15 Best Things to Do in Quito, Ecuador

Quito, Ecuador, Santo Domingo Plaza And Church
John Coletti / Getty Images

Quito is a South American city nearly the size of Paris, dangling from the Ecuadorian Andean mountains at a staggering 9,350 feet above the sea. It was the first city to be declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site, rests on the equator, and is included in the Ring of Fire. Plus, it’s steeped in art and culture, boasting more than 60 museums and two dozen historical churches. And one thing is for sure, you definitely don’t want to bypass Quito on your way to the Galapagos Islands.

Instead, dedicate a few days to this iconic city. You just might find yourself standing on the equator, riding a gondola to a volcano, climbing an ancient church, riding a trolley, and so much more.

01 of 15

Stand on the Equator at La Mitadad del Mundo

La Mitad del Mundo (Equator) marker
John Elk III / Getty Images
Address
Av. Manuel Córdova Galarza SN, Quito, Ecuador
Phone +593 2-239-4803

Quito is an equatorial city famous for its interpretation of the center of the earth. The Mitatad del Mundo hovers on the outskirts of the city and is a science center, historical monument, and geographical pride-sake bundled into one. It’s where you’ll have the unique opportunity to set your compass to 00°00’00. Or, to hold hands with someone in another hemisphere. You can even spend hours in the park doing scientific experiments, gazing at the planetarium, and viewing pre-Columbian art museums. Plus, you can eat, drink, and shop without ever leaving. And don’t forget to snag that coveted passport stamp, proving you stood on the equator.

02 of 15

Ride the TeleferiQo Up the Pichincha Volcano

View of Quito from a swing on Pichincha Volcano
Thomas Janisch / Getty Images
Address
Fulgencio Araujo, y, Quito 170527, Ecuador
Phone +593 2-222-2996

The capital of Ecuador is one of many major cities located along the Ring of Fire, aptly mixing volcano life and downtown chaos into a dazzling juxtaposition. In Quito, the epicenter of adventure begins at the TeleferiQo, a glass gondola that takes you from downtown Quito to the wilds of the Andean mountains in just 10 minutes. Once on top of the active, but currently sleeping volcano, you can embark on a full-fledged five-hour high-altitude trek to the Ruca, one of three peaks on the volcano. Or, you can simply soak up the epic views of one of the world’s highest metropolitan areas.

03 of 15

Play in the Park at Parque Metropolitano del Sur

Address
MF5H+9HG, Quito, Ecuador
Phone +593 2-252-9231

If you’re one for green spaces, Quito is sure to please. The city has more than a dozen designated parks offering miles after mile of trails and forests big enough to get lost in.

The biggest is Parque Metropolitano del Sur, located on the south side of the city and harboring an astounding 1,400 acres of mountaintop splendor. It includes meandering meadows and eucalyptus groves brimming with native orchids and wildflowers plus 80-plus species of birds. Laced into that are several wooden playgrounds, rugged workout stations, and 7 miles of rugged trails.

Other Quito parks worth exploring include Parque Metropolitano Guangüiltagua, La Carolina Park, and La Alameda Park.

04 of 15

Climb the Stairs of Basilica del Voto Nacional

Basilica del Voto Nacional and the cityscape of Quito
Thomas Janisch / Getty Images
Address
Quito 170130, Ecuador
Phone +593 2-228-9428

Start exploring Quito’s UNESCO heritage with the highlight of the skyline, Basilica del Voto Nacional. It’s the largest neo-Gothic church in South America, protruding 377 feet into the air from the historic center. The eternally incomplete architectural masterpiece is best admired from the inside, where you’ll find 24 distinct chapels, intricate stain glasswork, and unique gargoyles inspired by Ecuadorian animals. And if you’re not afraid of heights, it’s certainly worth the $2 to ascend the towers and witness Quito from the rooftop.

