The city of Quito has plenty of attractions to keep most travelers busy for a day or two, but the area surrounding Quito also has much to offer. There are a good number of rewarding day trips from Quito that should be on your radar. We’re talking volcano national parks, hot-springs, cloud forest, day treks, indigenous markets and a spectacular crater lake.
All of the destinations that we recommend are within a few hours drive from the city, and suit all ages, travel interests & budgets. Day trips from Quito are easy to organise either as an organised tour, or traveling under your own steam.
So, keep reading for everything you need to know about the best day trips from Quito. Which destinations make the cut on Happy Gringo’s recommended list?
Let’s get straight into it. In no particular order, here are our top six recommendations for how to spend a day outside of Quito.
Quito to Otavalo is the easiest day trip in the list. Otavalo town is just two hours north of Quito, with regular public buses running throughout the day. Otavalo is set amongst impressive volcanoes and Andean lakes, and is one of the most popular day tours from the capital.
Otavalo’s key draw is the famous handicrafts market run by colorfully dressed local indigenous people. The original market dates back to pre-Inca times, and under Spanish colonial rule the locals were forced to work in textile factories under poor conditions. The one upside is that the valuable skills that were learned back then have made Otavalo’s weaving famous today. This created a success story that has put the town on the map for decades. With bargains aplenty this day trip is perhaps best left for the end of your vacation, when any leftover space in your suitcase can be filled with souvenirs and presents.
Tours typically allow plenty of free time for browsing and shopping at the handicrafts market, which spans for block upon block on Saturdays. The handicrafts market also operates every other day of the week, but is smaller in size. Other visits vary depending on your interests, but can include: local weaving and musical instrument workshops, sacred Pechuge Waterfall, Cuicocha Crater Lake, Cotocachi leather town, or the Parque Condor raptor rescue center.
Longer 3 day Otavalo mini-adventures explore more of the region. This includes the scenic and historic train ride to the town of Salinas where Ecuador’s Afro-Ecuadorian culture is alive and well. You can also visit to nearby natural hot springs, as well as stay overnight in style at historic Hacienda Cusin.
Although just a short 2 hour drive northwest of Quito, a day trip from Quito to Mindo is akin to a journey into a whole different world. There are a small number of daily buses running from Quito to Mindo each day, or take an organised tour for a hassle-free trip. Mindo is the perfect escape for nature lovers to unwind in the lush cloud forest.
Organised tours take in the natural beauty of the nearby reserves, with hikes to hidden waterfalls and swimming-holes, as well as visits to see a multitude of hummingbirds, orchids and butterflies.
Mindo also has some great activities for adrenalin junkies. Why not try river tubing, or fly through the trees on the very best canopy ziplines in the country for a different perspective of the forest.
Finally, who won’t love a visit to the town’s home-made chocolatier? You’ll be walked through the whole process from bean to bar, and of course there is chocolate tasting at the end. All chocolate flavorings are grown organically in their own garden, with ingredients to please any palate. From chili flavor to ginger, bars are available to take home for friends and family.
On a longer 3 day Mindo trip enjoy more time for the wealth of activities available, and to truly disconnect from city life.
To the south, down the Avenue of the Volcanoes, another memorable day trip from Quito awaits. Cotopaxi National Park is a walk on the wild side of Ecuador!
Understandably most tourists visit to catch a glimpse of the spectacular Cotopaxi Volcano. This is one of the highest active volcanoes on the planet, towering majestically over the Andean plains with it’s immense glacier. On clear days the views are truly sublime.
Covering an area of over 300 sq km, the park is also a great introduction to the Andean Grassland Plains (Paramo) habitat. This is home to a variety of wild animals including deer, llamas, wild horses, Andean fox, Condors and Puma.
Cotopaxi is impossible to visit on public transport, so you’ll need to take an guided tour for this one. Day trips from Quito to Cotopaxi take hikers up to the volcano refuge and glacier, as well as visiting pretty Lake Limpiopungo. For a different perspective Cotopaxi biking day trips are popular for downhill mountain biking fun. Feeling more adventurous? How about a 2-day climb to Cotopaxi’s summit with a mountain guide?
