As a resident of Quito, but not much of a city person, one thing I appreciate about living here is how easy it is to escape the city. Many travelers don’t realize that they can explore most nearby sights and return to the comfort of their hostel in Quito every night. In the following blog, we’ll cover some of our favorite Quito day trips.
Quito is located in the northern Ecuadorian Andes. On the West lies cloud forest, coastal jungle, and the beach, and toward the East lies, yes, another cloud forest as well as the Amazon rainforest. Basically, if you head in any direction from Quito, you’ll come across something beautiful!
Quito day trips for culture lovers
Ecuador is rich in history and culture and there are a number of places to learn about these close to Quito, depending on your interests.
- Old Town Quito – Before you head out of the city, make sure you spend a day exploring Quito’s Old Town and a few of its best museums. Start at la Basilica, a neo-Gothic cathedral with incredible views of the city from its towers. Then head to Plaza Grande, where you can order a coffee at one of the small cafes below the cathedral. Afterwards, walk to Plaza San Francisco and look for Casa del Alabado, a pre-Colombian art museum that boasts a spectacular collection of pre-Columbian artifacts.
- Site Museum Tulipe – Located about two hours from Quito by car is Tulipe, an ancestral ceremonial site once used by the Yumbo people. This is a well-conserved archaeological complex covering three hectares of land. You’ll find a museum as well as the outdoor pools and ceremonial center that make up the archaeological site.
- Otavalo – Try to plan your day trip to Otavalo on a Saturday, when the town’s main market takes place on the Plaza de Los Ponchos. Also, leave early, since there is often traffic from Quito (the drive takes about 2-2.5 hours). Expect to do a lot of your souvenir shopping here! Some of the best items to buy include jewelry (silver and tagua), ponchos, sweaters, and hats. After visiting the market, check out the Cascadas de Peguche, nearby waterfalls you can reach by foot or taxi.
Quito day trips for adventurers
For those of you that prefer to escape the city and push your body to the limits, here are a few Quito day trips:
- Rucu Pichincha – Have you noticed the huge mountain towering over Quito from the West? That’s Rucu Pichincha and it’s actually a volcano! Rucu Pichincha sits at 4,794 meters above sea level (15,728 ft) and is a popular destination for local Ecuadorians, especially on the weekends. If you like hiking, head to the TeleferQo in Quito and ride to the top ($8) where you can begin hiking up to Rucu Pichincha’s summit. The hike takes about two hours, depending on your condition and, if you make it on a clear day, the views are incredible. You’ll see Cotopaxi, Cayambe, the Ilinizas and many more volcanoes and craters.
- Cotopaxi National Park – Another necessary day trip from Quito is a visit to Cotopaxi National Park, only a 2.5 hour’s drive from the city. Try to leave as early as possible to catch a glimpse of this active, snow-capped volcano and explore the area around it. After hiking up to the refuge (be prepared to feel light-headed!), visit Limpiopungo Lagoon and then grab a coffee at Tambopaxi, where you can also explore the area on horseback (make sure to reserve beforehand).
Alternatively, go on a full-day mountain biking day trip to Cotopaxi from Quito.
- Quilotoa Crater – Though a bit farther from Quito, a day trip to Quilotoa and back is definitely feasible and worth the travel time! Quilotoa is a water-filled caldera created by a volcanic explosion. The rich turquoise water and the views from the top of the crater are otherworldly. At Quilotoa you can hike down to the lake and rent a kayak (though I wouldn’t recommend swimming in the frigid water!) or you can hike around the lip of the crater.
Travelers regularly combine day trips to Cotopaxi and Quilotoa since they are both, generally, in the same direction. In fact, all of our Wanderbus passes leaving from Quito stop through both Cotopaxi and Quilotoa!
Best day trips for families
- Mindo – Only a two hour’s drive from the capital, you’ll enter the Ecuadorian cloud forest. Mindo is a lovely little town nestled between the lush hills and is a popular escape from Quito for locals and foreigners alike. If you’re traveling with your family, there are many activities to choose from, such as a visit to the butterfly garden, inner tubing down the river, and ziplining across the canopy.
- Pululahua Crater – Pululahua is another volcanic crater and a hidden gem close to Quito. It only takes 45 minutes to reach the lip of the crater, from which you can hike down, or another 45 minutes driving to descend by car. Once inside the crater, it feels like you’re in an idyllic alternate universe. Check out Pululahua hostel to go horseback riding, or just explore the trails around the crater.
- Papallacta Hot Springs – Head up to Papallacta, a little town about 45 minutes from Quito and lounge in its natural thermal baths. I recommend Termas de Papallacta ($9/person) or its Spa ($22). Get there in the afternoon to avoid being in the sun too long and, if you can afford it, spend the night. You’ll have access to a private pool where you can look up at the stars in utter relaxation.
The Wanderbus is a hop-on, hop-off bus that allows you to travel conveniently and flexibly through Ecuador. If you decide you want to stay a few extra nights in one spot, go right ahead! Just hop onto the next Wanderbus that passes through.
Additional perks: We’ll pick you up from your hotel in Quito so you can skip the (often unnecessary) trip to urban bus terminals and our bilingual guides will ensure you receive recommendations for hostels, restaurants, and activities at each destination. More importantly, the Wanderbus is a safe way to travel and a chance to connect with others like you.
If you haven’t already, check out our passes and happy wandering!