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Quito is the perfect launch point for outdoor activities and exploring the landscapes of Ecuador. Right next to Cotopaxi National Park and the Ecuadorian Andes, there is no shortage of hikes and natural beauty to be had.
While we were traveling around South America, we headed from Peru to Colombia by land and decided to stop off in Ecuador for a while and base ourselves in Quito. I’m so glad we did! Within 2 hours in any direction, you can easily access epic volcanoes, crater lakes, and traditional markets to really dive into the rich Ecuadorian culture.
I also found a lot of amazing things to do right in Quito – unique architecture, historical buildings, a bustling nightlife, and delicious local food! You will need at least a couple of days to explore the city and surrounding areas – or maybe more!
We wanted to share all of our love and knowledge of Quito with you, so we put together this travel guide. Pack your hiking boots and check out our 12 favorite day trips out of Quito!
Don’t have time to read the full article? Our absolute favorite day trips from Quito include:
- Marvel at the turquoise-blue Quilotoa Crater
- Visit Cotopaxi National Park and take a guided hike
- Take a private tour of Mindo Nambillo Cloud Forest Reserve to ride a cable car, hike past waterfalls, and visit a hummingbird farm!
- Take a photo in Baños while swinging over a mountain – it’s called the Swing at the End of the World for a reason!
- Go to Mitad del Mundo where the equator passes through – it’s literally the center of the world!
- Best Day Trips from Quito
- Where to Stay in Quito, Ecuador
- Thanks for reading!
- Why We Book Tours with Viator
- Don't get Caught without Travel Insurance!
Best Day Trips from Quito
1. Quilotoa Crater
Quilotoa Crater is one of the most stunning locations outside of Quito. This volcanic crater now houses a lake that is 250 meters (820 feet) deep and is a lovely crystal turquoise color from the volcanic minerals in the soil from past eruptions.
The sheer size and depth of this lake were enough to blow me away, but its sparkling color and stunning mountainscape were unbeatable.
One of the most popular ways to explore Quilotoa Crater is to hike the Quilotoa Loop. While there are many popular things to do around Quito, this is pleasantly off the beaten path (although, I’m not sure why – this place is amazing).
The multi-day trek is one of the best hikes in South America! It passes through several small Andean towns, cloud forests, Quichua-speaking Indigenous peoples, and of course highlights the lake. We didn’t get a chance to do the full loop as we had just finished hiking in Patagonia, but it’s on our bucket list for sure!
If you are like us and don’t have time or energy to dedicate to a multi-day trek through the Ecuadorian Andes, but still want to see Quilotoa Crater, this full-day tour is just for you. It is definitely a long day, I think we were gone for a total of 11 hours, but it was well worth it.
The tour starts by picking you up at your hotel in Quito and driving 2.5 hours south to get to Quilotoa. You will get to marvel at this lake and mountainscape at viewpoints, have a photoshoot with the resident alpacas, enjoy time down by the lake, and then break for lunch. We also made a stop at a local farmer’s house at the end, which was really insightful to see how the locals live. You finish the day by visiting two craft workshops to see handmade items and take home some unique souvenirs!
This tour has space for 18 travelers and includes roundtrip transportation from your hotel, lunch, entrance fees, and your guide who makes the whole day more worthwhile! Honestly – pictures don’t do Quilotoa justice, so it’s best you go check it out yourself by reserving a spot here! Group tours are $59 USD or you can opt for a private tour, which is $149 USD per person or cheaper if you book for a larger group.
2. Cotopaxi National Park
Cotopaxi National Park is yet another remarkable site just outside of Quito. This national park was dubbed the “avenue of volcanoes” with Cotopaxi Volcano being the pinnacle.
Cotopaxi Volcano is actually one of the most dangerous types of volcanoes, meaning when it erupts it is quite violent and destructive. Still, it is the most visited volcano in all of Ecuador! It hasn’t erupted since 1904, so don’t let that deter you from visiting this epic site – it didn’t stop us!
