This massive guide will help you decide what to do among all the things to do in Quito, the charming capital of Ecuador. It also gives you practical tips on how to move around, Quito weather, where to exchange money, and safety issues in Quito among other tips.
My trip in South America started off with Ecuador. We landed in Quito from Guatemala flew directly to the Galapagos islands and then back to Quito where I stayed for more than a month in total while traveling from there exploring the surrounding.
I was staying in Quito old town, the historic center, in an apartment with spectacular views of the city.
However, if I had to choose now I would rather stay in La Floresta, the artsy neighborhood, totally different from the center, more modern and vibrant, with its graffiti-colored streets, nice little cafes, and a great variety of restaurants. But I tell you more about where to stay in Quito in another post.
Ecuador entry requirements and Covid-19 procedures
Mainland Ecuador and the Galapagos Islands, have officially reopened! So If the Galapagos were on your bucket list you should take advantage of these weird and difficult times and take a break from stress and uncertainty, while enjoying this wildlife sanctuary.
The local authorities and operators are going beyond their ways to create a safe environment for locals and visitors alike, and protocols are in place and strictly followed.
Now, the Mainland and the Galapagos islands have slightly different entry requirements, which am explaining here below.
Mainland Ecuador entry requirements:
As of mid-July Ecuador’s international airports reopened, and flights have resumed with the following requirements:
- Proof of a negative COVID PCR (PCR test only) test within 10 days of arriving in Ecuador,
- Not presenting any symptoms of COVID on arrival
- If the above conditions are met there is no need for self-quarantine, on the contrary, passengers must self-quarantine in a designated hotel at their expense for 14 days and then take the test again.
GALAPAGOS ENTRY REQUIREMENTS:
- For the Galapagos islands, policies are a little stricter, as follow:
- A negative COVID PCR test within 96 hours of arrival in the islands (please note only PCR tests are accepted)
- Proof of
Travel Insurance, including medical coverage for COVID-19,
- Proof of confirmed itinerary in the islands.
- Entrance requirements for Ecuador and Galapagos are subject to change.
Now I just want to make sure you know that among the best places to see in Ecuador, Quito must be on your list.
If you wish to know why read on as I will cover a lot in this post.
If you are a digital nomad and you are in the process to move to Ecuador instead, you might want to read this post on the best places to live in Ecuador.
Best things to do in Quito
The city of Quito lies in an enclave surrounded by several volcanoes, some of which are active. The closest one is the Pichincha, with its two peaks towering over the city.
The others, each one with its own personality, history, and legend, are Cayambe, Antesana, Pasochoa, Sincholagua, the most famous Cotopaxi, Ruminhaui, Liniza, Corazon, Atacazo, and the highest Chimborazo, which they like to say it’s higher than the Everest, but only if you measure it from its base not from the sea level of course.
If you think I know all these names by heart, think again. I just wanted to show off my knowledge of the Geography of Ecuador, but in reality, I always need to get to Wikipedia to remember those names, except for the few I have hiked or attempted to. 🙂
The vicinity of such incredible natural places, the constant growth of Quito as a cultural hub and cradle of art make it an attractive and interesting base for avid travelers eager to discover the wonders of Ecuador.
Also the city of qiuto is a UNESCO world heritage site as it “proudly possesses one of the most extensive and best-preserved historic centres of Spanish America.“
The only risk you get when you visit Quito is that you will never want to leave.
Here below I will list all the things that you can do in Quito and from Quito in a one day trip.
Browse around the Historical Center
Quite an obvious suggestion, right? Not really. The first thing to do when you get to one city is just to wander around and get lost, well, not really lost. There are places that it’s better not to go at a certain time of the day. Even the historical center gets quite unsafe to walk around at night (see here below the chapter on safety). But during the day, it’s a spectacular neighborhood to discover, starting from the Plaza de la Independencia surrounded by ancient churches and colonial buildings. Try local food in one of the cheap restaurants, they are the best. Or sit in a coffe- shops and watch the life go by. The best way to visit the historical center and other parts of Quito is by joining a walking tour. And that leads us to the next thing to do in Quito.
Take a free walking tour
Taking a free walking tour is a great way to explore the city. I found many walking tours on this site specialized in walking tours from the world. I think this is quite useful for every city.
