When you consider all the incredible destinations across Ecuador, Quito should be on your list! Even with a couple of days (or more) in Quito, make sure you know how to make the most of your time there. Here is a short list of some activities you must do in Quito.
Places you must visit
- Basílica del Voto Nacional – To a new visitor, Quito might feel overwhelming, polluted, and busy. However, there are innumerable gems worth exploring in this capital city. The Basílica del Voto Nacional, a neo-Gothic cathedral in Quito’s Old Town is truly impressive and worth a visit, even if you aren’t into churches. The best part about the Basílica is the view from one of its towers, overlooking the valley of Quito. On a bright, sunny day you can spot all the parks, plazas and churches from this vantage point and take some sweet panos. Access to the towers costs $2 per person and if you’re going on a sunny day, make sure to take some serious sun protection (SPF 50+, hat, sunglasses).
- Plaza Grande – This is the capital’s main plaza, officially called Plaza de la Independencia, and is the heart of Quito’s Old Town. On the weekends, la Plaza Grande is teeming with families, entertainers, and street vendors. It’s a great place to stop for a quick coffee, read a book, and people watch – there are even hole-in-the-wall mini cafes under the church with beautiful views.
Activities you must do
TeleferiQo and climbing Rucu Pichincha – This is one of my favorite activities to do around Quito. This short day trip starts on the edge of the city and takes you to what feels like a whole other world. Be warned: a trip to the TeleferiQo and Rucu Pichincha requires a bit of hiking, which is no small feat at 3,945 m (12,943 ft). If you prefer not to hike, you can always snap shots of the city and surrounding mountains on the ride up the TeleferiQo and stroll around at the landing before you head down again. There are also a couple of small coffee shops but you can also bring your own thermos and snacks.
If you’re in decent shape and enjoy climbing mountains, try to make it to Rucu Pichincha’s summit at 4,784 m (15,696 ft). You’ll likely be huffing and puffing the whole way, but it’s well worth the struggle! Make sure to bring water, warm layers, and sun protection. Especially on a sunny day, warm layers might not seem necessary, but at the top you’re much more exposed to the elements. Start as soon as the TeleferiQo opens (8am) and try to make it down before 1-2 pm. Depending on the month you’re there, storms commonly form on this mountain.
- Cotopaxi Volcano -Many people don’t realize how close Quito is to some of the country’s top destinations, including Cotopaxi Volcano. Cotopaxi is an active, snow-capped volcano that is impressive to see and photograph. Its conical shape makes it look like something straight out of a National Geographic magazine and on clear afternoons, the sunset colors reflecting off its glacier is mesmerizing. Cotopaxi National Park offers many more sights and activities, including a visit to Limpiopungo Lagoon, horseback riding across the páramo (Andean grasslands), mountain biking and hiking up to the refuge at 4,800 m (15,744 ft). If you’re a climber, consider summiting Cotopaxi itself, though you will have to plan in advance.
- Quilotoa Crater – Another incredible destination close to Quito is Quilotoa Crater. It’s a little farther than Cotopaxi and takes about 3 hours driving from Quito. Nonetheless, it is often combined with a trip to Cotopaxi (check out our Wanderbus passes, some of them visit both destinations in one day). Quilotoa Crater is a water-filled caldera formed after the eruption of a volcano. From the lip of the crater you’ll find a sheer drop, ending in a turquoise-colored lake. That, combined with an incredible view of the surrounding mountains and volcanoes makes for some incredible photos. You can hike down into the crater and/or hike around the crater lip. Don’t be fooled though, both of these hikes are taxing for anyone that isn’t acclimatized.
Food and drinks you should definitely try
The list of Ecuadorian food and drinks you need to try is way too long for this blog, but here are just a few you should look for when you’re out and about in town.
- Canelazo – This warm, alcoholic beverage is a favorite among Quiteños, especially on a chilly evening or local celebration. Canelazo is basically a fruit punch, made with naranjilla juice, panela (unrefined whole cane sugar), cinnamon, and aguardiente (local hard liquor). One lovely and romantic spot to drink a good canelazo is at Ananké, a pizzería in a neighborhood called Guápulo.
- Encocado de camarón – If you enjoy seafood, you have to try the mouth-watering encocado de camarón (shrimp encocado). This is essentially an Ecuadorian coconut curry, made with fresh coconut milk, and is best experienced on the coast of Esmeraldas, where the dish originates, but you’ll find great options in Quito too. The dish in normally served with white rice and patacones (fried plantain). Honestly, you could go for the encocado de camarón, pescado (fish) or langostinos (prawns) – they’re all delicious!
Planning on visiting numerous destinations across the country after your stop in Quito? The Wanderbus offers a variety of passes to Ecuador’s top destination. Here are some of the perks to traveling with Wanderbus Ecuador:
- Flexible travel – Hop on and hop off at any destination along your route
- Safe – Skip the bus terminals and sketchy neighborhoods, the Wanderbus will pick you up in central locations and at specific hotels
- Fun – Meet other like-minded travelers on the bus
- Easy – A bilingual guide on your bus will give you recommendations of where to stay and eat at every stop on your journey
While this is far from an extensive list of things you must do in Quito, sometimes it’s helpful to have a few specific goals and destinations as you explore a place. Keep this list handy as you explore Quito. In fact, consider turning it into a checklist!