The top destination in Cotopaxi National Park is climbing to the base of the Cotopaxi Volcano, or going on a guided tour to summit it (this is not for the faint of heart or novice trekker). However, we chose to experience the park on a day trip, as there are still tons of trails and viewpoints you can enjoy without having to summit the second-highest volcano in Ecuador!
This day trip to Cotopaxi National Park includes stopping at the iconic Laguna de Limpiopungo, a lake that sits within the slopes of the volcano, and taking a hike to the Jose Rivas Refuge. We really loved this tour because we could catch epic views of Cotopaxi Volcano and glacier with the convenience of a day trip.
The hike itself was a bit challenging, but the tour guides were great at pacing for everyone in the group so we could all enjoy the climb. Plus, we got hot chocolate at the top to warm up and enjoy the views!
On the way home we stopped for a traditional Ecuadorian lunch, which was the perfect end to this day of adventure. This tour includes roundtrip transportation from your hotel in Quito, entrance fees, and your amazing guides! Be sure to bring cash for lunch and any other souvenirs you might want to pick up, and I recommend dressing warm! You can book this group tour online for $69 USD or make it a private tour for $149 USD per person.
3. Fuya Fuya
With the vast number of volcanoes in Ecuador comes a lot of beautiful crater lakes! Lagunas de Mojanda is a gorgeous lake that was created from the collapse of the Dacite Volcano.
It isn’t quite as popular as Quilotoa Lake, but it’s honestly just as beautiful. Being only 2 hours north of Quito, this is a great day trip to see amazing scenery without all the crowds of the overly touristy sites!
One of the most popular activities is hiking the Fuya Fuya Trail. The lake is 3 kilometers (1.8 miles) in diameter and has a great rim trail. While the trail isn’t terribly long, it is definitely steep with an elevation gain of 607 meters (2,000 feet) to reach the top. But the views from the top make it worthwhile, as they always do, and you’ll see the Andes all around and the sparkling lake below. It’s pretty incredible.
If you have a rental car, you can simply drive to the Fuya Fuya trailhead. However, I know most travelers passing through Quito don’t have their own transportation, so a tour is a much easier option! This private day tour includes transportation from your hotel, a guide to show you the way up the mountain, lunch, and a bonus stop at Otavalo Market!
We took about 2 hours to get to the top of Fuya Fuya Peak but spent some extra time at the top. It’s not every day you’re atop a mountain in the Andes, so we enjoyed the scenery, wildlife, and cool air before heading back down. I really enjoyed the bonus stop at Otavalo Market where we saw so many brightly colored fabrics, textiles, and locally made goods. All in all, this tour took about 9 hours and was at a nice, relaxed pace!
This tour only runs on the weekends and drops in price the more people you’re booking for. It’s $139 USD for two people but drops to $85 USD each for a group of six. You can book your spot online here!
4. Papallacta Hot Springs
With so many hiking and outdoor excursions outside of Quito, Papallacta Hot Springs will be a welcomed change of pace! These hot springs are located about an hour outside of Quito in the Cayambe-Coca Ecological Reserve, which is another epic national park that’s worth exploring.
We found it very beautiful and peaceful here, so you can see lots of wildlife and take a break from the bustling city life of Quito.
The hot springs are the most popular attraction in the national park, with eight different pools varying in size and temperature, there even is a cold water pool from the nearby river if you’re feeling a bit crazy!
The pools are built up very nicely, giving it a luxury resort feel. Getting to the hot springs isn’t the easiest task, you’ll have to catch a bus and a taxi, and it honestly takes away from the relaxation of a hot springs day. I highly recommend taking a tour here, I didn’t and I regretted it!
This private day tour from Quito is the perfect way to experience Papallacta Hot Springs. You can opt for a 7 am or 2 pm start time and they will pick you up from your hotel – which is the biggest draw of booking a tour! You will have a few hours to hang out at the hot springs, soaking in the pools until your fingers shrivel up and enjoying the stunning mountains around. Before heading back to Quito, you’ll stop for a typical Ecuador lunch, the perfect end to a relaxing day.
We went to the hot springs on a cold day with low-hanging clouds, which made the warm pools even more cozy! I frequently reminisce about my day at Papallacta Hot Springs, it was so peaceful and a unique way to experience this stunning area of Ecuador.
