It is the is the highest constitutional capital in the world sitting at about 2,850 meters above sea level and it was the first city ever to be declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Quito is also surrounded by 8 of Ecuador’s 19 volcanoes. Ecuador was gained independence from Spain in 1822 but quite a bit of the Spanish influenced architecture still remains.
We chose to visit Quito on our way to the Amazon. Fun fact: Ecuador uses the US Dollar so if you’re an American traveling to Ecuador, there’s no need to exchange money which makes things super easy. One thing to note is that most people don’t use any cash higher than a $20 bill so be sure to bring lots of $10 and $5 bills with you as costs in Ecuador are quite low compared to the United Sates and absolutely no one will exchange a $100 expect for larger banks or some supermarkets.
My husband and I spent a week in Quito and could have spent more time exploring. Depending on your time frame, here is a list of my top 10 things to do in Quito in no specific order.
1. Visit the Plaza de la Independencia aka “Plaza Grande”
Plaza Grande is a central hub of old town Quito. Locals refer to the square as “retired square” as many senior citizens who have since retired come to the square to socialize, talk politics and people watch. There are four significant religious and political buildings surrounding the Plaza Grande to visit. We found the best spot was to plop ourselves at one of the many local coffee shops and watch the locals go on with their day. We were surprised to be able to see an Ecuadorian concert, dance-off and changing of the guard just in one week’s time.
2. Basilica of the National Vote
The Basilica of the National Vote is a Roman Catholic church located right in the heart of Old Town Quito. It is the largest neo-Gothic basilica in the Americas. This beautiful church has been undergoing construction since it’s inception in 1892 and locals will tell visitors about the legend that once construction on the Basilica del Voto Nacional is completed in full, the world will come to an end. Fun fact: If you pay an extra $2, you can climb the church tower to see panoramic views of Quito which is a must!
3. Quito’s Mercado Central
This local market in Quito is open from 5am to 5pm. It is a great stop to see local produce, the famous Ecuadorian roses and indulge in some Quito’s most traditional and affordable cuisine. Our favorite meal was a local soup that consisted of potato, cheese, tomato, avocado and onion for only $2.
4. Gondola Ride up the TelefériQo Quito
The TelefériQo gondola ride is one of the highest aerial lifts in the world, rising from 3,117 meters to 3,945 meters. You can take a taxi or an Uber anywhere in the city to the TelefériQo. Once there, you will spend about $8 per person for a round trip ride. Many people test out their endurance by hiking the Pichincha Volcano which takes about 7-8 hours round trip once you reach the top of the TelefériQo. Others simply take the time to enjoy the beautiful landscapes, drink some local hot chocolate and swing on the the infamous “Swing in the Clouds” swing set that’s located on the edge of the mountain.
5. Day trip to Laguna Quilotoa
Quilotoa is a water-filled caldera and the most western volcano in the Ecuadorian Andes. It is still an active volcano with an elevation of 3,914 meters. You have a few options when visiting this volcano. You can do the 3 day trail loop around the entire volcano, do the day trip hike which allows you to walk down a rocky path into the crater where you can kayak, or you can complete the trip via horseback. We opted to do the day hike as to stretch our legs from the 3 hour bus ride it took to get there. It wasn’t too bad on the way down, but the hike back up is where the altitude starts to get you. While there was plenty of people offering $10 per person to ride a horse back up the mountain. It took us well over an hour to get back up which was quite daunting but we rewarded ourselves with a local meal in the small town at the top. We loved our little day trip to Quilotoa. We booked our tour through Quito Tour Bus company (they are located in Plaza Grande in Information Center). We felt it was a good price for all that it included which was transportation, a local guide, stops to 2 indigenous communities, a small snack and a large lunch.
6. Parque Itchimbia
We stumbled across Parque Itchimbia during our week in Quito and boy are we glad. This park offers spectacular views over all of the Historic Center of Quito. We ran up from the Mercado Central as there is a nice set of stairs that lead you up. Once there you can walk the park, fly a kite, enjoy a coffee at the little cafe up on the hill, do some running or yoga on the lawn. We decided to do some exercising on the lawn as it was great open space to work off all the fried empanadas we had been indulging in all week.
7. Museo de Sitio Intinan
The Museo de Sitio Intinan is a museum on the Equator in the Middle of the World showcasing exhibits from places on the equator and it also offers equator-related science experiments which we thought was a highlight of our tour. We booked our tour through Community Hostel in Quito which included the transportation to the middle of the world museum and a local guide. We did have to pay our own entrance fees separately but we felt it was worth it to learn about the history of the equator and Ecuadorian culture.
8. Watch the sunset from the Virgin of El Panecillo
The Virgin of El Panecillo is located on the top of the hill of El Panecillo which offers a great viewpoint of Historic Quito. We got a tip from Quito local to go at sunset which did not disappoint. You will want to take a taxi or Uber up to the hill and back down as it is not safe to walk. At the top of the hill, you will find the monument as well as the Panecillo Street Food Market which has the best street food in Quito in my opinion. You can watch the sunset, do some shopping and eat some of the best street food in Quito. Once you’re done, there will be plenty of taxis circling around to get back to your hotel or if you don’t want to chance it, you can eat at Pim’s on top of the hill and they will call a taxi for you.
9. Quito Free Walking Tour
A free walking tour in Quito is a MUST. We did ours through Community Hostel on our first day in Quito and it was an excellent introduction to the city. Romolo was our guide and he was great! He was very knowledgeable in the history of Quito and Ecuador as a whole and giving recommendations of things to do, see and places to eat. I HIGHLY recommend a tour with him!
10. Breakfast at En Dulce
The last best kept secret in Quito is breakfast at a local spot called En Dulce. It is by far the best breakfast in town. They offer a Tradicional Breakfast for $2.95 which includes your choice of coffee or cappuccino with eggs, a cheese croissant, fresh juice, butter and jam. It’s a great deal and we went back three times for this delicious meal.
Hopefully these 10 things to do in Quito will be helpful to you during your next trip to Ecuador!