Also to the south, the breathtaking Quilotoa Crater Lake can be visited on a long but rewarding day trip from Quito. Tours depart early and return well into the evening, but the long day on the road is well worth it. Tourists can also visit Quilotoa on public transport. A daily bus operates from Latacunga town, but the logistics can be quite complicated unless you speak good Spanish.
The emerald green crater lake is the main highlight, but most visitors also enjoy the beautiful, panoramic scenery of rolling peaks and valleys, and deep canyons that appear after every bend. You’ll also pass through quintessential indigenous villages along the way, where locals tend to their crops on patchwork terraced hills, and local artists hold court in small workshops. On certain weekdays you might also catch a colorful local market in full swing.
A day trip to Quilotoa includes unbeatable crater lake views, free time to trek into the crater, a visit to an artisan workshop time at a local market (depending on day of the week). You’ll also be able to make more photo stops than your trigger finger can imagine.
Multiple day combo tours are also excellent options to consider. The complete Quilotoa Loop gives a more in depth exploration of the spectacular scenery and small villages from this region. To get more off of the beaten path check out the Quilotoa Trekking Tour with a local guide. Or mix it up on the Avenue of the Volcanoes Tour combining both Cotopaxi and Quilotoa into an unforgettable 3 day trip.
One of Quito’s most memorable landmarks is Pichincha Volcano, whose green slopes form such a dramatic backdrop to the city. Just imagine how amazing the views are from up on the peak of the volcano!
Treking up Guagua Pichincha makes for an active day trip from Quito. Hikers need to be acclimatised to high altitude, and have a good level of physcial fitness to attempt this climb. If it all sounds like too much hard work then fear not, there’s also an easier way to do it.
Start out early for the best views, and head up Quito’s teleferico cable car. For non-trekers this is as far as you go – you can appreciate the views from here, and then head back down. For the more adventurous, the trek to Guagua Pichincha’s 4,784m summit starts here. Follow the path behind the cable car station, and keep walking to the highest sandy/rocky peak. Most days there are several groups of hikers, so you can follow them or ask the way if in doubt.
This day trek can be done by yourselves, or as a guided day trip if you lack experience or confidence in the mountains. Quito’s typical weather is sunny mornings, followed by clouds and rain in the afternoon, so try to start the trek early (7 or 8am). Expect a total roundtrip trek of around 4 hours, and go prepared with energy food, and layers of clothing for the cold and rapidly changing weather on the summit. Above all remember that a trek in the moutains should never be taken lightly.
On a clear day trekkers are rewarded with a vast panoramic view of Quito City below, as well as nearby Andean peaks such as Cotopaxi and Cayambe volcanoes.
Last but not least we have a more relaxing day trip from Quito – a rewarding soak at Papallacta hot springs. The thermal waters are heated naturally by the surrounding volcanoes, with different pools of varying temperatures to try out. Bathing at Papallacta provides many natural health benefits, and there’s also an excellent on-site spa for more complete relaxation.
A day trip from Quito to Papallacta of course allows plenty of time at the hot springs, and you can also take a pretty riverside trek into the Cayambe-Coca Reserve to enjoy bird watching and nature. There are even occasional sightings of Andean Bears who roam these parts, and on clear days you can also catch a glimpse of the spectacular snow-capped peak of Antisana Volcano.
Papallacta can also be reached on public transport with a change of bus along the way. The hot springs also easily combine into a 2 day trip Papallacta & Antisana to explore nearby Antisana National Park. Antisana is the best place in Ecuador to spot Andean Condors, as well as many other bird species such as ducks, waders and raptors.
In conclusion, there are some amazing day trips from Quito for guaranteed fun and adventure. So why not add a bit of spice to your trip … leave the city behind for a day & head out to explore!