This tour is a private tour (our favorite type!) and includes roundtrip transportation from your hotel in Quito. It does not include entrance to the hot springs, which is $23 USD, or lunch, so be sure to bring extra cash! This 7-hour tour is $83 USD and can be reserved online here.
Related Read: Ecuador is right next door to Colombia, so if you’re headed there next, check out our list of the best things to do in Bogota!
5. Mindo Nambillo Cloud Forest Reserve
Mindo Nambillo Cloud Forest has a mystifying vibe with its low-hanging clouds, diverse plant life, and a wide variety of animals, including more than 500 species of birds! Ecuador has a lot of cloud forests (35 to be exact) but Mindo is the most visited, as it is only 2 hours from Quito.
We loved the cooler temperatures and being able to escape to the dense forest for a few hours. It was amazing to see how this area differed from the mountains or beaches we had explored in Ecuador.
There is a plethora to see in Mindo’s Cloud Forest. Hiking is one of the main attractions, as there are tons of trails that will take you to epic viewpoints, giant waterfalls, and all around this unique ecosystem. Its climate is also perfect for growing coffee and cocoa beans, so there are lots of farms around that produce both. After you’re done working out with a hike, you can tour one of these farms and treat yourself to some locally-made coffee and chocolate!
With so much to see in the Mindo Nambillo area, we thought this full-day private tour would be the easiest way to experience it all! This tour is unique because you get to take a cable car that takes you to the other side of the mountains, which gives incredible views of the forest below. After this, you’ll spend a few hours hiking through the jungle, past multiple waterfalls (you can even swim if you’re feeling up to it), and having a local guide will help you see all the wildlife. You will end your day by stopping at an orchid and hummingbird farm or chocolate factory – the choice is yours!
This day actually has so much to see and learn throughout the tour. I was amazed at how much comes from this cloud forest. It’s home to so many species, there are farms and natural wonders, and it is a great tourist destination.
This private tour includes roundtrip transportation from your Quito hotel and your guide, but does not include lunch, the cable car ride, or entrance to the hummingbird farm, which are $5 USD each. This full-day tour can be reserved for $123 USD per person for two people, $95 USD each for a group of four and even cheaper for larger groups!
Baños is an outdoor lover’s haven and is often referred to as “the gateway to the Amazon.” Its full name, Baños de Agua Santa, means “Baths of Sacred Water” because of the many waterfalls, hot springs, and rivers that surround the area.
Visiting Baños will appeal to the adventurer and casual outdoor lover alike, as you can partake in hiking, mountain biking, rafting, and rock climbing or have a lazy hot springs day all in one area!
I would recommend spending a few days in Baños if possible, as it is perfectly situated for lots of fun activities. We were surprised at how much we enjoyed this little town and our time really flew by!
One of our absolute favorite experiences here was going canyoning! I never knew I wanted to rappel down a waterfall before, but now I can’t wait to do it again. This tour is the exact one we did and it was $40 USD and lasted for around 4 hours with multiple chances to descend down waterfalls.
If you can’t spend a few days in Baños, a day trip is a great option and perhaps an even more convenient way to see the highlights as the tour will take care of all the details for you!
This full-day tour to Baños is a great way to see the highlights of the area in one day! You’ll stop by the small town of Machachi and then visit Cotopaxi National Park to take photos of the iconic volcano. After a snack break of Salcedo (traditional ice cream), you’ll hit La Casa del Arbol, which is a giant swing overlooking Baños! Your last stop will take you to the iconic Devil’s Cauldron waterfall to hike around, put your toes in the water, and enjoy this beautiful place.
This tour really does hit the highlights of Baños and is a great way to experience the outdoor beauty. This tour accommodates up to 20 travelers and lasts for about 11 hours. It includes transportation from your hotel in Quito, entrance fees, and your guides, but does not include any food or drinks. Be sure to pack snacks and extra cash! You can reserve this experience for $82 USD per person online here!
