No doubt about it, Quito Ecuador is one of the top up and coming travel destinations in South America. Quito’s list of accolade’s is impressive and growing. Not content with scooping top Latin American city prize at the World Travel Awards, it’s also been lauded by Lonely Planet as a Top 10 city to visit, and more recently TIME magazine also named Quito in their list of “world’s greatest places 2021”. Add to that the city’s historic UNESCO world heritage recognition, and it’s no surprise that tourist numbers are on the up. While many travelers use Quito as a quick base to visit Galapagos, we argue that the city in it’s own right is fully deserving of your time.
So, what is it about Quito that so catches the eye? Keep reading to find out. We showcase our top 20 unique and fun things to do in Quito in a day.
… but before we get any further, allow me to introduce myself … I’m John, one of the owners of Happy Gringo Travel. Quito has been my home for almost 2 decades now. I can honestly say I love Quito every bit as much as my home town (London, UK). My advice to visitors passing through is to take your time. Quito is a city with tourist highlights, as well as hidden nooks to explore. Aim to spend a few days here to truly uncover the best secrets of this vibrant and diverse city.
So, in no particular order, let’s kick off …
Quito boasts the best preserved colonial center in all of Latin America, hence it’s prestigious UNESCO World Heritage recognition. Old town Quito is the site of the original Spanish settlement founded in 1534. Three centuries of colonial rule left behind architectural riches that other cities only dream of, and visitors can enjoy today.
The best way to explore old town Quito is to stroll between the 3 main plazas, taking in the local sights and sounds along the way.
Plaza Grande is the perfect spot for people watching, and home to the Government Palace (Palacio de Carandelet, free guided tours 09:00-17:00, closed Mondays) and Cathedral (09:30-17:00 mon to fri, $3 regular entry, $6 to the domes and museum). On the north side of the plaza a small alley leads into the Arch Bishops Palace, where restaurants serve traditional fare on balconies overlooking a pretty patio. On the south west corner of the plaza, the Centro Cultural Metropolitano often has interesting art and cultural exhibits with free entry.
Just a few blocks away, San Francisco Plaza is dominated by the huge church and convent of the same name (06:00-19:30 most days, free entry to church, small fee for museum). Even if religious buildings are not generally your thing, San Francisco is well worth a visit. Legend says that the church’s architect, Cantuña, made a pact with the devil to finish the construction on time, and ended up having to trick the devil to save his own soul. Not only is San Francisco Quito’s first church, but also the country’s very first brewery. Fray Jodoco Rique introduced wheat and barley to Ecuador, and brewed his own beer deep underneath the church. Today, the bar is open, so why not enjoy craft beer in one of Quito’s most unique locations?
Santo Domingo Plaza is located close to La Ronda, a street that has been renovated in typical Quito style. Spanish colonial houses line each side of the narrow cobbled alleyway, with pretty geranium flowers hanging from picturesque balconies. Many of the colorful buildings today house traditional workshops, from woodwork to metallurgy, keeping tradition alive and sharing Quito´s heritage with tourists.
Another interesing city street to wander is Garcia Moreno – street of the 7 crosses. Originally a sacred indigenous path, the Spanish conquistadores imposed their rule by building many of their finest churches here. Outside each church is a large concrete cross, 7 in all, from San Lazaro Hospital to Santa Barbara Church.
If you only venture inside one Quito church, it should be La Compañía de Jesus (09:30-18:30 most days, $5 entry). Built by the Jesuits, the internal carvings and delicate gold leaf work make it the most ornate church in the city.
For a more off the beaten path experience, head to San Marcos community. Away from the hustle and bustle, San Marcos is a breath of fresh air. Workshops and antique emporiums are often open to browse, or just enjoy the ambience of this traditional barrio. Illya Experience and Casa San Marcos hotels have charming cafés to take a break after an active day of exploration.
For those looking to learn about the history and customs of the city as they explore, ½ day Quito guided tours are very popular. Our experienced guides have many tales to tell, and take great pride in showcasing their city to visitors.