But don’t stop there. There are at least two dozen historic churches and convents in the ancient city. A few more worth seeing include Quito’s own take on the Sistine Chapel at  La Compañia de Jesús, and the San Francisco Convent and Monastery, the oldest monastery in South America.

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05 of 15

Meet the Angel Overlooking Quito at La Virgen del Panecillo

La Virgin del Panecillo Virgin Mary Statue
Daniel A. Leifheit / Getty Images
Address
Quito 170111, Ecuador
Phone +593 2-317-1985

The Virgen of Panecillo, or Bread Virgin, is a massive winged homage to Mary, mother of Jesus, that showers Quito with her blessing. Named for the loaf-like hill she occupies and standing at an astounding 135 feet—taller than Rio’s Christ the Redeemer—the Virgin of Pancillo is the world’s largest aluminum statue and the largest statue of Mary.

It’s an iconic experience to climb the hill and gawk at her patchwork aluminum construction. While you’re there, be sure to step into the towers that line the inside of the statue. That’s where you’ll gather fascinating pieces of her 125-year story of inception, construction, and modern-day relevance.

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Gander at the La Floresta's Street Art

If art’s your thing, you can’t skip through Quito without experiencing the 21st-century influence on the city. Like many other urban centers around the globe, Quito has a special section cloaked in street art. But, in contrast to the Bohemian vibe of La Ronda, La Floresta has more of a chic, upscale ambiance emphasizing conceptual rather than traditional art. And if you ask a local, you might hear them call this ‘the area of the snobby artists.’ It’s where you’ll find walls, entire buildings, and even light poles etched in the signature art of graffiti murals. But perhaps it’s the brightly painted historic mansions and tree-lined streets wrapping around avant-garde art studios that really give this street its edge.

07 of 15

Stumble Through the Plaza de Independencia

Placa (square) de la Independencia, the Cathedral
Maremagnum / Getty Images

Plaza de Independencia is the pocket of Quito responsible for gaining this Inca city the UNESCO stamp of approval. The agency calls it “the best-preserved, least altered historic center in Latin America.”

It’s best to save at least half a day to explore Independence Plaza, starting with a visit to the Metropolitan Cathedral followed by some shopping at Palacio Arzobispal. If you’re there on Monday, be sure to pause for the 11 a.m. changing of the guards at the presidential palace, Palacio de Carondelet. Afterward, take a tour of the palace and meet the current president, Guillermo Lasso.

08 of 15

Go Bohemian on Calle La Ronda

Calle La Ronda, typical colonial street in historic district, Quito
Uwe-Bergwitz / Getty Images

Calle La Ronda offers a must-see insight into modern-day Quito, where the ancient city collides with an urban metropolis. Originally constructed by the Inca as a gateway between Quito and Cusco, a colonial neighborhood was gradually built up and around it.

Over the years, it inadvertently became a pole star for artisans, musicians, priests, poets, and travelers. And today, it retains its identity as the Bohemian center of Quito. It’s a spot where you can wander down cobblestone streets, peruse quaint galleries, and peek at artisans deep in their craft. Yet, it is also where you’ll find an array of micropubs, fine-dining establishments, and charming little chapels.

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09 of 15

Shop for Colorful Andean Textiles

A Collection of Ecuadorian Textiles
Gabriel Perez / Getty Images
Address
Jorge Washington 611, Quito 170143, Ecuador
Phone +593 2-250-8189

When it comes to souvenir shopping in Quito, there’s no better place to beeline than towards the artisanal markets. This is where you’ll find vibrant alpaca wool ponchos, woven tapestries, intricate pottery, Andean paintings, Panama hats, beautiful beadwork, and so much more. Start at the main artisanal market, Mercado Artesanal La Mariscal, where you’ll undoubtedly find everything you’re looking for all days of the week.

But, don’t miss the smaller, niche markets to find unique or specialty items. For those, take some time to peruse the pop-up stalls in Parque El Ejido every weekend. And the Tianguez street market in Old Town—known for its fair trade product.