Why We Book Tours with Viator
Viator is a trusted online booking system for tours around the world! We almost always book our tours using Viator for a couple of reasons:
- Free cancellation on most tours – Most of the tours on Viator allow you to cancel and get a full refund up to 24 hours in advance. This is handy in case plans change, or if booking an outdoor activity, the weather forecast is looking grim.
- Reserve now and pay later – You can secure your spot on some of the most popular tours well in advance and not pay until closer to the day of the tour.
- Pay in your chosen currency – Avoid costly international transaction fees by choosing to pay in your home currency.
- Peace of mind – When booking with tour operators you find in person on the street or in small booking offices, you are often promised one thing and given another. This online platform holds tour operators accountable with a written description of inclusions as well as the opportunity for customers to leave reviews.
A small town nestled in the Andean highlands, Otavalo is surrounded by volcanoes and has a charm only mountain villages can hold. It is famously known for the Otavalo Market, which is the largest Indigenous market in South America.
As you walk through the market, you’ll see bright, vibrant colors everywhere you turn, gorgeous fabrics, textiles, and handcrafted items.
To be honest, driving 2 hours just to hit the market isn’t completely worth it for me. While the market is impressive, that’s really the only exciting thing to see in Otavalo. This is why I highly recommend booking a tour that includes stops at other sites because there are plenty of cool things to see, you just have to get to them!
This full-day tour will start by taking you by Cayamba, which is a monument where the Equator Line passes, on your way up to Otavalo. This is cool but pretty touristy, so you will make your way up to the mountains and to the Otavalo Market for a few hours of exploration.
Afterward, you’ll head to my favorite stop on this tour, Peguche Waterfall. This waterfall is not only a beautiful scenic part of the day, but it also holds important spiritual and ritual significance for Indigenous people, which was really fascinating to learn about.
To end the tour, we stopped at the town of Peguche to check out a musical instrument museum and try locally-made chocolates! It was a great ending to a truly unique day.
This tour includes roundtrip transportation from your hotel in Quito, entrance fees, and your guide, but does not include food, so be sure to bring money! We were gone all day on this tour, so you can expect a packed day. This tour can be reserved online for $79 USD or $69 USD for groups of 3 or more.
8. Pululahua Reserve
There are some great day trips out of Quito you can take, without having to drive hours away! The Pululahua Reserve is a geobotanical reserve only 40 minutes north of the city. It is actually a volcanic crater in which people live.
Every day a thick layer of clouds rolls in, nearly covering the crater and giving it a unique ecosystem that is actually quite stunning!
The Pululahua Reserve is also a short 10-minute drive from Mitad del Mundo, which is the famous monument where the Equator Line passes. While this is definitely a tourist attraction, you gotta go see it while in Quito – right? I thought it was cool, but I wouldn’t necessarily make a trip just to see this attraction. Stopping by Pululahua made it all worthwhile though!
You can hit both of these famous Quito sites in this private half-day tour. You’ll decide if you want to depart in the morning or afternoon, and the tour will pick you up from your hotel. You’ll start out by visiting the equator line and the Intinan Museum for about an hour, then head to Pululahua Reserve. Here, you can hike around, enjoy the scenery, and snack on empanadas – an Ecuador delicacy!
You’ll probably want to see these important sites while in Quito, so taking this tour will help you get there and give you more insight than visiting on your own! This tour includes transportation, entrance fees, empanadas, snacks, and your amazing tour guide. You can reserve this half-day tour for $111 USD each for two people, but the prices drop significantly if you book for 4 or more.
Located about an hour south of Quito, Pasochoa is another stunning mountain peak that draws hikers from all over the world. Unlike Cotopaxi, Pasochoa is an extinct volcano and was formed from a collapsed crater and the lava rock and ash have become part of its stunning landscape.
Pasochoa mainly draws people who are looking to practice hiking at this high altitude before they take on the bigger mountains, like Cotopaxi, Cayambe, and Chimborzao. This trek isn’t as long or steep as the others listed, so it is beginner-friendly and a great way to adjust to the climate. The 12-kilometer (7.5 miles) hike to the summit will take about 4-5 hours and has 823 meters (2,700 feet) in elevation gain.
