Quito is the cultural heart and political capital of Ecuador. Surrounded by mountains, Quito offers a mix of colonial Spanish architecture and sprawling modernity that makes the city both interesting and beautiful.
I really liked my visit to Quito. I didn’t really know what to expect but I found the city lively, gritty, and full of welcoming people.
Quito might not be where you’ll stay the longest when you visit the country but it offers enough to fill a few days.
This travel guide to Quito can help you plan your visit there, stay safe, and save money as you explore.
Table of Contents
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Top 5 Things to See and Do in Quito
1. Visit the old monasteries
2. Cross the Equator
3. Go to El Panecillo
4. Explore the markets
5. Spend time in the Old Town
Other Things to See and Do in Quito
1. Hang out in Parque Metropolitano
Parque Metropolitano is a sprawling 1,433-acre park on top of a hill with views overlooking the whole city and the Cumbayá Valley. This place is enormous, with camping sites, cafes, barbecue pits, scenic viewpoints, and mountain biking, and hiking trails. While you’re on the trails, keep an eye out for the bright Crimson-Mantled Woodpecker and other exotic birds.
2. Visit the Museo del Banco Central
The Central Bank Museum has an extensive collection of artifacts from all of Ecuador’s regions and cultures, including pre-Incan artifacts and a seemingly endless collection of pre-Columbian ceramics and gold artifacts. Some of the coolest things to see here are the Chorrera ceramics from 900-300 BCE, including bottles shaped like little creatures that mimic animal noises when you pour water into them. Admission is $2 USD.
3. Hang out in La Mariscal
This is where all the expats and tourists hang out — I couldn’t walk five feet without bumping into a Texas BBQ or an Irish Pub. It’s full of bars and posh restaurants. I wouldn’t spend a lot of time here (it’s pretty pricey) but it’s an exciting place if you want a night out. The main plaza often has live music and entertainment, and the Mercado Artesanal La Mariscal is worth a stop for if you want to go souvenir shopping.
4. Ride the 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. You can just do a round-trip, or get off at the top to continue a trek along Pichincha’s ridge. The trail begins at Cruz Loma and is about 6-miles (10km) long, and it’s a challenging one due to the altitude and steep incline in some places. The views are completely worth it though. Avoid this hike if the forecast calls for poor weather, as the route can get treacherous! Gondola rides are $8.50 USD round-trip.
5. Visit the Jardin Botanico
On the southwest side of Parque La Carolina you’ll find this tranquil garden escape. You can experience some of Ecuador’s ecosystems here on a guided tour or your own, including native habitats like high-altitude grasslands, wetlands, and cloud forests. This is also a prime spot for bird-watchers, with over 141 different species to keep an eye out for! The two glass orchidariums are the main highlights of their incredibly colorful collection. Be sure to check out the 100 bonsai trees in the Japanese garden. Tickets are $3.50 USD.
6. Visit the Itchimbía Park and Cultural Center
Established in 2005, this park and cultural center sits on top of Itchimbia Hill with panoramic views over of the city and beyond, all the way to the snow-capped mountains and Pichincha Volcano. There’s also a glass house here that serves as an exhibition center and museum which regularly hosts workshops, art shows, and other events. There are about 40 different species of birds and 400 types of tropical flowers here too.
7. Visit La Compañia church
La Compañia is considered the most ornate church in Ecuador. It took 160 years to build (1605-1765). Although its dominant architectural style is Baroque, it also includes Moorish elements (like the geometric shapes on the church’s pillars), stucco decoration in the Churrigueresque style, and Neoclassical touches in the chapel. The central nave is completely covered in gold. It’s $5 USD to visit.
8. Hang out in La Floresta
If you want to go where the locals hang out, spend some time in La Floresta visiting its many coffee shops, galleries, and street art locales. Pop into the Ocho y Medio indie movie theater, or visit the Hops Craft Beer Pub for a pint. In the evenings, El Pobre Diablo hosts live music, including jazz.
9. Take a free walking tour
There are a few free walking tours available in Quito. This is the best (and cheapest!) way to explore the city while getting a detailed overview of its culture and history. I recommend Free Walking Tour Quito because they also offer more in-depth tours to lesser-known neighborhoods. Just don’t forget to tip your guide at the end!
