If you only have a short time to spend exploring Quito, then 3 days in Quito will be plenty. Of course, if you have a little less time, you can skip a place or two, but use this Quito itinerary to find out how to make the most of your time here.
When I was on my way to Quito, I had no idea what to expect. It was the capital of Ecuador - that's all I knew. I ended up getting a job teaching English for a government-run program, so I spent a reasonable amount of time in Quito, exploring everything it had to offer. The truth is, I would have lived here for longer if I hadn't faced visa issues in Ecuador.
Quito has a lot to offer, be it architecture, nightlife, a food scene, and several museums, Quito has got them. I mean, there is a reason why it was designated as the first UNESCO World Heritage city in 1978 after all, along with Krakow, Poland. According to UNESCO, Quito's historic center is the best preserved in all of Latin America. The architecture is a mix of Spanish, Italian, Flemish, and indigenous influences.
Many travelers use Quito as a central point for their Andes adventure, or as a stop on the way to the Galapagos Islands. They often spend a night and catch a bus or flight to somewhere else the next day.
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Using the map of Quito, you can explore all the days and stops.
Quito is the second-highest capital city in the world, located in a high mountain valley on the foothills of the Pichincha volcano, in the Andes mountains. On your first day, you will be exploring some of the best of what Ecuador's capital has to offer.
You will see historic churches and buildings, plazas and a botanical garden. The day will end in the lively La Ronda neighbourhood with street music and a tasty dinner.
Begin your day with a free walking tour. A free walking tour is the best way to familiarize yourself with a new city. That's the reason why I recommend doing this first before anything else. Of course, you can go to all the places that a tour covers by yourself. However, a walking tour allows you to discover things from a local's perspective.
The tour I took was from Free Walking Tour Ecuador. It starts at 10.20 am from Community Hostel in Quito.
On this tour, a local guide will take you around Quito's beautiful and historic colonial centre. The guide will tell you all about the history of the city, and what makes it unique. The guides usually speak fluent English, so feel free to ask them anything, or you might choose to practice your Spanish with them as I did.
During the walking tour, you will see the following:
Make sure to bring along some cash to tip the guide! While the tours are free, the guides do work for tips.
If you love getting to know the local flora and fauna, then Quito's Botanical Garden is a must. It has a massive collection of South American plants, orchid greenhouses, and bonsai trees. And, it's small enough to explore at a leisurely pace in 2–3 hrs.
Tickets to the botanical garden are $3.50 for adults and $2 for children.
The Basílica del Voto Nacional is the largest neo-Gothic basilica in the Americas. It's probably the most famous church in Ecuador. So if you are in Quito, don't miss a chance to visit it!
And, for a $2 entrance fee, you can climb to the top of the tower for breathtaking views over the Old Town.
Although you would have already seen a bit of La Ronda during the walking tour, you must see it again at night. At night, it comes to life with live music and street entertainment. There are many bars and restaurants sprinkled all around, from budget options to fine dining.
It also has old colonial-style houses, floral balconies, lantern-lit streets, and colourful banners everywhere. And on top of that, they don't allow motorized vehicles on the road. La Ronda is a refreshing sight to see, especially after a long day of sightseeing.
On the second day of your trip, I recommend you visit the Middle of the World City, a beautiful museum, and an artisanal market.
You will be taking the public bus in Ecuador and learning about what makes Quito so interesting.
Finish off the day with some relaxation and fun in the vibrant Plaza Foch area.
Did you know that Ecuador means equator in English? The equatorial line passes through Quito and is where a monument and museum is available for you to explore and set foot in both hemispheres at once.
So a trip to Quito is not complete without visiting the Middle of the World Monument. The place is like a theme park, boasting a planetarium, a miniature model of Quito, handcraft stores, and cafes and restaurants serving local food.
At Mitad del Mundo, you can jump from one hemisphere to another, check whether you have lost a kilo or two (as incredible as it may sound), and get a cleansing ritual from Shaman Taita Carlos.
Inside the Intiñan Museum, you can perform some fun experiments to witness the magnetic forces of the equator, and learn more about Ecuadorian history.
