Top 10 things to do in Quito, Ecuador
Are you looking for things to do in Quito, Ecuador? Many people underestimate how much there is to do in Quito. The city is considered more of a jumping off point on your way to the Amazon or the Galapagos Islands. The truth is, there are many worthwhile things to do in Quito, Ecuador, as well as in the areas surrounding the city. In the following blog, we’ll give you a few useful ideas to consider as you plan your trip.
Explore Quito Old Town
I recently read a disappointing review on TripAdvisor claiming there isn’t much to do in Quito, so better to just skip it entirely. Seriously? This traveler was clearly misinformed. If you only have one day in the city, explore the Old Town. It’s the quickest way to get a feel for the Ecuadorian Andes and enjoy the diversity the country’s capital provides.
On any given weekday, the Old Town is bustling with activity and you’ll come across different hole-in-the-wall tiendas selling all variety of products. You should definitely stop through the city’s main plaza, Plaza de la Independencia, where you can sit, relax and people watch while munching on a corn-based humita.
There is truly an endless number of things you can do in Quito’s center and it gets overwhelming quickly! That’s why a few walking tours are now available and provide insight and guidance for those that don’t want to go it alone. Please, read on!
Participate in a walking tour around the city
There are number of walking tours around Quito that you can join nearly every day of the week. Some take you through the Old Town, while others guide you through neighborhoods like La Floresta and La Mariscal.
Wanderbus Ecuador also offers a city walking tour around Old Town and, get this, it’s FREE.
On our tour, you’ll discover the city’s churches (see next section), taste some local delicacies, and the city’s best views, not to mention a handful of other places you’re encouraged to visit on your own after the tour.
Our Free Walking Tour of Quito Old Town takes 3 hours and is available every day of the week except for Saturday. Register online and join us at 10:30 am at Plaza San Blas, (Avenida 10 de Agosto and Calle Francisco de Caldas).
Go to church (even if you’re not religious)
Even if you have an aversion to church (or the institution it represents), visiting some Ecuadorian churches in Old Town is one thing you can’t not do in Quito. Just walk into one or two, it won’t kill you. Also, churches are an integral part of Ecuadorian history, culture and architecture.
If you’re limited on time, make sure you visit one or more of the following churches: La Compania (gold leaf everything), San Francisco, La Basilica (360 view of Old Town!).
Quito from the heights: the Quito TelefériQo
For those that prefer to avoid the hubbub of city life, but still want to appreciate Quito from afar, head up the TelefériQo and view the entire city from the top of Rucu Pichincha, one of Ecuador’s numerous volcanoes.
The ride up the TelefériQo will cost you $8, but on a clear day, the impressive view of the city is well worth it. At the top, you’ll find a few places to grab a bite to eat, but if you’re feeling energetic, you can summit Rucu Pichincha at 4,784 m (15,700). Note that near the summit, the trail becomes a Level 3 hike and you might have to scramble a bit. Don’t wander off the trail because at around noon the clouds start rolling in.
Visit the Middle of the World
What’s one thing you can not do in Quito, even if you tried? Trick question. It’s visiting the equator because, well, you’re already on it! To celebrate being on exactly zero degrees latitude, Ecuadorians erected a 30-meter tall monument in 1936 called la Mitad del Mundo, or Middle of the World, in the north of the city.
If you’re in Quito for just a day, I’d recommend exploring the Old Town or going up the TelefériQo, but if you have an additional morning to spare, check out la Mitad del Mundo. Grab a taxi or jump on a bus and after el Condado and Pomasqui you’ll reach the Middle of the Earth.
Check out some museums
For the history, arts and culture buffs among you, Quito has a few museums to visit and many of these are free. If you only have time for one or two museums, visit the pre-Columbian Art Museum Casa del Alabado ($6) and la Museo Capilla del Hombre ($8).
As you walk through Casa del Alabado, you’ll experience the three spiritual worlds belonging to the cosmovision of pre-Columbian indigenous cultures. It’s important to realize that the museum is actually organized this way and not in chronological order. For those of you with an appreciation for traditional pottery, Museo del Alabado presents a beautifully curated collection of unique artifacts.
