I have been going to Ecuador since I was a little girl, not only because it is an amazing country, but it is my mother’s home and therefore, close to my heart. Ecuador is one of the most beautiful countries in South America; with the Middle of the World, Galapagos Islands, nature trails high in the Andes, but it is also home to its capital – Quito.
If you are traveling to Ecuador, you will likely fly into Quito’s international airport and begin your journey from there. Quito is full of monuments, beautiful plazas, churches, and volcanoes to climb. I highly suggest taking the time to explore Quito before heading off to the rest of your adventures in Ecuador. There are quite a few fun things to do while in Quito!
1) STROLL AROUND OLD QUITO
In Old Quito is La Ronda, a small, narrow, pedestrian-only street. Pretty much an Old Quito type of area with beautiful little cobblestone streets and colorful colonial houses and buildings. While exploring La Ronda, you’ll notice most of the houses have been turned into shops and bars. One I love to stop at a little ice cream shop Dulce Placer Heladeria. They have the cutest little store upstairs, with a view of La Ronda from the windows, and a wide selection of ice cream flavors.
There is so much to see in Old Quito, it is probably my favorite area to walk around. While wandering around Old Quito, you’ll probably pass many plaza squares, although the Plaza Grande you may pass several times. From its name you can guess it is Quito’s grand plaza, also known as La Plaza de Independencia (Independence Plaza). The square is surrounded by four historical buildings to Ecuadorian culture: the Presidential Palace, the Municipal Palace, the Archbishop’s Palace, and the Cathedral of Quito. Full of benches to sit and people watch from, landscaping gardens, cafes and shops – Old Quito is an experience to walk through.
2) EAT AT CAFE PLAZA GRANDE
Speaking of Plaza Grande, one of the most ornate hotels in Quito is The Plaza Grande Hotel, home to Cafe Plaza Grande. Their menu cuisine ranges from breakfast, lunch, and dinner (all delicious), but the best part of this restaurant is the dessert.
Hands down the best location to find the most delicious and theatrical treat, helado de paila. A traditional frozen ice cream treat made in large, copper pots. They serve the ice cream by dimming the lights, playing theatrical music, and cucuruchos (a purple costumed figure) come and serve it to you.
3) VISIT THE MIDDLE OF THE WORLD
You can’t visit Quito without making a stop to Mitad del Mundo, which translates to “The Middle of the World”. There lies a centrepiece 30m high stone monument marking the equator, and it’s a quirky and picturesque thing to do in Quito. Inside the monument is a viewing platform and a museum.
In the same park grounds, there is a small Guayasamin museum and some art galleries that are run by the local artists themselves. Other attractions within the park grounds are the Viviendas Ancestrales (Ancestral Homes) exhibition, and the Museo de Cacao (Museum of Cacao).
Admission fee: $5 for adults, $2.50 for child
4) EXPLORE MERCADO ARTESANAL
Mercado Artesanal de La Mariscal, Quito’s local artisan market, takes up half a city block. It’s filled with more than 200 crafts stalls, with good prices and great for souvenirs. Mostly folk clothing (ponchos and shirts), jewelry and small gift items – a lot of the items found in the Quito artisan market come from Otavalo, Ecuador (known for its famous Otavalo Market in the Plaza de Ponchos, where traditionally indigenous locals sell colorful handicrafts items and garments).
Tip: It’s almost custom in Ecuador that the vendors will negotiate prices with you.
5) PHOTOS WITH LLAMAS IN QUITO
You can’t miss out on the cutest photo opportunity in Quito. There are llamas throughout Ecuador, but for a small amount (around 50 cents) you can take a photo with them. The ones I found in Quito were up in Pichincha Volcano, which you get to by riding the TeleferiQo (see below). There are also llamas freely running around at the Mitad Del Mundo site, but the moment you try to approach them they will most likely run away.
6) TAKE THE TELEFERIQO
The TeleferiQo (with a ‘Q’ for Quito) is a cable car lift that takes you up Volcano Pichincha (4,050m up). It’s best to go on a clear day because you get the most beautiful views of Quito city. It’s about a 15-20 minute drive from Downtown Quito/Carolina Park to the base of the Teleférico. Then from there, the cable car takes you from the foothills of Volcan Pichincha, it is a 15-minute ride up the volcano and once there, you have a chance to hike up so more.
Photo Ops: The view is stunning, with all of Quito spread out below you in one direction; from another, you’ll see rolling green hills and a few volcanoes. If you continue up the trail there is a swing, perfect photo op within the clouds with a view of the city. There are also horses available to ride ($10 per person) and llamas you can take photos with (50 cents a person).
Tip: Whether you’re just going up the TelefériQo to leisurely admire the views or to summit Pichincha, be sure to pack a jacket. You can definitely feel a dramatic difference in temperature up here.