Quito Travel Costs
NOTE: Ecuador uses the US dollar.
Hostel prices – Hostels are incredibly cheap in Quito. A bed in a 6-8 bed dorm costs between $6-15 USD. Free Wi-Fi is standard and most hostels also include free breakfast.
A basic private room for two with an ensuite bathroom costs from $15-30 USD per night. Prices don’t really change between peak season and off-season for hostels.
Budget hotel prices – Budget hotels in the peak season range from $50-100 USD per night for a double room in a three-star hotel. Free Wi-Fi is standard. In the off-season, rooms cost between $35-60 USD. Many budget hotels have shared bathrooms so just make sure you check before you book in case you want your own bathroom.
Airbnb is available in Quito, with a private room starting at $25 USD per night. For an entire home or apartment, expect to pay at least $45 USD per night.
Food – In Quito, you can find street food stalls selling things like ceviche, empanadas or even fresh-squeezed fruit juices like maracuya (passion fruit juice) for $1-2 USD. For comparison, a McDonald’s value meal is about $6 USD.
Local lunch spots sell meals for $3-5 USD, including empanadas, soups, rice, and grilled meat. If you want western food, like pizza or burgers, you’ll pay about $13-16 USD.
If you want to splurge on a high-end restaurant, you’ll spend about $25 USD for a three-course fixed menu. A dish of a traditional guinea pig (cuy) is $10 USD, while pasta and vegetarian dishes are $9 USD. A glass of wine starts at $6 USD.
Beer is $4 USD while a latte/cappuccino is $2.50 USD. Bottled water is $0.75 USD.
If you’re planning on shopping in the markets and grocery stores, you can expect to spend around $20-30 USD per week on basic staples like bread, milk, eggs, cheese, chicken, fruit, and veggies.
Backpacking Quito Suggested Budgets
On a backpacking budget of $30 USD per day, you can stay in a hostel dorm, eat some street food and cook for yourself, visit some museums, take a free walking tour, and use public transportation to get around. If you plan on drinking, add $5-10 USD per day to your budget.
On a mid-range budget of $95 USD per day, you can stay in a private Airbnb, eat out for all your meals, take the occasional taxi, and seeing all the attractions you want.
On a “luxury” budget of $250 USD per day, you can stay in a hotel, take private transportation everywhere, eat at any restaurant you want, and take as many tours as you want. This is just the ground floor for luxury though. The sky is the limit!
You can use the chart below to get some idea of how much you need to budget daily, depending on your travel style. Keep in mind these are daily averages – some days you’ll spend more, some days you’ll spend less (you might spend less every day). We just want to give you a general idea of how to make your budget. Prices are in USD.
Quito Travel Guide: Money-Saving Tips
Quito is an affordable destination to visit, but it never hurts to save more money! Here are a few hacks to cut down your costs while you travel around the city:
- Make sure your taxi is metered – Don’t get into a taxi unless the driver is using his taxi meter. There are many stories of drivers unscrupulously overcharging tourists.
- Eat at the markets – This is the place to do your food shopping. You can find meals for just a few dollars, making this the best way to eat cheaply in the country!
- Almuerzos – Many restaurants have “almuerzos” i.e., cheap lunches from a set menu. These are usually just a couple of dollars and usually include a drink!
- Carry small change – Forget about carrying any bills over $20 USD as you’ll have trouble changing them — even $20s can be difficult to break in small towns.
- 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!
- Couchsurf – If you want to make your trip even cheaper and make a local friend, use Couchsurfing! It connects you with locals who can host you for free and share their insider tips.
- Take a free walking tour – Quito Free Walking Tours offers free tours around the city. If you want to see the main sights and learn some history, this is a great place to start!
- Pack a water bottle – A water bottle with a purifier will come particularly in handy in Quito since you shouldn’t drink the tap water. Save money and thousands of plastic bottles and get a bottle that can purify the tap water for you. My preferred bottle is LifeStraw.
Where to Stay in Quito
Quito has lots of excellent (and affordable) hostels to stay in. My favorites include:
How to Get Around Quito
Public Transportation – Bus is the most common and efficient way to get around Quito. A local bus ticket costs just $0.25 USD and will get you anywhere you need to go. Although there are designated bus stops, the driver will usually let you get off at any street corner. You should note that the buses stop running at 9PM.
