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, and this guide will help you make the most of your trip.
Hostel prices – Dorm rooms cost between 8-12 USD per night. Private rooms start at 20 USD for a shared bathroom. Free WiFi is standard, and many places also include free breakfast. There are also plenty of hostels in the city with kitchens if you plan on cooking your own meals. For those traveling with a tent, camping is really only available on treks outside of the city. There are virtually no Couchsurfing hosts here, so staying with a local won’t be possible.
Budget hotel prices – Budget hotels with WiFi and free breakfast start around 25 USD per night for a double or twin. For a hotel with a pool, expect to pay closer to 50 USD per night. Airbnb is also available in the city, with shared accommodation starting around 20 USD per night. For an entire home or apartment, prices begin around 30 USD per night (though expect to pay closer to 55 USD).
Average cost of food – Meals typically cost between 3-6 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. For a meal at a mid-range restaurant expect to pay between 15-20 USD. Domestic beer can be bought at the bar for as little as 1 USD, while buying a cocktail at a bar downtown will set you back about 8 USD. By buying groceries from the local market, you can expect to spend around 15-20 USD per week if you stick to local staples like bread, chicken, fruit, vegetables, eggs, cheese, and other foods. All in all, buying 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 under 5 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. Car rentals are available in the city, usually costing around 60 USD per day. For longer trips, like the 10-hour ride from Quito to Guayaquil, expect to pay 10 USD for a one-way ticket. A bus from Quito to Bogata, Colombia will cost around 40 USD. From Quito to Lima, Peru will cost around 30 USD. Flights around the country can be found for under 100 USD for a one-way ticket while flying to nearby countries like Peru, the US, and Colombia will cost around 300 USD each way.
Suggested daily budget – 30-35 USD (Note: This is a suggested budget assuming you’re staying in a hostel, eating out a little, cooking most of your meals, and using local transportation. Using the budget tips below, you can always lower this number. However, if you stay in fancier accommodation or eat out more often, expect this to be higher!)
GET THE GUIDE
Money Saving Tips
- Taxi meters – Don’t get into a taxi unless the driver is using his taxi meter. There are many 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 your money!
- Take a free walking tour – Quito Free Walking Tours offers free tours six days per week. If you want to see the main sights and learn some history, this is a great place to start.
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 with 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 an 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 goes through here. Located near Quito, you can visit the real and fake 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. Entry to the museum is 3 USD per person.
- 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 — only the main entrance is open.
- 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. Admission is 2 USD per person.
- 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 8.50 USD per person, round-trip.
- 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 ecosystems here, by guided tour or alone. The two glass orchidariums are the main highlight. Adult tickets are 3.50 USD, and discounts are available for students and children.
- 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. Expect to pay around 35 USD per scooter (which can sit 2 people).
- 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’s often group climbs arranged.