Price: The cable car up in Quito is $ 4.50 for adults, $7.50 for foreigners.
7) VISIT VIRGEN DEL PANECILLO
One of my favorite sites in Quito is Virgen del Panecillo. A local landmark, with an aluminium statue of the Virgin of Quito at the top of the rounded hill. To get there you need a car, taxi, or bus to get to the top of the hill, where you find a huge sculpture monument. On a clear summer day in Quito, you’ll see the snow-topped Antisana, Cotopaxi and Cayambe volcanoes looming over the city.
8) ENJOY QUITO’S PLAZA FOCH
Quito is full of beautiful plazas, but Plaza Foch is Quito’s primetime nightlife area. WIthin Plaza Foch´s four corners there are seventeen bars, fifteen restaurants, and five clubs. Filled with locals, tourists, and backpackers, all enjoying a drink, a party or dinner with friends.
A few of my favorite spots in the plaza are Q Restaurant, serving upscale contemporary Ecuadorian cuisine. There is Republica del Cacao cafe, the minute you step into this cafe, you get a whiff of chocolate. The house-made desserts are made with Ecuadorian cacao chocolate ($3.50-$4). There is the colorful “Foch Yeah” sculpture at the center of the square, which is a photo opportunity you just can’t pass up!
9) EXPLORE QUITO CHURCHES
An absolute must is the Basilica del Voto Nacional, a huge cathedral you’re able to climb all the way to the top (exhilarating, amazing, and terrifying views). Notice on the sides of the church, instead of the gargoyles you’d expect, there are Ecuadorian animals like turtles and iguanas. Admission fee: $2 for adults. There is also cute little artisan cafe within the square grounds (next to the ticket window) of the Basilica. The owner is a lovely woman who served us affordable tea/coffee and pastries (around $1 each) in handmade clay mugs and plates.
There is also the Iglesia de La Compañía de Jesús, one of the most beautiful churches with its shimmering Baroque and Moorish interior. It is hands down the most ornate, golden church and a standout among those of Old Quito. Photos of the interior space is not permitted, but I couldn’t help myself, it was too beautiful. Admission fee: $5 for adults or $2.50 for students.
Iglesia y Convento de San Francisco, another beautiful baroque church at the center of Plaza San Francisco. To the right of the Iglesia de San Francisco’s main entrance is a museum that contains some of the finest artworks, sculptures and 16th-century furniture. Admission fee: $3 for adults and the admission fee includes a guided tour in English or Spanish.
10) WANDER IN ART
One of Ecuador’s most acclaimed, remarkable artists was Oswaldo Guayasamin, born in Quito. His art sculptures and paintings are exhibited in his beautiful colonial-style villa, turned museum, House-Museum Guayasamin. The villa became a cultural institution to preserve and promote Guayasamín’s artistic heritage. While housing over 250 of Guayasamín’s paintings, the house-museum also offers access to the artist’s collection of pre-Colombian and colonial artifacts.
Admission fee: $8 for adults, $4 students.
There is also the Centro de Arte Contemporaneo, a wonderful contemporary art museum. It actually used to be a military hospital that was restored to now exhibit some great modern and local art. The building itself is beautiful, with a grand plaza entrance (you need to check in any oversized bags), a stunning courtyard in the middle connecting each exhibition space, and a rooftop garden.
Admission fee: Free.
11) BIKE DOWN COTOPAXI
Ecuador is full of crazy adventures, from the waterfalls in the Amazon to the climb down Quilotoa’s crater lagoon. Quito is no stranger to adventure, especially since the city is literally surrounded by volcanoes, all inactive except one – Cotopaxi. Cotopaxi volcano is one of the highest active volcanoes in the world. It’s erupted more than 50 times since the 18th century (but don’t worry, it hasn’t in over 50 years).
There are a variety of tour services (hiking, biking, etc), but my parents always booked us the mountain biking trail experience (through Biking Dutchman). At 7 am the tour van leaves Quito to Cotopaxi National Park. The van is a 4-wheel drive vehicle, so they drive up to the highest point of the tour. High enough for absolutely breathtaking views of all 8 volcanoes (on a clear, sunny day), but also snow. The top of Cotopaxi is covered in snow. The temperature change up and down the trail can be huge, but the experience of biking down is amazing.
Tip: Bring warm clothes, rain/wind jacket. The start of the bike trail may be cold, but halfway down it gets hot due to your proximity to the sun.
On top of transportation and bikes, the tour agency also provided us with lunch, helmets, gloves, and protective pads.
Cost: $59 per person.
I hope this article has helped you discover some of the best things to do in beautiful Quito, Ecuador. Please let me know your favorite places in Quito or if you have any questions in the comments below!
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Our Top Places To Stay in Quito, Ecuador
- Plaza Grande Hotel
- Hotel Casa Gangotena
- Mama Cuchara by Art Hotels
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