What do you think of when someone tells you that they are traveling in Ecuador? You probably think of a lot of wildlife and the Galapagos island, right? Well, Ecuador is so much more than that as I learned it first hand when I arrived in Quito.
Located along the rolling foothills of the Andes, Quito is a city full of well-preserved historical treasures with dozens of churches for us to explore. Due to the fact that it is surrounded by volcanos, there are plenty of interesting hikes we can do as well.
Within this backpacking guide, I will recommend you 7 things you must not miss when you are in Quito. Follow along and let's explore this surprisingly beautiful capital city of Ecuador together.
Looking for a complete itinerary for Ecuador? One Month Backpacking Itinerary for Colombia.
Quito Things to Do Map
Ecuador Travel Video
When to Visit Quito
The best time to visit Quito is June to October as it is the dry season. Quito is 3000m above sea-level and so the temperature is generally cold so prepare layers especially if you are planning to hike Cotopaxi and Pichincha volcano. It will rain a lot more often out of these months so I would recommend you to stick to this period.
How to Get to Quito
There are several major airlines that fly directly to Quito from the US such as Delta, United and American Airline. From Europe and Asia, you can fly via KLM and Air France. From within South America, LAN and Aero Mexico are good options too. To look for the cheapest flights available, browse through both Skyscanner and Momondo to find the best deal possible.
How to Get Around Quito
Quito and the Old Town is easily walkable. For traveling further, you can take the cheap local bus system such as the El Trole, Metrobus and Ecovia. The price is as low as 0.25 USD. If you stay in the central area, you can take the bus from Estacion Marin Central to almost everywhere mentioned in this itinerary.
If you want to take a taxi, always go with Uber. It's easier and less troublesome than getting a local taxi which may or may not rip you off.
For the Center of the World (Ciudad Mitad del Mundo), you will have to get to the Terminal de La Ofelia (Northward bus terminal) via Uber or local transportation and then find a direct bus to La Mitad del Mundo. It will take you around an hour and will cost you only 0.15 USD.
For Cotopaxi, you will have to go the Estacion Quitumbe, a Southward bus terminal and get on a bus labeled Cotopaxi. Tell the driver to drop you off at the entrance of Cotopaxi and from there, you will find plenty of local truck waiting along the street. Wait until more people arrive and hire them to guide you up and down the mountain for 25 USD. Once you are back down, you can wait on the road and flag any bus that is heading towards Quito to go back.
Where to Stay in Quito
Budget - Hostel Revolution - 9.50 USD/Night (Dorm)
Spacious room, comfortable beds, centrally located, and often time very nice and quiet. They can help you organize tours as well.
Mid-Range - La Rosario - 24 USD/Night (Double Room)
Claro serves me well for a local sim card with the Internet to stay connected to the world when I'm out and about. They have reliable coverage not just in Quito but all over Ecuador, although a bit slow in Galapagos and Mindo. You can easily top up your sim card from any of the store bearing the Claro logo sign.
For more info: Ecuador Data Sim Card Wiki.
This place is cheaper than most countries but not dirt cheap. Expect to pay around 30 - 50 USD per day per person including accommodation and food.
Keep in mind that this is just a suggested daily budget based on my style of traveling, which is leaning more toward the budget side of things. If you want to stick to this budget, expect to sleep in dorms, eat out only a few times, and be comfortable using the cheapest and most convenient way of transportation, which often times involves walking.
Is Quito Safe?
Like most big cities, petty theft is quite common in crowded areas so always be aware of your belonging when you are taking public transport. If you are taking a long overnight bus somewhere, keep your belonging with you at all time. Do not put it under your seat! I have had 2 friends got their bags stolen that way.
A good rule of thumb when traveling in South America is to avoid walking alone at night. If you don't see any locals around, that's probably because they know it's dangerous. If the locals don't do it, you don't do it.
One last thing, Quito is 3000m above sea level and you can get Altitude Sickness if you are not careful. Don't take this lightly as Altitude Sickness can be lethal. Take it slow on your first day in the city before heading out and hike volcanos and you should be fine. Do not be alarmed if you feel like you are always out of breath, that is what the altitude do to your body.
That said, if you are looking for a travel insurance to go along with your trip to Ecuador, I would recommend WorldNomads.com, which is what I use to look for a travel insurance that fits my kind of adventure.
Top 7 Things to Do in Quito
1. Explore all the Churches around the Old Town (Plaza Grande)
It's amazing how many beautiful European-indigenous churches are there in Quito and it is mostly concentrated in one area, the Plaza Grande. You can spend hours and hours going from one to another.
A few of my favorites are Carondelet Palace, Church of Saint Francis, Church of the Jesuit, and Catedral Metropolitana de Quito. I know it's a lot but I assure you, if you like taking photos of stunning interior and architecture, you will not be disappointed by any of these churches.
If you are staying in the accommodation I recommended here, you should be able to walk to Plaza Grande no problem.
2. Climb up the Towers of Basílica del Voto Nacional
One of my favorite photo spots in Quito is from the Towers of Basílica del Voto Nacional. You will have to climb up the stairs to the balcony, through the roof of the Basilica and climb up to the 2 towers and you will be rewarded with a postcard-worthy view of Quito.