While we don’t have a tour listed for this day trip, we do have some directions on how to get there! If you’re taking public transportation, you can catch a bus from Quito to Amaguaña. Once in Amaguaña, you can hire a car to drive you 25 minutes to the trailhead. This hike is accessible year-round.
Pascohoa might be known as a warm-up for bigger hikes, but it’s also quite stunning on its own. You’ll experience a quieter hike since it’s off the major tourist track, which we always love! This is definitely worth adding to your Ecuador itinerary!
Related Read: Another unique place to explore in Ecuador is the Poor Man’s Galapagos. This small island off the coast has tons of wildlife including the famous Blue-footed booby birds and whales!
10. Mitad del Mundo
Visiting Mitad del Mundo is undoubtedly on your Quito itinerary. Mitad del Mundo is the site where the equator passes through Ecuador, which sounds pretty cool right? You can stand exactly at the halfway point between the north and south poles, you are literally at the center of the earth (sort of like Middle-earth for Lord of the Rings fans).
I have to admit, this experience has turned into somewhat of a tourist trap. The equator line is actually about 200 meters (656 feet) north of the monument that you will stand on and take photos. But, I will say that it is worth a visit, as there are other interesting things you can see and learn while visiting the monument and museum, and experiencing the center of the earth (even if it’s a few meters off).
I think this half-day tour of Mitad del Mundo is actually the best way to go. As a private tour, you’ll have a personal guide that will take you all around the site. I learned so much more than I even knew was around this place. They will fill you in on the significance, history, and cultural elements that make this site so important. There is also a gondola that will take you up to the Pichincha Volcano, giving views of Quito, Cotopaxi Volcano, and the surrounding Andes.
I found this tour a worthwhile way to experience Mitad del Mundo. This half-day tour is completely private and includes roundtrip transportation from your hotel, the tour guide, and entrance to the museum. It does not include lunch or the gondola ride, which is $9 USD. This experience is $72 USD each for a couple or cheaper for larger groups and can be booked in advance here!
11. Rucu Pichincha
Hiking to the top of Rucu Pichincha is no walk in the park. Okay sure, you are walking through a national park, but don’t expect it to be easy! This 10-kilometer (6-mile hike) begins at 3,945 meters (12,943 feet) in elevation and reaches the summit at 4,697 meters (15,413 feet) … as if the air wasn’t thin enough, you can add in the steep hills to climb!
With that said, it is an amazing trek and totally worth the effort if you’re an outdoor enthusiast.
The accent is breathtaking (in more ways than one) and has minimal crowds, so you’re likely to have a peaceful climb. In the 3-4 hours this hike will take, you’ll find well-packed dirt trails with cactus and flowers dotting the sides, climb over rocky cliffs, and end by scrambling up jagged rock formations. By the time you reach the top, you’ll be above the clouds and soaking in the well-deserved views.
Rucu Pichincha is doable by yourself, but the trail isn’t well marked and can be difficult to follow. This hiking tour takes all the guesswork out of your day by providing transportation and a guide! You will also have to ride the Teleférico de Quito (a cable car) to get to the trailhead, so having a guide helps you navigate these logistics. This tour does not include lunch or the cable car ticket ($8.50 USD) and can accommodate up to 3 travelers.
Honestly, this is one of my favorite hikes on this list. It is off-the-beaten-path and still very accessible from Quito. If you’re up for a challenge – take on Rucu Pichincha. You can reserve a spot on this tour for $80 USD.
12. Cuicocha Lagoon
In a land of difficult hikes, we are happy to see one that is rated as easy! Cuicocha Mountain is an extinct volcano and home to Cuicocha Lagoon, which sits within its craters. This mountain has a long-standing history and holds sacred traditions for native people, like the Festival of the Sun every Summer Solstice. If you can time your trip right, you might catch a glimpse of these historic festivities!
Cuicocha Lagoon is an ideal day hike, offering the same stunning views as other hikes, with half the work! Keep in mind that you’re still at an incredibly high elevation, but you won’t have the steep hill climbs as other hikes. This hike is 12.6 kilometers (7.8 miles) and should take about 5 hours to complete. If you’re traveling with kiddos, this is the best hiking option on our list!
