Quito serves as the cultural heartland and political capital of Ecuador. Surrounded by mountains, Quito is comprised of five different zones – generally tourism tends to be centralized in the north, around Parque El Ejido and areas such as La Mariscal. However, the historical center is based in the south in the Old Town with the three large squares of Plaza de la Independencia, Plaza San Francisco and Plaza Santo Domingo. I liked Quito – it had a good mix of old colonial Spanish building and sprawling modernity. On Sundays, the main park was bustling with life and there was always good food to be found in the city. It’s a city I would spend extra time in.
Hostel prices – Dorm rooms start at $8 USD a night, and privates single rooms start at $25 USD for a shared bathroom.
Budget hotel prices – Cheap local guesthouses prices begin at the upper end of prices for hostels at around $25-35 per night for a private room with a bathroom. This is the best way to go.
Average cost of food – Meals typically cost between $3-5 USD for cheap local food. You can find food stalls on the street for around $1-2 USD. Western style meals will cost around $10 USD. By buying groceries from the local market, you can expect to spend around $15-20 USD per week. All told, food here is quite cheap.
Transportation costs – Buses are the easiest way to travel and are a bargain at just $0.25 USD per one way ticket. Taxis cost around $2-4 USD for a 15 minute ride. Most of the main attractions are in one area of the city and within walking distance of each other.
Money Saving Tips
Taxi meters – Don’t get into a taxi unless the driver is using his taxi meter. There are stories of drivers unscrupulously overcharging tourists.
Take the bus – If you’re traveling outside the city, buses really are the way to go. Trains are slow and inefficient here, but the bus system is excellent and dirt cheap. Just don’t expect the same high level of comfort here as you can find on buses in other South American countries.
Drink local beer – Ecuador produces many of its own beer brands which are cheaper than imports such as Corona or Bud. Drink like the locals, and save cash at the same time.
Top Things to See and Do in Quito
Visit the old monasteries – Viewing the old monasteries is a must and is quite unavoidable as they are so many. Some of these have museums such as Santo Domingo, La Merced and monasteries of San Augustin and San Diego. La Compañia is well worth a visit. It is decorated in gold inside and out.
Explore the markets – Any South American city or town worth its salt will have a good market. Quito has tons. Trips to the market towns of Otavalo and Cotacachi will not disappoint and have everything from local handicrafts, goods, leather goods to household items.
El Panecillo – “The bread roll” or el Panecillo is a hill overlooking the city. It’s famous for its views and used to contain a Inca temple before the Spanish arrived. On the hill is the statue of the Virgin Mary that was constructed in 1976 and is 140 feet tall.
Explore the Spanish architecture – Quito is home to a number of colonial, well-preserved houses from the Spanish era. The two best can be found on an alley called La Ronda. The first is Casa de Benalcázar, one of the early founders of the city, and Casa de Sucre where Field Marshall José de Antonio de Sucre, a leader in Latin American independence, lived.
The Equator – Given the country’s name, it shouldn’t be surprising that the equator is goes through here. Located near Quito, you can visit the real and fake one monuments. The fake monument is a 100 meter tall statue, constructed between the years of 1979-1982 to mark the point where the equator passes. However, when they got GPS and checked it, it turns out they were off. Now you can visit a mini-museum paying homage to indigenous Ecuadorian culture and also has a few fun science experiments there too.
Plaza de San Francisco – Though you’ll see many churches in the city, San Francisco is one of the oldest and prettiest. The city’s oldest building, its construction began in 1534 and is made in baroque style. There is a huge plaza outside the church that is good for people watching.
Parque Metropolitano – Parque Metropolitano is a very good park on top of a hill and provides amazing views of the city. You can get a lot of good photos and the surrounding neighborhood is quite nice. I recommend asking where the entrance is before you walk there or you’ll find yourself (maybe like me) using the tourist map only to find out the side “entrances” are all locked but the main one.
The Old Town – Most visitors concentrate their time in Old Town, which is a UNESCO site. Here you’ll find the city laid out according to Spanish planning requirements, with the central plaza at the heart. The plaza features the Palacio del Gobierno, the Cathedral, and the Palacio Presidencial. You will also find Independence Square here.
Museo del Banco Central – The Central Bank Museum has a good collection of artifacts from all of Ecuador’s regions and cultures. There are many pre-Incan artifacts too. I wouldn’t have thought a bank museum would have such things but this one does, and it’s not that expensive to get into.
La Mariscal – This is where all the expats and tourists seemed to be. I couldn’t walk 5 feet without a Texas BBQ or Irish Pub popping up. This neighborhood was trendy, filled with bars and posh restaurants. It seemed like the place to be during the night time with all the bars and clubs but during the day it was simply filled with tourists eating overpriced food. The houses in the area are nice and colorful though.
Teleferico – Located on the eastern side of Pichincha Volcano is the world’s second-highest cable car. At 12,000 feet, you can see over six volcanoes on a clear day. Rides are $8 USD per person.
Jardin Botanico – On the southwest side of Parque La Carolina, there is a beautiful garden escape from the city. You can experience all of Ecuador’s eco systems here, by guided tour or alone. The two glass orchidariums are the main highlight.
Itchimbia cultural complex and park – Established in 2005, this center holds temporary exhibitions, weekend workshops, restaurants, and impressive views of central and northern Quito.
GPS scooter tour – For those that would rather not just wander around at random, these tours are set up to guide you to the best sights in Quito. There is even a voice instructions option. This can be a fun way to check out the city.
Montaña – If you are into climbing, this is the place to go. This is the central meeting place for climbers in Quito. There is a lot of information here and no one is trying to sell anything, which is nice. There are often group climbs arranged.