Museo Oswaldo Guayasamín or Capilla del Hombre is another museum in town, near the Parque Metropolitano (see next section), that exhibits the work of Oswaldo Guayasamín, an Ecuadorian painter and sculptor. The museum holds a large number of his original artwork and visitors are also invited to tour his house, showcasing artifacts and artwork belonging to his contemporaries.
Visit the city parks
As in any city, high levels of noise and pollution can get overwhelming. When you feel like it’s time to escape city life, you should check out one of the parks listed below. Ecuadorians like their green spaces and you’ll notice that many parks get quite busy on a Sunday.
Parque La Carolina: Located a bit north of the city center, La Carolina is a popular destination, especially during the weekend. It’s like a mini Central Park in Quito and a place where you can go to workout, have a picnic or check out some of the park’s attractions. Yes, the park has attractions! You can do everything in la Carolina from paddle boating, visiting the Botanical Garden, or watching tricks at the skatepark.
Parque Itchimbia: Located on a small hill overlooking the city center, Parque Itchimbia is another decent sized park where you can escape the city, especially if you’re already in Old Town. Unlike Parque Carolina, Parque Itchimbia gets you above the city where you can enjoy a beautiful 360-degree view. It’s quite a hike to get up there, so if you get hungry afterward there are a few places to dine in and around the park, like Pimms and Café Mosaico. Don’t head to Parque Itchimbia in the late afternoon and definitely not after dark.
Parque Metropolitano: A favorite for most visitors, Parque Metropolitano is a large, densely forested park along the northeast of the city. This is a lovely park to visit on the weekend and if you can get your hands on a mountain bike, definitely take it for a spin in Parque Metropolitano. The road near the entrance of the park, Calle Guanguiltagua, has a few restaurants and snack shops if you get hungry before or after your visit. As with all parks in Quito, don’t stick around too late in the afternoon and evening.
Try all the local Ecuadorian Cuisine
Searching for international food in Quito isn’t the best thing to do (Cuenca is better for that), but what you won’t have any trouble finding is local, Ecuadorian cuisine. You know what they say…”When in Ecuador, eat like an Ecuadorian!”. I don’t think anyone actually says this.
While in Quito, you’ll find a lot of delicious Ecuadorian food options in Old Town and elsewhere. For instance, for the seafood lovers, there’s la Manabita, or ceviche from the Mercado Central (both in Old Town). If you prefer organic, visit Casa Warmi in la Floresta, and another hole-in-the-wall spot is Cafe Dios No Muere in Old Town.
Plan a day trip to Cotopaxi
Many people don’t realize how well situated Quito is as a jumping off point to many nearby destinations. One of the best things you can do while visiting this high-altitude capital is to go on a few day trips. If you have the time, you must head to Volcano Cotopaxi.
Located only a 2-hour drive from the city, Cotopaxi is the world’s tallest active volcano IN THE WORLD, and likely already on your bucket list. To get there, jump on the Wanderbus, which will take you right up to the park entrance. From there, you’ll get to visit the “refuge”, where hikers spend the night before climbing this mighty mountain. Yep, that’s right, it’s an active volcano you can climb!
Swim in Laguna Quilotoa
Another awesome, and I mean, truly awesome, thing to do from Quito is to visit Laguna Quilotoa. Quilotoa is farther from Quito than Cotopaxi, and if you’re planning it as a day trip, you’d have to start bright and early. It might feel like a long day, but it’s worth it!
From the lip of this incredible turquoise crater lake, you’ll have the chance to see Ecuador’s mountainscape like never before. You can even hike down to the water’s edge and, you guessed it, take a dip! It will be freezing cold, but it’s not every day you get to swim in the remnants of an Andean volcano.
I truly hope that whoever wrote that review in TripAdvisor claiming that there is nothing to do in Quito gets another chance to explore this incredible city and its nearby surroundings. Even if you aren’t a city person (I’m definitely not), venturing through this metropolis will tell you more than you might imagine about Ecuador and its people, and isn’t that why you’re here, to begin with?