Ecuador’s capital city, Quito is a lively place that is bustling with both character and culture. Side streets are decked out with vendors, the Old Town is heaving with charm, and the cities many historic spots tower over small houses and buildings. As we were coming to the end of our journey through Ecuador, we really didn’t expect much.
We arrived late at night straight from an unforgettable three days spent in the Amazon Rainforest. Without any concrete plans, we wandered around Quito and instantly found ourselves liking the city. Our only regret? Wishing we spent more time exploring this lively part of Ecuador! So without further ado, here are some fun things to do in Quito.
- Go on a Free Walking Tour and Explore the Old Quito Town
- Get Your Adventure On By Going on a Day Trip
- Climb the Basilico del Voto Nacional
- Wave to the President of Ecuador
- Visit the Virgin of El Panecillo
- Walk Around the Famous Otavalo Market
- Get to Know the Local Ecuadorians
- Go on a Trip to the Middle of the Earth
- Eat Your Way Through Quito’s Gastronomical Delicacies
- Take in the Views from the top of Pichincha
- Where to Stay in Quito?
- Other Recommendations:
Go on a Free Walking Tour and Explore the Old Quito Town
To get our bearings, we decided to take part in a free walking tour offered by CarpeDM Adventures. Their office is located by the Secret Garden Hostal in Calle Jose Antepara and their walking tour is a great way to get familiarized with the different areas of Quito. The guide or anyone in CarpeDM Adventures can happily recommend places to visit, points of interest in the city, and restaurants to try. During our walking tour, we went to places like the Basílica del Voto Nacional, San Francisco Square, and other small side streets and viewpoints. The Basilica was my favorite as not only was it the largest neo-Gothic basilica in the Americas, but it also had very cool Ecuadorian animal inspired gargoyles. Definitely, a must see while in Quito!
Must not miss: Plaza Granda, Carondelet Palace (Presidential Residence), Plaza San Franciso, and the La Iglesia de la Compañía de Jesus which is free every first Sunday of the month. Another great area which is full of quaint shops, cars, cafes, and live music is La Ronda.
Get Your Adventure On By Going on a Day Trip
Honestly speaking, we wish we had more time in Quito! There is just too much to see and do. Not only is the city of Quito historically rich, around you, you also have loads of great day trips to take on! From trips to conquer Cotopaxi, the Antisana Ecological Reserve, or even seeing the stunning Quilotoa volcano, there is literally no shortage of things to do. The beauty is, due to its location, all these top activities are within reach right from the main city center when you join a tour. We recommend using the guys over at Carpe DM Adventures We tried out their services for the Amazon Jungle tour in the Cuyabeno Reserve and were more than happy.
Climb the Basilico del Voto Nacional
While the walking tour only takes you around some of the basic landmarks for you to get your orientation, it is worth going back to the Basilico del Voto National to actually go inside and get a glimpse of this highly unusual church. At first glance, the church itself looks very much like the Notre Dame de Paris. It has that similar gothic yet grand feel but the elaborate gargoyles in this church definitely adds more character to it. If you go inside, you can also take the lift to the viewpoint on top of the church boasting of the direct views of “El Panecillo Hill”, which is the home of the apocalypse virgin statue.
P.S. If you’re feeling active, you can also climb up the 115 meter high towers using the stairs!
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Wave to the President of Ecuador
Amazingly, every Monday when the guards change, you have the chance to wave to the President of Ecuador while he is on the balcony of the Presidential residence, on Plaza de la Independencia. The whole thing is quite a show as you have guards in horses, musicians, and a whole ceremony which starts at 11 am. A lot of tourists and locals gather in the square for this weekly event and is an awesome thing to witness if you happen to be in Quito on a Monday.
Visit the Virgin of El Panecillo
After seeing the famous view from far away, if you have time, we recommend going to the viewpoint itself as after all, it is one of Quito’s most famous landmarks. The name El Panecillo literally translates to Bread Loaf Hill and is 3016 meters above sea level. Fun fact, it is actually the only figure in the world of the Virgin Mary bearing wings, inspired by her description in the book of the Apocalypse. There is a lot of legends and speculation about this statue which the local people take to heart. The statue itself is said to faceNorth which is why the people living there are blessed. Consequently, her back is facing the South which they say explains the division and wealth disparity between the two areas. On a good clear day, you can also spot Cotopaxi from there which is the second biggest active volcano in the world. The best way to get up El Panecillo is by taking a taxi from the main town. This should cost anything from $3-6.
