This is a guest post by Michelle and Jedd of Intentional Travelers. This 30-something couple left their full-time jobs to join the Peace Corps, then became digital nomads, doing work online as they travel the world.
Ecuador has been one of our favorite countries to visit as long-term travelers. Most recently, we stayed for about 6 weeks. Though we spent most of our time in Cuenca, we flew in and out of the capital city of Quito. We got to enjoy several days in Quito, hosted by a friend of ours who grew up there.
Here are some of the best things to do in Quito based on our own experience and the advice of our Ecuadorian hosts.
Visiting the historic center of Quito is an absolute must, as it was one of the first World Heritage sites designated by UNESCO! The main square, Plaza de la Independencia (or Plaza Grande), is surrounded by well-preserved colonial architecture, dozens of churches, restaurants and more. You could spend several hours walking around and taking it in.
The Basilica is an impressive edifice and a visit there is one of the best things to do in Quito. You can get some nice views just walking around it. Entry is $2 and you can climb the towers for an even better vantage point.
Calle la Ronda is a quaint, traditional street known for its bars and eateries. Open primarily on weekend evenings, it’s a place to try local foods (like empanada de viento), buy artisan crafts, and experience Quito’s bohemian culture.
Almuerzos (Spanish for “lunch” but referring particularly to a set menu-of-the-day) are common across Ecuador. The menu of the day often includes soup, juice, a main entree, and a small dessert. This three-course meal is usually about $2.50, though we’ve seen it range from $2 to $5.50 for fancier places.
If you’re in Centro, we highly recommend El Terruno on Garcia Moreno, between Jose Mejia and Jose Olmedo streets, just two blocks from Plaza Grande. Unlike most restaurants, they actually have two options for their daily soup and entree. The food was always great, staff was friendly, and the atmosphere is nice, too. We went back a number of times and though it always got packed, we never saw another tourist there.
(In case you’re wondering, we had lunch out almost every day for seven weeks in Ecuador and never got sick.)
Intiñan and Mitad del Mundo
After exploring the historic center of Quito, a visit to the equator is a great next stop. It’s about 16 miles from Quito’s center, so reserve at least half a day for it, especially if you’re traveling by public transit.
There are actually two different monuments at Mitad del Mundo (Middle of the World). This is because the first latitude zero was calculated by European colonists using their tools of navigation, which ended up being a smidge off from the actual location of latitude zero, calculated more recently by GPS.
The larger and more obvious monument (the one that’s technically not on the equator) has a $3.50 entrance fee. It has a touristy feel as well as inflated tourist prices. Entrance includes access to the giant monument, llamas, craft shops, a bull fighting ring (empty when we went), and restaurants. You can also upgrade your ticket to gain access to museums and other activities on the property.
If you’re short on time and only want to see one monument/museum, most people (including me) would recommend Museo Intiñan next door. The entrance is a little unassuming if you’re arriving on foot. Just continue along the main road, past the large parking lot for the other monument, and you’ll come across a long dirt road on your left with the museum sign. Walk down the dirt road several hundred yards to the outdoor “museum.”
At Intiñan, you’ll get a 25-minute tour from a local guide, included in the $4 entrance fee. The tour walks you through aspects of Ecuador’s wildlife and native cultures, including replicas of tribal huts. Then the guide will demonstrate some of the unique geological features of the equator as you’re standing at the exact location of latitude zero. This is where you can see water swirling down a drain in opposite directions on different sides of the line. There are also some fun, interactive activities with balance that you can attempt. We enjoyed it and felt like we learned quite a bit.
Quito is full of large markets of various kinds. It’s a great way to quickly immerse yourself in the local culture. We took a walk through the closest one to where we were staying, a two-story indoor market for produce, household goods, and cookshop meals. According to TripAdvisor, the most popular artisan La Mariscal. things to do in Quito
Sample local flavors
We found the food in Ecuador to be really tasty.
Some specialties to eat in Quito are:
- Ceviche (seafood and tomato)
- Locro de papa (a traditional, savory potato-based soup with avocado
- Chifles (plantain chips)
- Empanadas (savory stuffed pastry)
- Fresh fruits like maracuya (passion fruit)
- Cuy (a delicacy for the more adventurous: roast guinea pig
- Canelazo (a hot drink made with sugar cane alcohol, cinnamon, and sometimes fruit juice)
Get a Good View
The hillside development in Quito is really a sight to behold. It’s pretty amazing that such a large city is planted in the midst of such a mountainous landscape. That’s why a bird’s eye view of Quito can be a nice addition to your itinerary. We already mentioned the views that can be had at the Basilica. Here are two more great spots for cityscapes: things to do in Quito
La Virgen del Panecillo Overlook
We got a ride up here with our hosts. We’ve heard the hike up is the not the safest area, so if you’re on your own, your best bet is a tour bus. Perched high on a hill is El Panecillo, where a massive statue of the Virgin overlooks Quito. When it’s open, you can pay $2 to actually climb to the stop of the statue. The views are fantastic, and there are little vendor booths where you can get your souvenirs, enjoy a meal, or warm up with a cup of hot canelazo.
Although cloudy weather kept us from trying this tram, it was recommended to us by several people. For $7.50, the teleferico takes you on a 110-minute ride to a nice look-out above the city. You do gain over 1000 meters in elevation, so this may not be the best thing to do if you’re sensitive to the altitude.
Quito has much more to offer, including museums and other historical, cultural, and nature sites. For a quick visit, these are our top recommendations to start with. What are your best things to do in Quito? Please include any recommendations of your own!
For more posts about Ecuador, you can find them all here.