Ecuador is not just the Galápagos! There is so much more to explore in this biodiverse country, and it’s quite cheap too. ($0.25 bus rides, anyone?) Don’t skip out on Quito quickly either. Located 2,850 meters above sea level, Quito is the highest capital city in the world. Sunny days, cool nights and jaw-dropping mountainous surroundings make this city worth a stop. Divided between a historic old town and a more modern downtown, there are plenty of options for any traveler. Just follow the same safety precautions as you would in any big city, and you’ll be sure to enjoy your time.
Here are 7 Awesome Things to do in Quito, Ecuador
1. Basílica del Voto Nacional
The Basilica of the National Vow is a stunning neo-Gothic Roman Catholic church. It’s worth the uphill trek through Old Town to get there! Spend time walking its perimeter and pay close attention to detail. Where gargoyles normally would be, there are sculptures of native Ecuadorian animals. After paying a small fee to enter the basilica ($2), be prepared to scale narrow staircases. There are several lookout points, gift shops, and a cafe with a view along the way. Don’t forget to stop at the large stained glass window for a stunning selfie! Visitors can walk across a wooden plank through the middle of the church to access an adjacent tower. Climbing to the top of this clock tower isn’t for the faint of heart as the staircase is a bit shaky and nearly straight up! The views at the top make it worth the effort.
2. Teleférico (or TelefériQo)
After you’ve acclimated to Quito’s elevation, take it up a notch and head even higher in the teleferico, a gondola carrying passengers from 2,950 meters to 4,000 meters in approximately 10 minutes. For the best views and to beat the crowds, take the gondola up early near the 9:00 am opening time. There are shops and restaurants up top in case you need a souvenir, water, or cup of coffee. On a clear day, you’ll be able to see a spectacular view of Quito and six surrounding volcanoes, so it’s worth waiting for perfect conditions if you can swing it. For those looking for a challenge, test out the fairly steep and windy trail leading to the summit of the Pichincha Volcano. This hike is challenging, so give yourself several hours to complete it and bring plenty of water. The cost to ride the teleferico is $8.50 for foreigners. The hike and corresponding pain cave are free.
3. Free Walking Tour of Old Town
A great way to accustomed to any city, get your feet wet with an official walking tour. Learn about the history of Ecuador and see why Quito’s historic center was proclaimed one of the first UNESCO World Heritage Sites. According to UNESCO, “the city has the best-preserved, least altered historic center in Latin America.” Enjoy strolling through several plazas and churches, and be sure to try a $2 almuerzo for a typical Ecuadorian lunch after your tour!
4. La Mariscal and Plaza Foch
The modern part of Quito, La Mariscal, is filled with hostels, tour operators, bars, clubs, and international cuisine. Any type of food you crave, from vegetarian to pizza cones, can be found here. Plaza Foch (also known as zona rosa) is at the center of it all and is THE place to go out at night. The government has done a good job of cleaning up this part of the city to keep the tourists coming back for more, but always keep a close eye on your personal belongings. Be sure to check out the various specials on ladies’ night (Wednesdays) which is a big night out for locals and tourists alike. Club Bungalow 6 is open downstairs for ladies only from 8-10pm and offers a free open bar.
5. Parque Itchimbía
There is no shortage of parks in Quito, each one with its unique charm. Parque Itchimbia is home to the infamous Quito sign, spelled out in large orange block letters. After taking a photo and relaxing in the letter “Q,” hang out at the park and enjoy the view of Old Town below. There’s a glass building atop the hill, Centro Cultural Itchimbia, that hosts a museum and special events as well. Ask locals or check the schedule to see when the park hosts free concerts and yummy food trucks. For the more active traveler, there is a network of walking trails and kid-friendly playgrounds.
This narrow pedestrian strip located in Old Town is vehicle free, making it perfect for a daytime stroll and keeping it packed with people at night and on weekends. Enter the local artisan shops, or chat with the street vendors and get serenaded by local musicians. If you’re hungry, stop in one of the many restaurants offering the regional dish locro de papa. This hearty soup is a delicious mix of potato, cheese, and avocado. For dessert, try hot chocolate with a side of cheese. (Yes, cheese!) Just look for cafes that offer chocolate caliente and experience a whole new way of enjoying dark chocolate.
7. El Panecillo
A bit outside of the City, El Panecillo is a hill located between southern and central Quito. The Virgin Madonna statue marks the top and is said to have wings like an angel. Brings snacks and enjoy a picturesque sunset picnic. Part of the fun is on the way up as you pass through several local neighborhoods and perhaps even get a history lesson from your taxi driver. (Be sure to take an authorized taxi, and don’t walk up alone.)
Where to Stay in Quito, Ecuador
Best Budget Hostel in Quito, Ecuador – Blue House
Set in a chic country style house with plenty of light only 50 m from Manuela Cañizares Station. Quito’s picturesque main square, Plaza Grande, is 3.5 km away.
Hostal Blue House offers rooms with shared or private bathrooms with 24-hour hot water. They are equipped with wood furnishings, nightstands, and tasteful décor. There are a comfortable TV room and a spacious courtyard with BBQ facilities. Guests can wake up to a daily breakfast with tropical fruits and coffee.
Best Mid-Range Hostel in Quito, Ecuador – Hostal de la Rabida
In a charming inn with Victorian-inspired décor and a living room fireplace, guests can enjoy private balconies with garden views. De La Rabida is a 5-minute walk from the city center and a 15-minute drive from the historic circuit. The tour desk can provide tips on exploring Quito.
At Hostal de la Rabida, rooms are nicely decorated with parquet floors and a palette of pastels. All rooms have cable TV and heating. Some rooms have wrought-iron bedsteads, stylish wall mouldings, and pale blue wallpaper. Bathrooms feature white tiles and elegant dark wood fittings. Guests can start their day with an American or continental breakfast at the outdoor shaded area. The restaurant serves international cuisine. It is decorated with flower arrangements and offers views of the garden.
Best Luxury Hotel in Quito, Ecuador – Swissotel Quito
Swissôtel offers elegant accommodation in Quito’s affluent commercial and residential district. It features two pools, tennis and squash courts, as well as a spa with hydromassage tub and massage treatments. Quito’s Old Town district is 3 km from the Swissôtel and is the most intact in South America, according to UNESCO. Mariscal Area is popular with expats for its clubs and bars and is a 15-minute drive away.
Featuring wood accents and Egyptian cotton linens, rooms at Swissôtel Quito are bright, air-conditioned and equipped with free Wi-Fi access. They all come with cable TV channels, minibar, and in-room safe.
Five on-site restaurants offer a range of dishes from renowned French, Swiss and Japanese culinary traditions. The hotel’s modern meeting and event center are one of the largest in the city.
About the Writer
Hi, I’m Asia Dawn! In 2016, I decided to make a big lifestyle change. I quit my job in California, packed a bag, and flew to South America on a one-way ticket. Join me as I discover what it means to let go, explore, and fully live in the moment. I’m not sure where life will take me next, and that’s OK. We all just want to be happy, right?
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