There is more than one option in Quito, from the street food tour where you get a taste of local food, visit local markets and more peculiar areas of the city where you may not go on your own, to La Floresta neighborhood (my favorite), Guapulo. The city is huge and there are different and very distinctive neighbors and each tour focus on a specific zone where the guide, which is normally a student will tell you a lot of interesting information on the local history and culture.
Take a ride on the cable car (Teleferico)
The teleferico is one of the main attraction of Quito and a great place to train for your next hike at a significantly high altitude and reduce the risk of altitude sickess.
It’s a 15-minute ride that takes you up to 4100 mt. If you get there in a clear sky, you will be able to enjoy amazing views of the city and, if you are even luckier, of the surrounding peaks as well. I went twice, the first time with my friend Barbara during our last day together after our amazing trip to the Galapagos. That day was super cloudy or foggy or both, we couldn’t see after 3 mt ahead of us at the beginning, but after we walked around, we managed to see a glimpse of the city.
The second time I went was with a professional trail runner and hiker, a guy from Quito that I casually met. No, it was not a date. He was so passionate about its own country that he just loved to share it’s knowledge and offered to take me to Ruco Pichincha, one of the Pichincha volcano. It was a total failure for me, but I will be talking more extensively about it in another post.
You don’t need to be a hiker to go there. You can just take a ride and enjoy the view and maybe have an easy short walk to the swings (it’s an Ecuadorian thing, they love to swing in the empty space).
How to get to the Teleferico in Quito – from wherever you are staying get an Uber or Taxi to the Teleferico. (On the way back there are taxis available there). From the historical center is about 3 USD with uber and 5 with a TAXI depending on traffic. Also note:
- The entrance fee is 8 USD return.
- Remember to keep the recipt for the return ride.
- Opening hours from 8 am to 4 pm. I am not sure about the return time but it’s advisable to go in the morning cause it tends to cover up and gets even colder.
- Dress in layers cause you never know, you might need to switch from a tank top to a Snowboard Jacket in 5 minutes.
Find the best places to stay close to the main attractions in Quito
Try the authentic Ecuadorian Chocolat
The PACARI is the multiple award-winning Ecuadorian chocolat. They have a shop right by the Gran Plaza, sharing the space with the Tourist Information office. But you can buy it in many shops around town. It’s the local brand, which Ecuador is very proud of. It’s pure local cacao, made with sustainable practices and organic. And cheap (if you purchase it in Ecuador)
Take a walk in the hipster neighborhood of La Floresta.
I would suggest you take a free walking tour, where you get a lot of information about the culture, and the reality behind the graffitis scattered around the “barrio.” Still, if you want to do it alone, it’s a very safe area, full of art, cafes’ and restaurants. It’s also a place where I would stay if I had to come back to Quito. So quaint.
Have a walk around the Guapulo neighborhood
Also, here I took a great tour, but you can definitely go on your own. Starting from Guapulo Mirador, you have a spectacular view of the church and all the valley, then you climb down the stairs towards the church, and you will see cute little restaurants and places to hang out without losing sight of the valley. The Church is worth a visit for the colonial architecture as well. It’s a tiny neighborhood, but it’s close to la Floresta so that you can plan both visits on the same day.
Have dinner in the “Mercado de la Tripa”
It’s so-called because it became famous among locals for the Tripa, which not everybody might appreciate. It’s the stomach of the caw, basically. I didn’t dare try it. But they have other specialties, also for the vegetarian. I managed to get even a vegan meal. Although it’s not their specialty, the grilled corn is great. It’s nice besides the food, it’s the local atmosphere, and although it has become a tourist attraction or probably because of that, it’s really authentic.
Take a ride to El Panecillo hill to get a stunning view of the city.
You cannot miss it from the historical center because of the Virgin Mary’s huge statue with two angel wings. Although it even seems at a walking distance with a short hike, every local I talked to told me that it’s better to get on a taxi or Uber on the way there. Besides the fact that it’s not even suitable for pedestrians, it’s quite unsafe. Apparently, the neighborhood on the hill is not one of the nicest.
Have a self-made bike tour on a Sunday
On Sundays the city becomes empty, no cars and all the shops are shut down. I realized it when I decided to take a walk from the historical center to La Mariscal. Quito looked like a ghost town.
However, lots of bikes were taking over the empty traffic-free roads.
At the tourist information, located by the Plaza Grande, you can get a great detailed map of the city to see the available car-free roads for your Sunday bike ride in the historical center.