The Capilla del Hombre (Chapel of Man, 09:30-13:00 mon to sat, $10 entry) is a unique art experience. Displays and paintings tell the story of struggle and opression of Latin American indians through the art of famous Ecuadorian indigenous artista, Oswaldo Guayasamin. His highly evocative and emotional paintings are eye opening and thought provoking in equal measure. It’s fair to say that his artistic style is rather unique too.
A guided tour begins in the artist’s former residence, which houses his important collection of pre-colombian pottery and art works. His own works were completed in the impressive studio, where videos of the passionate Guayasamin in full flow bring the place to life. Visitors can also pay their respects at his peaceful shrine under a pine tree in the garden.
Guayasamin commissioned the seperate Chapel of Man gallery to showcase his larger works, and serve as a place of reflection for humanity. Be sure to visit with a guide, as the story behind each painting is as important as the art itself. Prepare for an emotionally moving experience.
During his lifetime Guayasamin met with many famous political and historical figures, including Fidel Castro, Pablo Neruda, Gabriel Garcia Marquez and Salvador Allende. There are photos in the gallery to tell each story of what was a truly fascinating life.
Our next top thing to do in Quito is a visit to La Floresta district. The laid back La Floresta street scene is a completely different vibe to the rest of the city.
Painted murals and graffiti add a splash of color to the neighborhood, which is famous for poets, artists and creative types. Hipster cafes and restaurants serve as popular meeting spots.
La Floresta is also home to Ocho y Medio, a cultural cinema showing cult movies from Ecuador and around the world. Not only is this a place to reflect on the moving image, they also house a popular café / bar with wonderful bohemian ambience – a great spot to mix and make new friends.
If you happen to be in Quito on a Friday, La Floresta also has a small scale organic farmers market (from 08:00). The stalls are chock-full of fruit and veg, including some you may never have seen before, but get there early for the best selection. Of course, all wares are organic & fresh, and income goes direct to the grower.
It’s perfectly easy to potter around La Floresta by yourself, or for a novel experience why not try a ½ day Quito bike tour? Tours begin at Ocho y Medio cinema and showcase some of the best street art in La Floresta, before exploring other Quito districts.
The city’s enviable natural setting, stretched out in a green valley between towering Andean mountains, means visitors are never far away from a photo-worthy panorama. Where to start with Quito’s best views? Here are some of our favorites that make the cut.
The Panecillo is the small hill close to Old Town Quito, from where the Virgen Mary statue overlooks the city. The name “panecillo” comes from the hill’s resemblance to a little bread roll. We recommend taking a taxi to the top, as the walking route is not always safe. Choose a clear day or night for impressive views, especially over the church spires of the colonial old town. There’s also a good restaurant called Pims for fine evening dining – just remember to reserve a table by the window.
For a panoramic view of the city with dramatic Pichincha Volcano backdrop, there’s no better place than Itchimbia Park. The park itself is quite small, but the views are truly outstanding. In particular notice how long and thin Quito is, stretched out along the central valley of the Andes. Itchimbia is also a top spot to enjoy Quito’s sunset, and views of the city lights at night. Head to Café Mosaico (outside of the park) for the best window seat to enjoy the show, together with a hot wine or canelazo and tasty empanadas.
For the scariest view of Quito, climb the Basilica neo-gothic Church, on the edge of the historic center. Buy a ticket ($2, 09:00-17:00) in the gift shop and climb the tower for a birds-eye view of the city. The ascent begins with a fleet of stairs up to a loft overlooking the sanctuary on the inside, and a stained-glass window looking outward. Continue up to the clock tower, and across the roof to the northern spire. The final climb is not for the faint hearted. One has to navigate a series of ladders on the outside of the cathedral, a hurdle that is rewarded with a stunning view of the historic center and beyond. There’s even an added bonus for those that make the top - look out for the unusual gargoyles. Instead of typical demonic figures, the gargoyles of Quito’s Basilica take the form of animals found within the country, including creatures from Galapagos and the Amazon rainforest.
Last but not least, one cannot talk about Quito’s view without mentioning the Teleferico ($8.50, 09:30-17:30 mon to fri, 08:30-18:15 weekends). Small cable cars whisk visitors high up the slopes of Pichincha Volcano to an altitude over 4,100m above sea level. On clear days the panoramic views stretch right across the city, surrounded by snow capped peaks. We recommend heading up the Teleferico in the morning for clearer skies, and dress appropriately for the cold air up there. From the top, follow the path to a specially built adult swing for the best photo opportunity up on the heights.