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Take a Sunday Bike Ride on Quito Ciclopaseo

To experience an entirely different perspective of the Andean city, immerse in a little something called the Ciclopaseo. It’s a rather inspiring effort to keep Quiteños active; a tradition of closing the main north and southbound streets from 8 a.m. to 2 p.m. every Sunday. The result is a casual, car-free biking route passing 17 miles through the normally congested city center. It’s the perfect way to mingle with the locals and experience the distinct culture of Quito. Just grab a bike, your skates, or even a stroller and jump into this Sunday ritual nearly 20 years in the making.

11 of 15

Eat Eclectic Ecuadorian Street Food

South america food
Leonardo Suguimoto / Getty Images

Quito has some very unique foods to try, and the best way to get an authentic version is on the street. Simply wait for the weekends and spill out into the open-air markets, just like the locals do.

If it’s tripa mishki (grilled cow intestines) or gautita (cow stomach and peanut soup) you’re after, head to Parque Genaro Larrea or Parque José Navarro. For Ecuadorian fish and chips, Mercado Santa Clara is the spot. For everything else, every day around the clock, Mercado Central has all the classics like empanadas, llapingachos (potato pancakes), chicarrón (fried pork), and salchipapas (French fries with hot dogs), and so much more.

12 of 15

Wander Through the Botanical Garden of Quito

Tri-colored Brugmansia Hanging Down
LisaEPerkins / Getty Images
Address
PASAJE # 34, INTERIOR PARQUE, Rumipamba E6-264 Y, Quito 170135, Ecuador
Phone +593 2-333-2516

Some call it the Eden of Quito, and perhaps it’s a worthy testament to the 200,000 square feet dedicated to four ecosystems and 1,200 species of orchids. It’s the perfect place to spend a rainy day and gawk at the majestic world of plants. The Botanical Garden of Quito is located within Parque La Carolina and has special exhibits dedicated to the Ecuadorian roses and regional medicinal plants. Depending on how much you love greenery, you could spend an hour or half a day here.

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13 of 15

Ride the Historic Quito Trolley

Quito, Ecuador
John Coletti / Getty Images

An unforgettable way to see all of the major sites in the city is via the 1914 Quito City Trolley Tour. In a nod to city transport a hundred years ago, guests are picked up on the front stoop of their hotel and boarded onto a charming, red trolley. The guided tour is offered in English and shuttles passengers all around the city in about four hours. It’s a truly iconic way to visit and photograph the most iconic sites, even if you only have 24 hours in the city.

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Embrace Art & Culture at Quito's Museums

If you’re one for museums, Quito is a paradise for art and culture lovers. Boasting more than 60 museums, you could literally spend weeks ducking in and out of galleries. You’ll find everything from quaint, hole-in-wall collections to sprawling, world-class establishments. But, start with one of Quito’s beloved, La Capilla Del Hombre. It’s a museum dedicated to architecture, art, and history inspired by local, contemporary artist Oswaldo Guayasamín.

Other must-see museums include the National Museum of Ecuador, the Museum of the City, the Astronomical Observatory of Quito, and the Numismatic Museum of the Central Bank of Ecuador.

15 of 15

Cheer at the Atahualpa Olympic Stadium

Independiente Del Valle v Universidad Catolica - Copa CONMEBOL Sudamericana 2019
Agencia Press South / Getty Images
Address
Avenida Naciones Unidas, Quito 170135, Ecuador
Phone +593 2-256-1024

Soccer is a major pride point of the Ecuadorian culture, and there’s no better way to immerse in it than with a game at the historic Atahualpa Olympic Stadium. It was opened in 1951 and has served a key role in city and national games, including FIFA World Club qualifying matches. Be sure to wear the Ecuadorian colors of yellow, red, and blue—and plan to pay between $30 and $65 per ticket. Expect lots of noise, a rowdy crowd, flowing beer, and oodles of Ecuadorian street food.

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15 Best Things to Do in Quito, Ecuador