Editor’s Note: While in Ecuador, don’t miss out on Exploring the Cuyabeno Wildlife Reserve in the Amazon Rainforest
Walk Around the Famous Otavalo Market
Located about 2 hours away from Quito is the famous weekend Otavalo Market. A place popularized for handicrafts, textile, and souvenirs, the Otavalo Market is a fun day trip while in Quito. During the weekends, people flock towards this market and sell a wide variety of things! You will literally see stalls and stalls of beautiful eye-grabbing Ecuadorian handicrafts from bags to hammocks. The food portion of the market is also a sight to see as a heavenly medley of flavors and scents come together.
Insider tip: If you can’t make it to the Otavalo Market, the best place to look for souvenirs is the Mercado Artisanal. When I went, they had a load of handmade items including hammocks, bags, and tapestries.
Get to Know the Local Ecuadorians
While you might need a certain level of Spanish to get by, the Ecuadorian people are absolutely lovely and welcoming. You will see vendors wearing traditional outfits selling various items like colorful textile, handmade paintings, and various food. Our favorites are the local grilled plantains and the delicious fruit shakes which you can get in almost every corner.
Go on a Trip to the Middle of the Earth
When in Ecuador, do not pass up the chance to visit the Mitad del Mundo or the middle of the earth. From Quito town, you can go there via public bus or private transport. Oddly enough, there are two different locations for the Mitad del Mundo. One is located within a compound, dotted by a 30m monument marked by a yellow line. This compound is full of interesting points. Apart from taking dorky photos, there are restaurants, souvenir stalls, and museum exhibits. The funny part is, not far from it is the Inti Nan Solar Museum, which according to GPS calculations is the actual equator line. This place is a lot smaller than the other one and offers a $4 tour around the area, which is said to include funny experiments. We personally opted to go to the one with the monument, which set us back by $3.50. This has to be one of the top things to do in Quito!
Eat Your Way Through Quito’s Gastronomical Delicacies
I love food and naturally, when we travel, food is a big part of the agenda. The fascinating part about wandering the streets of Quito is there are so many street vendors selling delicious snacks and meals. From fresh fruit juices, bowls of fresh ceviche, empanada, delicious Helado de Paila (try the hand-made guanábana and mora (blackberry) sorbet), all the way down to the local almuerzos that can be found in any local store. If you’re not sure where to start, try visiting Mercado San Francisco which is Quito’s oldest indoor market.
Take in the Views from the top of Pichincha
Being that Quito is surrounded by volcanoes, the closest one to the city is Pichincha, which can be seen towards the West of the city. You can hop on a Teleferico (cable car) and take in the beautiful views of the city! This cable car will take you 4,100 meters up through a 2.5-kilometer long cable car ride which lasts for about 8 minutes. A good tip we were given was to go up early in the morning (by 8 am) to get the best views. In the afternoon or midday, fog tends to roll in. If you’re feeling a bit more active, you can actually hike until you reach the top of Rucu Pichincha. The trail is fairly easy and straight forward but we do advice you to check the weather ahead of time as you might end up having to navigate your way through thick fog, spoiling the usual grand view once you reach the top.
Apart from what I just listed above, there is literally so many more things to do in and around Quito! Give it a couple of days so you can fully enjoy the fun vibe it brings. We could have easily based ourselves in Quito for a week or so and never tire of sightseeing and wandering around the streets!
Where to Stay in Quito?
Our Top Pick: Casa CarpeDM
Given the many guesthouses and hostals, we recommend Casa CarpeDM. Located nearby Plaza San Blas in the Historical part of the Old Town, Casa Carpe DM is a great retreat for guests. The 3 story home was converted into a warm hostal which has a good mix of double, matrimonial, and dorm rooms. The rooms are clean, comfortable, and well maintained and is more of a bed and breakfast rather than a hostel.
The rooms come with a hearty breakfast served at the 3rd floor, giving you access to a stunning view of Quito. We stayed there for two nights and had an amazing night’s sleep each time. The staff was more than helpful to give recommendations on where to go and how best to get around Quito. The place was beautifully decorated with photos of different trips that you can do around Ecuador, matched with inspirational quotes. From the peaceful and laid back atmosphere it gave, all the way to the awesome service we received, we would not hesitate to recommend this place to anyone!
Budget: Hostel Revolution | Hostel World
Mid-Range: Hotel Reina Isabel | Booking.com
Luxury: La Casona de la Ronda Hotel Boutique Patrimonial | Booking.com
Check out our other Ecuador Articles
- Top Things to Do in Banos
- Tips on Learning Spanish in Ecuador
- Exploring the Poor Mans Galapagos Review
- Best Galapagos liveaboards