While we’re at the top of the Teleferico cable car admiring the views, let’s dive straight into our next Quito activity. Get your treking shoes on to follow a hiking trail all the way to the top of active Rucu Pichincha Volcano.
It’s tough going at high altitude, but the views along the way more than make up for it. The route up to the 4,696m peak takes aprox 2-3 hours, including the tough scree scramble at the end.
Go prepared for possible extreme weather, and take plenty of food and water to maintain energy levels. Also take note of the time of the last operating cable car back, so as not to miss the ride back down.
Today Pichincha Volcano is a sleeping giant, but back in 1999 the scene was rather different. A significant eruption sent a huge plume of 2 million tons of volcanic ash and steam high into the skies, reaching a height of 12km over the city. Much of the ash fell onto urban areas of Quito, although fortunately there was no lava flow or serious damage.
It’s also possible to climb up to Pichincha’s highest peak – Guagua Pichincha at 4,784m. It’s strongly recommended to take an experienced guide along as this is a longer day tour. The volcano refuge is accessed from Lloa town, outside of Quito.
Quito also has wildlife lovers covered. There are great options to immerse oneself in nature, both in and outside the city.
For a quick escape, head no further than Quito’s Botanical Garden (10:00-15:00 special Covid hours, $3 entry). Located centrally in La Carolina park, the Botanical Garden is a oasis of calm. A guided trail leads through various different habitat zones of native trees and plants. The orchid house is a particular highlight, with different colorful species in bloom depending on the season. There’s even a green house dedicated to carnivorous fly-catcher plants. Bonsai enthusiasts - cross the bridge to enjoy the peaceful Japanese Garden and impressive bonsai exhibit. The trails also attract a wide diversity of birdlife, from herons to hummingbirds, and even birds of prey.
With a whole day on your hands, why not head out of town into the cloud forest. The Choco highlands are a paradise for birders and botanists. What’s more this gobally recognised biodiversity hotspot is right on Quito’s door step. It’s easy to tick off 50+ different bird species in a single day, especially with an eagle-eyed naturalist guide. Spectacular hummingbirds flit from feeder to feeder, while Mountain Toucans and Quetzals hide in the trees. Other species are colorful and exotic too, such as Tanagers, Flycatchers, Manakins, Woodpeckers, Barbets, Warblers and the famous Andean Cock of the rock. The forest is also packed with fascinating plant species to discover, especially bromelias and orchids. The easiest ways to visit the cloud forest in a day include a visit to Bellavista Lodge, a Mindo day tour, or a private birding day tour to Yanacocha or Tandayapa Reserves.
Antisana Reserve is another worthwhile day trip from Quito for nature lovers. Here the high altitude Paramo habitat is very different. Sweeping Andean grasslands and bogs combine photogenically with ancient lava flows. There’s also the chance to see impressive snow-capped Antisana Volcano (5,753m) on a clear day. The big highlight of the day though is Andean condor-spotting. Today there are only 100 of these endangered birds left in Ecuador, and Antisana is the very best place to spot them. Soon after entering the park there is a nesting site on the cliffs – bring binolculars for a closer view. It’s also quite common to spot condors gliding the thermals overhead in other parts of the reserve. Other wildlife to keep an eye out for include deer, rabbits, andean fox, birds of prey, wading birds and even sometimes a rare sighting of the Andean Bear.
The Middle of the World (Mitad del Mundo) is one of Ecuador’s most popular and unmissable tourist attractions. Nowhere else on the planet is it easier to visit the Equator line, or strike a cheesy pose with one foot in each hemisphere. Even Ecuador’s name was born of it’s location at latitude zero.
Yes, a visit to Mitad del Mundo is undeniably touristy, but it’s also educational and heaps of fun. Not only will you effortlessly lose weight at Mitad del Mundo, you’ll also discover if water really does flow in different directions in the north and south hemispheres.
The Equator line is located just 26 km (16 miles) north of Ecuador’s capital city, Quito. With a little planning it’s easy to get to, and makes for a fun ½ day out and about.
There are two different sites to explore:
Mitad del Mundo (09:00 – 18:00, mon-sun, $5 entry) is home to the impressive 100ft tall Equator monument, plus exhibits, restaurants and gift shops. It’s also the iconic place for those Equator line snaps. At the weekend locals flock here to enjoy folkloric music and dance shows in the central plaza.
Inti Ñan Museum (09:30 – 17:00, mon-sun, $4 entry) is 200m up the road, and is hands down the quirkiest museum in the country. This is the place to put to the test all of those scientific proofs that are only possible at the equator. Discover whether water really does flow counter-clockwise or clockwise in each hemisphere due to the Coriolis effect. Take the egg challenge – try to balance an egg on the head of a nail on the Equator line. Discover why your body weights 1 kilo less at the Equator. There are also heaps of unusual exhibits showcasing different cultures from around Ecuador, including instructions to make your own shrunken head (we said it was quirky!).
Quito, like most cities in the world, has it’s own traditional food. This is one of the best ways to experience the city through the eyes of a local. Here are some of Ecuador’s unique flavors waiting for your taste buds in Quito.
Let’s start with Ecuador’s most unusual dish – guinea pig! Yes, you read that correctly. While guinea pigs may make cute pets back home, in Ecuador they have been on the menu since Inca times. Whilst other Ecuadorian cities are more renowned for roast guinea pig, curious tourists in Quito can order it at Casa Las Geranios in La Ronda, Old Town.
Typical Quito street food includes Empanadas – pastries with cheese, chicken, meat or other fillings. Empanadas de viento (wind pastries) are especially tasty – they inflate so much that most of the filling is in fact air (hence the name), but the fresh cheese and sugar combo make them delicious.
Humitas (corn patties cooked in leaves) wash down well with afternoon coffee and are popular with locals, as are Quimbolitos (a sweeter version of humitas with raisins). Pan de Yuca (tiny yuca flour bread rolls filled with cheese) is also popular, served with fruit flavored yogurt. Most regular cafes in the city serve these tasty snacks to try.
For a more wholesome meal order llapingachos (pronounced yapingacho). These fried potato cakes are filled with cheese, and usually served with salchicha (sausage), fried egg, salad and mote corn. If your stomach is really growling, start with a hearty Locro de papas (potato soup with avocado and cheese). Again, the restaurants along La Ronda street serve these traditional dishes, as do many other Ecuadorian venues across the city.
While at La Ronda, check out Heladeria Dulce Jesus Mio for some unusual ice cream flavors. Hand made varieties include apple & lettuce, sweet rose, plantain, mojito and many more. Dulce Jesus Mio is tucked away on the second floor, in the same building as the honey and spinning top shops.
If you come across street vendors serving ice cream in cones from a plate, and wonder why it isn’t melting, you’ve discovered Espumilla. It’s not actually ice cream, instead made by whipping eggs, fruit and sugar into a creamy meringue.
A few other unusual dishes to seek out include Tripa Mishqui (grilled tripe), Yaguarlocro (soup of lamb entrails, liver and tongue), and Hornado (delicious roast pork, often displayed as a whole roast pig outside of restaurants).
Or, for a different twist on Ecuaodrian food, why not take a Quito cooking class? The head chef at Altamira restaurant first takes tourists to a local market to buy ingredients. For the rest of the morning he is your teacher to cook up various local recipes, to prepare your own tasty lunch.
Like most big cities Quito is a fun place to be for nightlife. Whether partying, drinking or dancing is your thing, Ecuador’s capital is a great spot to meet new people & enjoy yourself.
While Plaza Foch and La Marical district used to be the go-to party scene, new entertainment options are now adding to the city’s diversity.
For drinking and socialising, many expats frequent old favorite Finn McCools Irish pub. Large screen TV’s cover sporting events from back home, and the friendly vibe makes it easy to find new friends.
Quito also has a thriving craft beer scene, where local breweries churn out everything from red & pale ales to dark stout, as well as interesting flavors with a local twist. Bandidos Brewing are at the forefront of the scene, while up and coming bars like La Reserva and Los Santos carry a variety of different local brews on tap.
For a more local drinking experience, La Ronda in the old town comes alive after dark. Most bars and restaurants in this zone serve Canelazo – a mix of local fire water with fruit and cinammon, served piping hot. It usually doesn’t take many canelazos to kick off a fun evening.
No description of Ecuadorian nightlife would be complete without dancing. While gringos head to the thumping beats of Bungalow 6, why not try a more typical Latin American experience? Salsateca Lavoe is THE place in Quito to show off your salsa dance moves, with live music on some nights. Don’t know salsa? No worries, cheap clases are readily available at Quito dance studios, and Lavoe locals are usually more than happy to help tourists practise.
Does Ecuador have good chocolate? Absolutely! In fact, Ecuadorian chocolates have recieved global awards and recognition for fine quality over recent years. Whereas Ecuador’s best cocoa beans used to be exported, today they stay in the country to be transformed into delicious dark bars. Creative local fruits and flavors add a touch of spice, and tourists can even enjoy chocolate tours to see the whole process from bean to bar.
A great option in Quito is Chez Tiff Chocolatier in La Ronda Street. Here they serve an array of chocolate bars, cakes and pies to keep even the most dedicated chocoholic satisfied.
Each and every visitor is warmly welcomed with an explanation about the history of cocoa in Ecuador, and a simple demonstration of the entire chocolate making process. Longer in-depth chocolate workshops can also be booked in advance, demonstrating the chocolate tempering process that they use.
The service in Chez Tiff is also first rate, with many visitors claiming their chocolate to be the best in all Ecuador.
Our next thing to do in Quito is to visit an urban park. Quito is definitely a very green city. Most visitors will be within walking distance of a park at some point during their stay.
To play sports head to La Carolina park. Modern courts and fields cater to tennis, football, Ecua-volley, rugby and track running. There’s also a 3.65km perimeter trail for joggers or cyclists. If you’re by yourself it’s usually easy to join a game of pick-up, especially on weekends.
557-hectare Metropolitan Park (Guanguiltagua) are the lungs of the city of Quito. Mountain bike trails criss-cross Eucalyptus forest, while scenic lookouts and barbeque areas provide family fun. This park is so large it’s easy to escape the crowds and immerse yourself in nature for a relaxing morning or afternoon.
Closer to the historic old town of Quito, take your pick from El Ejido, Alameda or Itchimbia. Families flock to all 3 on weekends, to stroll, fly kites or browse the latest works of local artists (El Ejido).
Last but not least, check out our favorite Quito park – Parque El Guapulo. This idyllic location is as close that Quito gets to Eden. This land used to be the hacienda of a now-disgraced former banker. The well kept paths, gardens and lagoon attract all variety of birdlife. The views over Quito’s valley area are also impressive. Best of all though the park is still a well kept secret!
Local markets offer the perfect opportunity to see real life on your travels. The hustle and bustle, colorful characters, and interesting produce can make for wonderful people watching.
Ecuadorian local markets are awash with color thanks to their fruit and veg. Ecuador’s combination of fertile volcanic soils and coastal tropical climate are perfect for all type of crops to grow, including some rather unusual ones that most tourists will never have seen before. Prices are cheap, so if you spot a new, weird and wonderful fruit, why not buy one to try? Exotic fruits like guanábana, taxo, tree tomato, chirimoya and babaco, for example, all make excellent juice.
Other market stalls sell red meats, poultry, grains, spices, nuts, and even guinea pigs. Herbalists add to the mix, their stands overflowing with greenery, and potions that promise cures for anything from hair loss to impotence.
There are many popular markets across Quito. Our recommendations are Santa Clara and Iña Quito, which are among the easiest and safest to visit.
Ecuadorian football teams may not be as famous as those in Brazil or Argentina, but our supporters and football fanatics are every bit as passionate and vocal in their support. What better place to experience the roar of “GOLLLLLLLLLLLLL” than at a local stadium?
The national team play at Quito’s Atahualpa Stadium. At over 2,800m above sea level, Ecuador are never a push-over for visiting teams. In fact, home victories have powered the “Tricolor” to 3 past world cup tournaments (2002, 2006 & 2014). If you happen to be in town for a world cup qualifying game, try to pick up tickets for an unforgettable experience.
Local teams can also be fun to watch, and Quito certainly has plenty to choose from. Liga de Quito, Aucas, Nacional, Deportivo Quito and Independiente del valle to name just a few. Tickets for weekend games are available at the turnstiles, and rarely sell out. Bootleg shirts are always for sale outside of the stadium, so it’s easy to fit right in.
Guapulo is a neighborhood of Quito that straddles the area between the city and the valleys of Cumbaya and Tumbaco. This up and down district’s cobblestone streets start after Hotel Quito and descend past small restaurants, shops, and cafes to a historic plaza that is the site of the Guapulo church, a towering building dating back to 1596.
Start at the top in Guapulo’s small park. The views from this point were appreciated by Spanish conquistador Francisco de Orellana back in 1541, as he began his daring quest to be the first man to circumnavigate the Amazon River. Eighteen exhausting months later his expedition team emerged successful into the Atlantic Ocean. There is a statue bust of Orellana to commemorate this remarkable achievement.
Strolling down into Guapulo district, one can appreciate the bohemian vibe of the cobbled streets and colorful houses. Oven baked pizza is popular in the evenings, and fresh ceviche attracts expats and locals alike on weekends.
Keep following the street down until you reach Guapulo Church and plaza. Guapulo Church’s Virgin Mary statue even has her very own celebration. Every September after a special mass for the virgin, she is paraded up and down the streets. This is followed by lively and raucous street parties that flow into the early hours.
Ecuadorian coffee is once again making a name for itself on the global stage. Not only can the high quality specialty Ecuador coffee flavors be celebrated, but also the story of how sustainably grown coffee is helping small Ecuadorian families to make a better living.
In Quito, a whole new wave of coffee shops provide delicious cups of coffee and latte art with talented baristas. Whereas in years gone by Ecuador’s coffee was an export product, today much of Ecuador’s best coffee produce stays in the country for local consumption. This is a huge plus for Ecuadorians and foreign visitors alike.
There’s more to Quito’s café scene than just delicious coffee. Choose your venue carefully for cool ambiance, great people watching, or to simply curl up for the afternoon with a good book and sweet dessert.
Check out our Ecuadorian coffee blog for specific Quito coffee shop recommendations.
Incredibly, the city of Quito houses over 60 different museums & cultural centers. So, the biggest challenge that a visitor faces in getting to know Ecuador’s heritage is choosing which museum to visit.
If you only visit one museum in all Ecuador, it should be Quito’s MuNa (Museum Nacional del Ecuador). MuNa (10:00-17:00 thu-sat pandemic opening hours, free entry with prior reservation) charts the complete history of Ecuador, from ancient civilisation, through the colonial era, to modern day life. Visitors literally walk chronologically through time. Displays of pottery, art and gold combine with modern technology to bring Ecuador’s history to life. The museum is large, so plan 3 to 4 hours in order to do it justice.
A smaller alternative is Museo de Arte Precolombino Casa del Alabado (09:00-17:30 wed-sun pandemic opening hours, $6 entry, advance online booking required). Their attractive 17th century building houses a wonderful display of pre-colombian artifacts. Most have a story to tell, representing indigenous beliefs in the afterlife or the respected role of shamanic healers. Tours are available in English or Spanish – which is recommended to understand the impressive exhibits.
Our final museum recomendation is Museum de la Ciudad (09:00-16:30 wed-sun pandemic opening hours, $3 entry, advance booking recommended). Wax figures, dioramas, model indigenous houses, art and colonial kitchens whisk visitors back into historic Quito. Sound effects add a touch of reality to the experience, especially in the eerie basement hospital ward.
The indigenous market at Otavalo is hands-down winner when it comes to colorful handicrafts at great prices. There’s also good shopping to be had in Quito though, if you know where to look.
Quito’s artisan market, located on Jorge Washington and Juan Leon Mera in the new town, is the place to find Ecuadorian textiles, clothes, jewelry, bags, hats, and gifts. Traditional and modern designs adorn the rows of stalls piled high with merchandise, and if you’re feeling lucky take a go at haggling; be warned though, the merchants are well-versed in the practice. In reality much of the merchandise here is shipped in from Otavalo at higher prices, but it’s a good place to come for last minute gifts and souvenirs nonetheless.
Quito also has it’s share of classy boutiques for more up-market shopping. Galeria Ecuador (Reina Victoria y Juan Rodriguez, La Mariscal) has two storeys packed with fine chocloate, local cosmetics, and a selection of the best handicrafts from across the country. Olga Fisch (Quicentro Mall) and Tianguez (San Francisco Plaza, Old Town) are also excellent alternatives. While prices in these boutiques will put a hole in your wallet, the quality & uniqueness of the handicrafts on display is clear to see.
OK, this one’s a cheat – strictly speaking it’s outside of Quito city. We include it because it’s close (30km away), easy to visit, and a very unique experience.
The mysterious Cochasqui pyramids (08-16:00 mon-fri, 08-17:00 weekends, $3 entry) are located close to Tabacundo, on the main road north towards Otavalo town. Built in pre-Inca times by the Quitu-Cara civilisation (500-1500AD), today visitors can step back in time to explore the complex of 15 pyramids (tolas) and 21 funerary mounds.
The precise purpose of the pyramids is unknown, although recent research suggests the site may once have been a center for astronomical observation with ceremonial significance. What is certain is that Cochasqui is a magical place. One can easily feel not only the sense of history here, but also the mysterious and powerful energies of the universe.
The site covers a large area of 84 hectares, and includes an open air etnographical museum, and archaeological museum of artefacts discovered at the site. It is highly recommended to visit with a guide, who can explain the full significance of this spectacular site. There is also an area for camping and rustic cabins for overnight stays, with resident llamas for company.
Similar to other Latin American countries, Ecuadorians need little excuse to organise a good party. The Ecuadorian calender is packed with local festivals, many of which can be celebrated in or close to Quito. Most involve colorful costumes, music & dance, and invariably some degree of alcohol. Above all, events are almost always inclusive, so tourists are welcome to join in the fun - the more the merrier!
The most important date in Quito’s calender is 6th December, in recognition of the Spanish foundation of the city. This historical event is marked by the week long Fiestas de Quito. Colorful open-air party buses circulate the city with brass band music and canelazo shots. Street parades and cultural events draw big crowds, and the city’s bars and dance clubs are packed with happy revelers. The city also hosts the most important bull fights on the continent, attracting the finest toreros from Spain.
Other local festivals to look out for include:
Carnaval (February or March) – celebrated with a 4 day holiday and water fights in the streets.
Good Friday & Holy Week (Easter week) – Quito hosts important religious parades and masses throughout the week.
Battle of Pichincha (24th May) – military parades remember victory in the battle for Ecuador’s Independence against the Spanish.
First cry of independence (10th August) – commemorating Latin America’s first open act of rebellion against the Spanish, which occured in Quito back in 1809.
Day of the dead / All Souls day (2nd November) – local families take food and music to the cemetories to share with their deceased loved ones. Try colada morada and guaguas de pan, found for sale in most cafés in the city around this time.
New Years eve sees the parading of large paper-mache efigies, which are later burned as the clock strikes midnight. Ecuador also has other unusual new years traditions that are celebrated in the capital.
The annual Festival of light is also well worth catching. Held in August, the church facades of old town Quito are illuminated at night with incredible light displays and music.
Of course there are many other local community parties too, like the fiestas de Guapulo that we mentioned earlier.
Our final recommended thing to do in Quito offers something rather different. With private organisation it’s possible to visit San Franciso Church at night.
Dressed in long robes, your guide plays the character of a Fransiscan monk. The visit is unique because you’ll be the only visitors there, and the church is rather spooky at night. But don’t worry, the stories of myths and legends bring the experience to life, and you’ll finish up in the underground monk’s brewery to enjoy a beer and nibbles.
Perhaps the best highlight of the visit though is access to the bell towers, with incredible views of San Francisco Plaza below and the lights of the city stretched out before you.
There ends our list of 20 things to do in Quito. We hope you have enjoyed reading it. In truth one would need to visit Quito for several weeks to tick all of them off.
For more information about visiting Quito, just contact a member of our team.
In conclusion, Quito is a vibrant and thriving city that fully merits your attention. Travelers are starting to catch on – it´s no coincidence that Quito is being recommended in so many prestigious travel publications. There are so many diverse and fun things to do in Quito, your only problem is deciding which to do first!