The entry fee is 2 USD but I assure you, this is one of the most photogenic places in the city. There's nothing quite like it. You will have to go up some steep stairs so be sure to wear sturdy shoes and pace yourself slowly.
Relevant Reading: 34 Breathtaking Photos That Will Inspire You To Visit Ecuador.
3. Climb up the El Panecillo Hill
While you are at the top of the Basílica del Voto Nacional, you might notice a big hill with the Virgin Mary statue on the summit. That's the El Panecillo and if you are looking for a panoramic and expansive view of the city, this is the place to be. You can either climb up the hill or take a taxi from the Basilica up to the summit.
4. Hike the Pichincha Volcano
One of the best one day hike you can do near Quito is to go up the TelefériQo city viewpoint but don't stop there, hike another 4 hours up to the summit of Pichincha Volcano for a stunning view of the landscape around the capital city.
To get there you will either have to get a taxi or a bus to the Quito Teleferico (TelefériQo) and you will have to buy an entry ticket to the park which should cost around 8 USD. From the viewpoint, walk west and you will find a trail to follow which will lead you to the top of the inactive volcano.
The trail is simple at first but gets a little tricky once you are about the reach the summit as you will have to find your way through boulders and slipper gravel trail but once you are up there, you will be able to see both sides of the landscape.
You might also find this friendly little guy up there as well. Getting down is pretty simple since it's mostly gravel and you should be down in about an hour or 2. The summit is 4,700m high so be sure you have already spent a few days acclimatizing in the city before tackling the Pichincha volcano.
For more information on the trail: Hiking 4700m to the Top of the Pichincha Volcano in Ecuador.
5. Visit the Center of the World (Ciudad Mitad del Mundo)
Another cool things to do near Quito is to do a day trip up north to the Center of the World monument, well almost at least since the real center of the world is located about 240m from the monument. They miscalculated it in the 80s and now they have big stunning monument built before they can move it.
Nonetheless, the symmetrical architectural style of the monument is very pretty and photogenic. Entire park is also best appreciated up at the top of the monument so be sure to climb up there before you leave.
6. Visit La Capilla del Hombre museum
Photos by Bernard Gagnon
For me, a rainy day is a museum day so if you happen to find yourself stuck in Quito with heavy rain, you should spend that day in La Capilla del Hombre Museum, museum dedicated to Oswaldo Guayasami, a renown Ecuadorian master painter and sculptor. His work is famous for his depiction of the suffering of the indigenous people such as political oppression, racism, and poverty in a unique style that matches no one. A good place to spend a rainy day in.
7. Go on a Day Trip and Hike Cotopaxi
Another day trip you can do from Quito is to go hike Cotopaxi, one of the most prominent, cone-shape active stratovolcano in Ecuador. Standing tall at 5,897 m above sea-level, you can literally see it all the way from Quito.
In order to get to Cotopaxi, you will have to go the southward bus terminal and take a direct bus to Cotopaxi. Be sure to let the driver know you want to be dropped off at the entrance of the park. Once you arrived, you will see a few locals with their pickup trucks waiting for you offering to guide you up the mountain. You can either pay for the entire truck or wait until more people show up and share the ride up the mountain with them. It should cost you around 25 USD for the entire truck.
You are not going all the way to the summit as it is closed off so no need for mountaineering equipment. A day pack, layers and gloves are enough for the hike. That said, you will still be able to go up to the mountain hut at 4,800m, where you can appreciate Cotopaxi up close.
The ride from the entrance will take around an hour before you arrive at the trail head where you can hike the steep trail up for about an hour to the hut. At the hut you will be able to buy a 2 USD cocoa or some snacks if you want one.
You can go a bit further to the glacier if the weather permits. Unfortunately, it was a hailstorm when I was there so we didn't go onward. Getting down to the parking lot takes only 15 minutes. Once you are down, the driver should take you back to the main road where you can flag any bus heading towards Quito to go back.
If you want to do it with a tour instead, read: Climbing Cotopaxi with CarpeDM Adventures.
Extra. Organize your trip to the Ecuadorian Amazon or a flight to Galapagos
I always enjoy adding a little bit of extra tip at the end of these kind of article 😄. For this one, Quito is the perfect place for you to organize other tours you want to do in the country.
If you want to experience the Ecuadorian Amazon, I would recommend you buy the 4-days budget Amazon tour from CarpeDM Adventures. I had a great time with them and it cost only 270 USD for everything (food, accommodation, and transportation). Although, you will have to take an overnight bus to Nueva Loja by yourself (you do not need to pay for the ticket) before they will transfer you to the Cuyabeno Natural Reserve.
For Galapagos, you may be able to find a good deal on flights but DO NOT book the cruise from here. It's cheaper to do it on the island.
For more info about traveling to the Galapagos: A Guide To Galapagos On A Budget.
The Solo Traveler’s Journal is a series of posts by BucketListly where we will follow our founder, Pete Rojwongsuriya around the world as he singlehandedly travel alone and experience different cultures, people, and historical locations one country at a time.
Disclosure: This post may contain affiliate links.