The Middle of the World City is open every day year-round, from 9 am to 6 pm. Entrance to this attraction costs $5 for adults and $2.50 for children ages 5 to 12, seniors and people with disabilities. Admission to the Intiñan Museum is $4 for adults.
It takes only 30 minutes to reach here from the historical centre of Quito. The easier and faster way to get here though is by taking a taxi from downtown, but it will end up costing you $20–25 one way.
The cheaper way is to take a MetroBus (South to North direction) towards La Ofelia station. It only costs USD 0.25. Once you arrive at La Ofelia, buy a ticket for the next bus to Mitad del Mundo. The buses typically have a yellow sign and can take an hour or so to get to your destination.
If museums are your thing, then you'll love Museo del Banco Central. It has a fantastic ceramic collection dating back thousands of years. It houses an incredible selection of pre-Columbian ceramics and gold artefacts, as well as colonial, republican, and contemporary art.
No matter which country I travel to, I make it a point to visit the local markets. They give you an idea of all the different products that a country has to offer, and you can always buy some cheap souvenirs.
When in Quito, I recommend you do not miss Mercado Artesanal La Mariscal. It's pretty close to several hotels and Parque El Ejido.
At the market, you can wander around and stock up on inexpensive souvenirs for family and friends. You can get anything from chocolate and alcohol to alpaca wool blankets and local striped pants, fuzzy lama toys, and jewellery.
Don't worry about not speaking Spanish; you can get by with just gestures. And since Ecuador's official currency is the US Dollar, bargaining won't be an issue.
After exploring for the whole day, your last stop should be Plaza Foch. It's the main square of Mariscal Sucre. Plaza Foch is very close to many hostels and hotels, and a must-see in Quito to get to know the newer parts of the city (New Town).
There are several excellent restaurants here serving various types of cuisines. It has also got a vibrant bar and club scene. So have a nice dinner and drink here!
Afterwards, if you still have some energy, visit one of the clubs in the area to dance the night away.
On your last day in Quito, I recommend you continue your journey a little farther from the town. Visiting a crater lake called Quilotoa is a great way to spend your day.
It will involve taking a public bus again. Alternatively, you can travel here by taxi. Be warned though; taxis cost a lot more! Regardless of which travel method you choose, Quilotoa is one of the most beautiful places in Ecuador - so it is worth it!
To reach the lake, you will need to take part in a moderate hike for an hour or more. So make sure you are wearing hiking boots and travelling with water and snacks.
Lake Quilotoa is one of three crater lakes in Ecuador and is only 2.5 hours from Quito. Visiting this lake will be an experience altogether different from the city.
Over 800 feet deep, it's a gorgeous green lake that takes you to an entirely different world. The crater's elevation at over 13000 feet provides stunning panoramas of the area. You can take some beautiful photos up here!
Around the lake, you will see furry alpacas, local men clad in native ponchos, and local women with Ecuadorean coral beads. You will hear them speaking not in Spanish, but a local dialect of the Quechuan language.
The hike down to the lake is of a moderate level. It is a little slippery when you go down, but manageable. When going up, you can rent a horse or hike yourself.
There are frequent buses from Quitumbe terminal in Quito to Latacunga, and then from Latacunga to Quilotoa Lake. It takes around 2.5 hours.
The best time to go is early in the morning. Try to make it to Quitumbe terminal for 7 am so that you can be at the lake by 10–11 am.
When coming back, you can take a taxi from Quilotoa to Zumbahua, then a bus to Latacunga for $2, and another one from there to Quito for $2. There are buses from Latacunga to Quito only until 7.30 pm. Buses from Quilotoa to Latacunga leave every 30 minutes, until 4.30 pm.
Three days in Quito are plenty to explore the city and its surroundings. Many of the sites and attractions mentioned above are tourist favourites. So they might be a little crowded if you come during the peak travel season.
That being said, this Quito Ecuador itinerary will hopefully have provided you with some guidance and travel tips if you are planning to visit Quito. Have a great time!
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