While we don’t have a tour for this hike, you can still access it from Quito. You can take a bus from Quito to Otavalo, and then another bus from Otavalo to the town of Cotacachi. There will be a ton of taxis in Cotacachi and you can easily get one to the Laguna Cuicocha Visitor Centre for $5-$6 USD. I recommend asking the taxi driver to meet you at the drop-off point at an agreed-upon time (about 5-6 hours later, depending on how fast you plan on hiking) as there won’t be any taxis waiting when you finish.
While this isn’t as convenient as taking a tour, it still gives you the opportunity to experience the beautiful Cuicocha Lagoon!
Where to Stay in Quito, Ecuador
Secret Garden Hostel is the most famous Hostel in Quito. It’s a party hostel, but the rooms are still reasonably quiet at night which is a good balance. The rooftop here is awesome and a reason to stay in itself!
The cost for a bed in a mixed dorm begins at just $10 USD and you also will have the choice of upgrading to a private room with a shared bathroom. You can check availability and book on Hostelworld.com.
Community Hostel is the perfect mix of a social hostel that isn’t a crazy party place. It has a rooftop bar with delicious food and drinks. You can easily meet other travelers and enjoy communal activities but still get a great night’s sleep!
Boutique Hotel Casa Foch is a small boutique hotel located in the heart of the historic center. It’s clean, comfortable, and includes a superb breakfast. Some rooms even include a balcony and fireplace. Starting at just $39 USD a night for a private room it makes a great choice for those looking for a comfortable but cheap stay in Quito.
You can check availability and book Boutique Hotel Casa Foch on Booking.com.
Penthouse Lodge B&B is if it’s available (it’s often not) the best value place to stay in Quito for around $50 USD a night. Rooms are stunning, breakfast is included and the place has amazing views of the city. This is not a hotel but more of an Airbnb-style rental.
You can check availability and book Penthouse Lodge B&B on Booking.com.
MERCURE Hotel Alameda is an absolutely stunning property. The central location is perfect, the rooms are beautiful, and the service is amazing. The hotel has a modern-looking pool and hot tub to enjoy yourself in too! If your budget allows you to spend around $90 USD per night, this is likely the best choice in Quito!
You can check availability and book MERCURE Hotel Alameda on Booking.com.
Holiday Inn Express Quito is unlike most Holiday Inn Express hotels where we’re from in Canada, this one in Ecuador is pure luxury. The decor is really beautiful and the attention to detail is really something to applaud. The location is in a very safe area of the historic center. Amenities included are a hot breakfast, fitness center, and pool. Expect to pay only $100 USD per night.
You can check availability and book Holiday Inn Express Quito on Booking.com.
Don’t get Caught without Travel Insurance!
We never travel without travel insurance! We’ve had a few instances during our travels when one of us has ended up in the hospital, and travel insurance has saved us thousands of dollars over the years!
SafetyWing is our go-to insurance, we both have policies with them whenever we travel.
They offer travel medical insurance that’s super affordable (only $45 USD per 4 weeks!)The only thing to note is that the insurance must be purchased once you’ve left your home country – we typically buy it as soon as we land at the airport.
We’ve personally used SafetyWing for many different trips, and we’ve been reimbursed for countless expenses when we’ve fallen ill. SafetyWing even covered our flights back to Canada in full when the pandemic first happened (when last-minute flights before the borders closed were super expensive!) While most travel insurance companies left people stranded, SafetyWing fully reimbursed us for our last-minute, pricey flights!
Also, because it is so affordable, there really is no excuse not to take out a policy. Check prices and get a quote online here with SafetyWing (you can even take out a policy if you’re already traveling!)
Thanks for reading!
I hope you have lots of ideas after reading about the best day trips from Quito! There really is so much to see in this part of Ecuador that’s within a couple hours of Quito. The hardest part might be picking which day trips to take! I know we’re excited to come back to this part of the world again to explore even more.
If you need more inspiration for your trip, have a look at our other blogs about South America including a few of our most popular ones below: