17 Amazing Things to do in Quito, Ecuador
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In this travel guide, we’ll show you the 17 BEST things to do in Quito, Ecuador that will blow you away. This includes the best day trips from Quito so you can use the city as a base to explore Ecuador.
Quito is the capital of Ecuador. This huge sprawling city isn’t always the most inviting at first, and for some, it can be a daunting place to visit. Although I felt the same when I first arrived, I now view Quito as a top destination in South America.
Well, it’s not just the sheer amount of interesting things to do in the city of Quito but also what lies just outside the city limits. With stunning national parks, volcanos, and wildlife, Quito is the ultimate place to explore some of Ecuador’s top attractions.
So, instead of spending a day or two in Quito, I dare you to stay a little longer. Use this city as your base to explore the surrounding national parks and the stunning architecture of the city center.
To keep you busy, here are my 17 favorite things to do in Quito, Ecuador!
Things to do in Quito, Ecuador
1. Walk the historic center
This is an obvious place to start, one can’t visit Quito without checking out the historic center and all it has to offer. In the historic center, you’ll find stunning colonial buildings, cute cafes and restaurants, and also the presidential palace at Plaza Grande.
The historic center of Quito was even named a UNESCO Cultural Heritage Site for its well preserved colonial buildings.
This area of the city is very safe for you to wander the streets and it’s often busy with locals and visitors alike. So, enjoy wandering around and find yourself a lovely place to enjoy a meal or a coffee!
Tour recommendation: If you would like to have a guide show you around the historic center then this 2-hour walking tour is a great choice for $20 USD.
2. Quilotoa Crater
Quilotoa Crater is one of the best things to do in Quito and a tour I loved! This is a massive crater is a volcano that is now filled with a gorgeous blue lake.
Some people visit Quilotoa Crater as part of the Quilotoa Loop. This hiking trail is 3 to 5 days long and if you’re a keen hiker you should consider completing the track. We had just finished hiking in Patagonia so we decided to do a private day trip to see the crater from Quito.
On the tour, we drove out to the crater via a short detour to a viewpoint of Quito. We then enjoyed the views of the crater from the top before we hiked down to the lake. Along the way, our guide shared some information about the crater with us and we also had the opportunity to go kayaking in the lake.
Overall, it was a great day and a tour I highly recommend as this crater is so beautiful! Be aware though, the walk back to the top is tough!
3. Visit the Mitad del Mundo Monument
The most popular thing to do in Quito is actually an experience I found very overrated! The Mitad del Mundo Monument marks the equator in Ecuador and is the most visited monument in Ecuador.
Here at the monument, you can stand in the middle of the world and also climb the trapezoid stone memorial (for free) and get amazing views of the rest of the area.
With that said, you’re visiting an imaginary line (equator) that as it turns out is a few hundred feet north of the monument. So why is it on this list? Well, I couldn’t not mention it, but I will warn you, there are better ways to spend your time in Quito!
Of course since finding the true equator you can now visit the real equator line at the Museo de Sitio Intinan located a few hundred feet from the monument. The entrance here is $4 USD.
Important info: The Mitad del Mundo Monument is located around 30 kilometers (18.5 miles) from Quito city center. It cots $5 USD to enter the monument and you can book tickets here in advance and skip the line. To reach the monument by bus get yourself to Ofelia Station and from here take the Mitad del Mundo bus that drops you at the entrance to the monument.
Tour recommendation: If getting the bus isn’t your cup of tea then this guided tour to the monument is a great choice. It includes a visit to the next thing to do in Quito on this list too!
4. Ride the Teleferiqo
I love visiting viewpoints of large cities. There’s just something about looking down into a crazy metropolitan area from a quiet viewpoint and thinking about the day to day lives of the people in the city.
For that reason, you CAN’T leave Quito without taking a trip up the teleferiqo. This cablecar travels up to over 4,000 meters above sea level on the Pichincha Volcano and gives yous stunning views of the city below and sometimes Cotopaxi volcano.
At the top, you can ride one of the swings and get an amazing photo, enjoy a coffee, or if you’re keen, hike to the top of the Pichincha Volcano. To complete the hike allow 4 hours and be prepared for the altitude.
Important info: The teleferiqo costs $8.50 USD for adults and $6.50 for children and operates from 9 am to 7 pm daily. To get to the teleferiqo just take a cab from downtown for a few dollars.
5. Go on a free walking tour
Free walking tours are a great way to see a city for a fraction of the cost of a private tour. For a modest tip, you can learn all about Quito from a local guide and meet lots of other travelers along the way.
Personally, I love free walking tours and do them in every city I visit. The one in Quito is really good and comes highly recommended by me! The tour to do is the one organized through the Community Hostel.
Important info: The Comunity Hostel runs two tours, one at 10.30 am and the other at 2.30 pm. The meeting point is at the community Adventures travel agency. You can book your spot on the tour too.
6. Climb the Basílica del Voto Nacional
The Basílica del Voto Nacional is the largest neo-gothic basilica in all of Latin America. To put it simply, this cathedral is stunning and the architecture is immaculate. You just have to visit the Basílica del Voto Nacional on any visit to Quito!
The entrance to the cathedral is only $2 USD and you can wander the lower level and also climb to the top of the cathedral.
From the top, the views of the city are breathtaking! This is a super cheap activity to do in Quito and the best part is that the church is located in the historic center so it’s convenient to visit.
7. Walk along Calle de La Ronda
If you thought the streets of the historic center were beautiful just wait until you visit Calle de La Ronda. This gorgeous street is famous in the city and is lined on either side with small colonial buildings.
The street was a very popular place for artists and musicians to live in the past and that influence has been left behind.
There is lots to do on Calle de la Ronda including a visit to the Casa de Art Museum, enjoy live music, and get a bite to eat at a cafe or restaurant. By no means is this a bucket-list place to visit but the cute vibe and welcoming atmosphere make it the perfect place to stop in the historic center of Quito.
8. Watch to changing of the guard
I have seen a few changing of the guard ceremonies during my travels and the one in Quito was impressive, to say the least. I mean, they even used horses!
The entire show is really worth a look and the president himself attends from his balcony. This is popular among visitors and locals so the plaza does get really busy.
So, if you do happen to be in Quito on a Monday (it’s only on Mondays) then head to Plaza Grande at 11 am sharp to watch the changing of the guard.
9. Visit the Museo Templo del Sol Pintor Ortega Maila
The Templo del Sol Pintor Ortega Maili (that’s one long name) is one of the most underrated things to do in Quito. The museum was built by the indigenous painter and sculptor Ortega Maila using traditional building techniques to preserve the Andean culture.
On a visit to the museum, you will be taken on an hour-long tour through the grounds and learn all about the native people of Ecuador as well as look at paintings and sculptures.
The place is beautifully designed and the works of art are very impressive. Overall, it’s a great learning experience.
Important info: It costs $3 USD to enter the museum and take the tour. Included in the admission fee is a coca tea and aromatherapy session. To get to the museum, take the same bus you would go to Ciudad Mitad del Mundo. From there you can get a taxi to the museum for a few dollars.
Hot tip: Visit the Museo Templo del Sol Pintor Cristobal Ortega Maila with a visit to the Ciudad Mitad del Mundo.
10. Take a trip to the Secret Garden Hostel in Cotopaxi
I know what you’re thinking, why would staying at a hostel be considered one of the best things to do in Quito? Well, the reason is simple, this hostel/hotel is so amazing it’s one of the best places I have stayed ever! Yes, I said it – ever!
Located in the Cotopaxi Provence just outside of Quito, Secret Garden Hostel is a stunning hostel that overlooks the volcano region of Ecuador and from the hostel, you can clearly see Cotopaxi Volcano.
The hostel itself is nothing fancy but with communal meals and plenty of social areas to enjoy the breathtaking view, it’s a great place to enjoy. Also from the hostel, you can head off and explore the area around you. There are lots of tours such as the summit of Cotopaxi 2 day 1-night hike, Cotopaxi Glacier trek, and other free hikes and activities.
The hostel offers dorm beds, cabanas and an entire house for rent. The hostel is more for young travelers so if you want something a little nicer then the Chilcabamba Lodge or Hacienda Santa Ana are great hotels in the same are with the same views!
Important info: Getting to the hostel is easy with the Secret Garden Quito (their other hostel) shuttle for $5 USD each way. The hostel also offers packages that include all food and 2-nights accommodation starting at $100 USD.
11. Party at Plaza Fotch
Plaza Fotch is the best place to socialize at night in Quito. Known as the party district, this is the place to be pretty much any day of the week. There are lots of good bars and restaurants around, but a place I loved was Bandido del Paramo.
Here you could drink locally crafted beers including my favorite, IPA. Of course, there are plenty of other places to try and you’d need weeks to visit them all. So, just take a wander and enjoy the atmosphere regardless if you like to party or not!
Tour recommendation: An interesting afternoon tour of Plaza Foch is this Cradle of Beer Tour that starts at 4 pm every day. The tour goes through the cities 400-year history of brewing beer. At only $5 I’d say it be a great tour to try!
12. Day trip to Cotopaxi National Park
If you’re short on time then the best way to visit Cotopaxi National Park is one a day trip from Quito. Although not the most ideal way to see the park, it is still a very enjoyable option that I highly recommend.
This specific tour is the one I did mainly because of the fantastic reviews. On the tour, we hiked up Cotopaxi Volcano to the glacier (some people didn’t get that far), visited the Limpiopungo Lagoon, enjoyed a nice breakfast and lunch, and learned a lot about the flora and fauna of the region.
The tour isn’t the easiest as there is a lot to cram into one day but if you don’t have much time it’s the best way to see Cotopaxi National Park.
13. Explore the central market
Although you can eat Ecuadorian food all over the city, if you want a truly local meal or want to eat local fruits then Mercado Central is a place you must visit.
Now don’t get me wrong, the meals here are not fancy but they are delicious and cheap! Throughout the market you can get amazing food with the main floor being filled with eateries.
This is the place to get a cheap meal and fresh juice. In fact, both will set you back a mere $3 USD!
Where: The Central Market is located on Av. Pichincha, walking distance from Plaza Grande in the historical center.
14. Day tour to Antisana Volcano
Cotopaxi gets all of the attention in Ecuador. However, if you’re looking for a great off the beaten path experience then take a day trip to Antisana Volcano.
This little known volcano is a stunning place to visit and is famous for being one of the best places to see condors in Ecuador. In fact, most tours here are based around condor viewing.
With that said, the main attraction is the glacier-covered Antisana Volcano which you’ll be able to see from many viewpoints on the tour. You’ll also take a 1-hour hike to enjoy the scenery and look for wildlife.
Overall the tour to Antisana Volcano was a great day out and with only a fraction of other visitors compared to Cotopaxi National Park.
15. Papallacta Hot Springs
If you’ve been on the go lately then this next thing to do in Quito will be a nice surprise! The Papallacta Hot Springs are Quito’s best hot springs. Here you can relax in beautiful surroundings and enjoy some peace and quiet.
Unfortunately getting there isn’t easy so it’s best to take a tour. I myself didn’t take a tour. However, I was staying at a hotel called the Rukka Lodge before I went to the Galapagos Islands (it’s not far from the airport) that is closer to the hot springs than Quito.
But, if you really want to relax and enjoy these beautiful hot springs then the tours are actually great value. You can take this tour for only $60 USD and it includes general admission which is $39 on its own!
16. Mindo Nambillo Cloud Forest Reserve
The Mindo Nambillo Cloud Forest Reserve is a paradise filled with wildlife and adventure activities. In fact, the reserve has one of the highest concentrations of biodiversity anywhere on the planet!
From Quito, you can explore this place on many different day trips from bird watching tours, adventure tours, or a mix of both.
The reserve is stunning and in my opinion, the best tour is a mix of birdlife, adventure, and waterfalls. This specific tour hits all of the best places to visit including the hummingbird sanctuary and the zipline park.
Overall, it’s a great trip from Quito for those who love nature!
17. Visit the Otavalo Market
Last but certainly not least…well not quite. This is, unfortunately, my least favorite thing I did in Quito. However, it was something Bailey enjoyed so I’m including it on my own free will (help!)
The Otavalo Market is a famous market in Ecuador that you can visit for a night or two, or join a day trip from Quito. At the market, you can buy lots of authentic Ecuadorian crafts but the main attraction is fabrics.
For me personally, the market was average, but overall the tour was pretty good. On our tour, we visited Cuicocha Lagoon which is a volcanic lake, took a boat trip, and also did a short hike through a forest to a waterfall.
My biggest complaint is the market is a 2-hour drive from Quito so it is a long day. With that said, the extra activities make it worth it. If you want to shop for souvenirs then you’ll love the tour just as Bailey did!
Where to Stay in Quito, Ecuador
Secret Garden Hostel: This is the most famous Hostel in Quito. Secret Garden is 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!
Community Hostel: Community Hostel is the perfect mix of a social hostel that isn’t a crazy party hostel. You can meet other travelers and enjoy communal activities but still get a great night’s sleep!
Boutique Hotel Casa Foch – This is a small boutique hotel located in the heart of the historic center. Clean, comfortable and includes a superb breakfast. A great choice for those looking for a comfortable but cheap stay in Quito.
Penthouse Lodge B&B – If it’s available (it’s often not) the this is the best value place to stay in Quito. Rooms are stunning, breakfast is included and the place has amazing views. This is not a hotel but more an Airbnb style rental.
MERCURE Hotel Alameda – This place is stunning. The location is perfect, the rooms are beautiful, and the service is amazing. If your budget allows, this is likely the best choice in Quito!
Holiday Inn Express Quito – Unlike most Holiday Inn Express hotels in Canada, this one is pure luxury. The decor is really beautiful and the attention to detail is really something to applaud. I was very surprised how nice this hotel was and the location is in a very safe area of the historic center.
Before you go…
Thank you so much for taking the time to read our guide to the best things to do in Quito, Ecuador. We both really hope you enjoyed reading it and now have a huge list of awesome activities to cross off your Quito bucket list!
If you have any questions at all, please leave them below! Also, if you liked this travel guide you may also want to check out the travel guides listed below!
April 4, 2020