Visit the Cathedral of Quito and other Churches
Beside the Cathedral of Quito, there are other churches that are worth a visit, among which:
- Basilica del Voto Nacional, a majestic gothic work of art. You can even walk up to the towers from which you get spectacular views of the city. There is a 2 USD fee to enter the church and 2 USD to get to the towers.
- Iglesia de Santo Domingo
- Iglesia de la Compañia de Jesus
MUSEUMS OF QUITO
Ok, I am not a real museum freak although I love to know about the history of the country I visit and I love art, so every once in a while I like to browse into museums when I feel like it’s worth it.
Quito has a huge amount of museums and I am not going to list them all.
These ones here below are the one I have visited and I thought you might want to read about them.
Museo de la Ciudad
Located in a cultural center, the museo de La Ciudad is a great way to know the city’s history. You get a free guided tour that last about 2 hours around the museum and the knowledgeable guides will tell you a lot of interesting information about the history of Quito. If you have to chose only 1 museum, this is what I will pick.
Price: $3 adults, $1 senior citizens and children
Hours: Tuesday through Sunday: 9:30 a.m. – 5:00 p.m. Free entrance on last Saturday of every month.
Address: Garcia Moreno S1-47 and Rocafuerte. Bulevar 24 de Mayo and Garcia Moreno
Museum la Capilla del Hombre and the Parque Metropolitano
Price: $8 adults, $4 senior citizens, children below 12 go in free of charge
Hours: Every day from 10:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m., except on holidays
Address: Mariano Calvache E18-94 y Lorenzo Chavez. Bellavista
Centro de Arte Contemporaneo
The beautiful modern building was previously the military hospital, which has been nicely restored maintaining the old structure with its patios nicely contrasting the new modern spaces and halls. They have a rich agenda and expositions change every 3 months. There is a new music bar, recently opened, where people gather for coffee or drinks in the evening. Outside the Museum you can enjoy spectacular views over the new part of the city.
Hours: Tuesday to Friday: 10:30 a.m. – 5:30 p.m. Weekends: 9:00 a.m. – 5:30 p.m. Closed on Mondays
Address: Montevideo and Luis Davila (Old Military Hospital) San Juan neighborhood
Centro Cultural Metropolitano
Hours: Tuesday to Saturday: 9:00 a.m. – 5:30 p.m. Sunday: 10:00 a.m. – 13:30 p.m. Closed on Mondays
Address: Garcia Moreno 887 y Espejo
PLACES TO VISIT FROM QUITO
Quito is located in a valley surrounded by volcanoes, spectacular waterfalls, cloud forests lagoons, craters, and more, all at just about 2 hours distance.
Depending on how much time you have you can choose whether to hop on a bus and make up a do-it-yourself itinerary or join an organized tour that will take you here and there, normally with a guide to explain what you see.
As you know me, I hate organized tours. I don’t like to be told where to go and how long I can stay, where and what to eat, and other rules.
So, unless it’s not strictly necessary I prefer the do-it-yourself option and since I had quite a bit of time in Ecuador (as a tourist I can stay 3 months per year and I still had 2 months to roam around the country) I decided to take my time and go to the destinations on my own and visit them at my own pace. This way I could cover a lot more and go beyond the touristy stuff.
Here below I will tell you all the tours available from Quito and how I did them instead.
Otavalo and its colorful Market, and much more
I found out that there is much more than what Otavalo became famous for, its colorful Market, which apparently is the biggest in Latin America. I didn’t really find much charm in it, to be honest, and in fact, I wasn’t really attracted to Otavalo by it. And the town in itself is not even the least interesting. However, I have read about the spectacular hikes that you can do from there and the waterfalls to visit.
So, instead of booking a tour that would have taken me only to the market and probably one waterfall, I have booked 6 nights stay in a hostel and I would have done daily tours from there.
I had an amazing time, hiking around the crater of Laguna Cuicocha, hiking Imbabura Volcano and much more.
Hike the Cotopaxi Volcano
Instead of taking a daily tour, I decided to stay by the slope of the Volcano, on a lodge close to the Cotopaxi National Park from where I hopefully can take awesome nocturnal pictures of the volcano and do other awesome walks around and on the Cotopaxi. It’s called The Secret Garden Cotopaxi a spectacular place with dorms and hotel rooms. From there you can do many other different hikes besides Cotopaxi. Definitely recommended.
