

Marjolein Dilven
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