Mindo is a pretty mountain town popular for being nestled in a cloud forest, where it rains most of the time, and for that reason the tropical vegetation is thriving.
I stayed in Mindo just for a couple of nights and one full day, I managed to see the two things I had in mind: walk through the spectacular waterfalls and photograph birds. It’s very easy to get to the waterfall and you can do it on your own, you don’t need a guide at all. To spot birds there are guided tours with specialized bird watching guides who know where to take you.
And also there are hotels where you can pay 5 USD and you can stay in their backyard where birds come in flocks every morning to eat and you can see them at a few feet from you. Super cool.
Mindo is the perfect place where to relax and connect with the incredible nature, swim in waterfalls and photograph the wildlife.
Visit the Cuyabeno Reserve in the Amazon Rain Forest
Ok, this is quite far from Quito, but they sell tours from Quito so I thought I would include it here. I went to Nicky Lodge and booked directly with them. I am not suggesting this place because I found it quite unorganized and with scarce food. Besides, I went in the wrong season and see very few animals, so my overall experience was quite disappointing.
The lodge ranks very well on TripAdvisor so probably my expectations were too high, I am not sure. So, unfortunately, I am not able to suggest one lodge or the other. However, I can tell you that the best month to see more wildlife in August. Or so the guide told me.
Consider that January and February is the dry season which is when the river gets dried off and dolphins are not likely to come. I was lucky on this one because it was still raining despite the season and the river grew higher so dolphins were still there. I have seen a couple surfacing for a few seconds, not good enough to take pictures, though, but not even to see them so well.
Why visit the Cuyabeno
If you are looking for peace and quiet, love to spot birds even from a distance enjoy walking in the jungle either day or nights and looking at a million stars, but most of all love to be totally disconnected from the real world and WIFI, so that’s the place where you should go anyway.
If you are a photographer and want to go to the Cuyabeno with the sole purpose of taking awesome photos, you should better take a photography tour, with fewer people and specifically dedicated to find and photograph wildlife.
Visit la mitad del mundo (the centre of the world)
Confession here. I didn’t go. I know how can I possibly don’t go to one of the most touristy places and maybe the reason why people come to Quito? Just because…
I don’t know, to be honest, it’s just one of those places with little significance. The only detail that could drive me there is that it’s close to the Pululahua crater, but since I have seen the Cuicocha of unbeatable beauty, I believe I am good.
I love to gift myself with the right not to check out over-touristy and supposedly “unmissable” places. If you go please let me know what and if I have missed out 🙂
One of the Interesting facts about Ecuador: The so-called middle of the world line is off 240 mt, recalculated with the new modern instruments!
MULTIDAYS TOURS FROM QUITO
If traveling alone is not really your gem, or if it is, but you don’t feel comfortable to do it in Ecuador or whatever is the reason, worry not. I have a solution for you. I am partnering with G Adventures, an international travel company that organizes itineraries worldwide and for every age range and any type. Click on the link to go on their page and use the sidebar to narrow your search based on your interests and preferences.
Quito facts to know before you travel
Quito elevation is 2800 mt which makes it the second-highest city of the world, after La Paz, in Bolivia. The multifaceted Ecuadorian Capital prides itself to be the closest city to the Sun, a detail that might not seem so important to us but has deep religious meanings for the prehispanic populations.
Quito history in a nutshell
The name Quito was given by the Population of the Tafqui and never changed.
It means, in fact, the middle of the world. Since those times they seemed to know in fact that they were close to the Equator.
Unfortunately, the original City of Quito had been burned down completely by its governor, Rumiñahui, brother of the Inca emperor Atahualpa, who preferred to destroy it instead of giving it away to the Spanish conquerors.
If you walk the street of the historical center you will see in fact the conqueror’s imprint, with colonial buildings, and churches from many different religious orders, mainly the Jesuits and Franciscan, that were competing between themselves to have the biggest and most opulent church.
The city is full of histories, anecdotes, and legends, and my best advice is to take one of the free walking tours available around the city in many different neighborhoods where knowledgeable guides, normally university students, proud of their country and city, will give you a lot of interesting information about the city culture and traditions.
Is Quito Safe?
I stayed in Quito for about 40 days overall. 25 in the historical center and 15 in La Mariscal.
In the historical center for some reasons, I didn’t feel comfortable, at all. When I arrived my hosts suggested I shouldn’t go out at night, especially all by myself.
And during my stay talking to my Uber and taxi drivers were reminding me of how unsafe the city had become, especially the historical center.
According to them, there are many pickpocketers and random assaults are not uncommon.
Sadly, many will put the blame on the Venezuelans that have escaped their suffering country and they are now committing crimes here because of their miserable situation. However talking with my friends and other Ecuadorian, they confirmed my thoughts, that crime has always existed and Venezuelan have no particular faults.
Yes, there are many Venezuelan, but most of them have a respectable job, others their own business and a few are sadly begging on the street just like Ecuadorians.
Unfortunately, beggars and assaulters have no specific nations. They can be from anywhere.
I have to say that when I was staying at La Mariscal, I felt much safer to walk around even in the evening hours. The area around Plaza Foch was always crowded and with lots of police around.
Things you should do to prevent unpleasant situations which is actually applicable in every city:
- Don’t show off jewelry and phones. I didn’t bring my big camera around the city and all the pictures were taken by phone but when I finished I would put it back in my pocket.
- Look at the street corners. I was told by a local that assaulters use to stay there and look around to see possible victims
- Avoid walking alone on dark and isolated roads. Avoid walking there at all.
- Avoid showing off your new big camera.
- If taking public buses, mind your bags
- When taking taxis, make sure they are using the taximeter and if you can, take a picture of the plate and send it to a friend. I used uber all the time and I felt very comfortable.
I was amused when I asked locals about the weather and most of all about the season. Because being January and on the Equator, what season is that? winter or summer?
You will not believe that I got many different answers, so I am still confused.
The fact is that the climate is basically the same all year round and always variable.
Which means that in one day you might need a winter goose feathered jacket and a tank top, no matter what month of the year it is. Fun, isn’t it?
My best suggestion would be to always dress in layers and bring a small backpack where you can store your jacket when it gets hot and vice versa. And also bring a raincoat or a poncho.
MONEY IN ECUADOR
Ecuador currency is US dollars, the same as in the US, except for the coins which are different and the US coins are not accepted. Don’t ask me why.
Cash machine are scattered around the city and almost everywhere except remote villages, but sadly enough they don’t allow to withdraw more than 200 USD a time and each time you do it, there is a charge from your bank (which depends on your bank policy) and the one from the local bank.
I found that Banco Pichincha charges an outrageous 3 USD per withdrawal (but in Galapagos 0 USD, weird), whereas Banco Guayaquil a more modest 1.5 USD. Banco del Pacifico 2 USD.
HOW TO MOVE AROUND IN QUITO
TAXI VS UBER
Every time I find UBER available in a city I always chose Uber, they are more reliable, you know in advance how much you are going to pay and, according to my personal statistic, I am not sure why, but UBER driver are usually nicer and lovely to talk to.
In Quito in particular, I used both because not all the time I was able to connect on the phone and call an UBER.
With one or two exceptions, I found the taxi drivers in Quito were not particularly nice.
However, if you are not familiar with uber and prefer a taxi make sure they are using the taximeter or let them tell you in advance how much they will charge you.
Keep in mind though, that UBER is not officially legal, so you should sit in front and avoid paying the driver, but use the credit card. I feel weird to instigate an illigal practice, but considering that it is legal in many other countries and it’s not a crime, I would just use it.
There are also public buses (the blue buses) and one Trolebus which cross the city from north to south, each ride is o.25 cents. You can find more information here.
TO TRAVEL FROM AND TO QUITO
Because the city is so spread out in length for about 40 km, there are different bus terminals according to where you need to go or where you are arriving.
If you go south, towards Quilotoa, Baños, Guayaquil, the terminal you would use is Cayambe
If you go towards Otavalo, you will use the terminal north Carcelena
If you go to Mindo you will need to get to terminal Ophelia.
FOR FURTHER READING ON ECUADOR
- Galapagos Islands Vacations: everything you should know before booking
- Galapagos travel Itineraries: how to make the most of your time in the Galapagos
- How to visit Cuicocha lake from Otavalo, Ecuador
- Otavalo Ecuador – Things to do beyond the Market
- Secret Garden Cotopaxi: amazing things to do
- 9 amazing free things to do in Santa Cruz Galapagos and other tips
- 19 amazing things to do in Quito Ecuador and other practical tips
- How to make the most of your trip to Isabela Island Galapagos (Isla Isabela Galapagos)