Currently, Quito is building a brand new subway system that should be in operation by the end of February 2022.
Taxis – Taxis are very affordable in Quito, and they’re metered (unlike elsewhere in the country). A short taxi ride shouldn’t cost much more than $5 USD. At night, the minimum rate is $2 USD; it’s $1.50 in the daytime. Always make sure your taxi is metered before you get in.
Bicycle – BiciQuito is Quito’s free bike-sharing program with stations all over the city. Best of all, it’s free! You’ll need to register online and download an application from the website — and then deliver the application to one of the stations or at the AMT offices for approval. It’s not as easy as simply using a digital app, but at least the rides are free.
Ride-sharing – Uber is available in Quito and it’s usually cheaper than the taxis. You can save $15 off your first Uber ride with this code: jlx6v.
When to Go to Quito
It can be pretty chilly in Quito year-round due to its high altitude location in the Andean mountains. The peak season to visit is from mid-June to September and then December and January. The average daily high is 60°F (15°C) while the average daily low is 48°F (8°C). Temperatures are slightly higher in July and August, averaging about 66°F (18°C) per day.
Quito is very rarely overcrowded, but if you want to avoid inflated prices, come during the shoulder seasons or off-seasons. June to December is the low season in the Galapagos, and Quito is also quieter during this time as people aren’t hopping off to the islands. This is a good time to visit if you want to purely appreciate all that Quito has to offer without moving on to the Galapagos.
How to Stay Safe in Quito
The risk of violent crime is low here but petty crime like pick-pocketing happens a lot. This can occur around high traffic areas, especially in the busy plazas and on public transportation. Public transportation tends to get very crowded because the fares are so low, so be alert. Leave your valuables at home and don’t flash around your iPhone, camera, or expensive jewelry.
Use caution at night. Avoid the Old Town and Carolina Park after dark, as well as Ave. de Los Shyris. La Ronda, República de El Salvador, and Plaza Foch are safer places at night. Don’t climb El Panecillo on foot, night or day. It’s best to use public transportation to avoid muggings or assaults, which are unfortunately very common in this area.
Always trust your gut instinct. If a taxi driver seems shady, stop the cab and get out. If your hotel is seedier than you thought, get out of there. Make copies of your personal documents, including your passport and ID.
If you don’t do it at home, don’t do it when you’re in Quito.
Worried about travel scams? Read about this post on the travel scams to avoid and be in the know!
The most important piece of advice I can offer is to purchase good travel insurance. Travel insurance will protect you against illness, injury, theft, and cancellations. It’s comprehensive protection in case anything goes wrong. I never go on a trip without it as I’ve had to use it many times in the past. You can use the widget below to find the policy right for you:
Quito Travel Guide: The Best Booking Resources
Below are my favorite companies to use when I travel to Quito. They are included here because they consistently turn up the best deals, offer world-class customer service and great value, and overall, are better than their competitors. They are always my starting point when I need to book a flight, hotel, tour, train, or meeting people!
- Skyscanner – Skyscanner is my favorite flight search engine. They search small websites and budget airlines that larger search sites tend to miss. They are hands down the number one place to start.
- Momondo – This is my other favorite flight search engine because they search such a wide variety of sites and airlines. I never book a flight without checking here too.
- Airbnb – Airbnb is a great accommodation alternative for connecting with homeowners who rent out their homes or apartments.
- Hostelworld – This is the best hostel accommodation site out there, with the largest inventory, best search interface, and widest availability.
- Couchsurfing – This website allows you to stay on people’s couches or spare rooms for free. It’s a great way to save money while meeting locals who can tell you the ins and outs of their city. The site also lists events you can attend to meet people (even if you’re not staying with someone).
- Booking.com – The best all around booking site that constantly provides the cheapest and lowest rates. They have a no money down policy, great interface, and the widest selection of budget accommodation. In all my tests, they’ve always had the cheapest rates out of all the booking websites.
- Intrepid Travel – If you want to do a group tour around Ecuador, go with Intrepid Travel. They offer good small group tours that use local operators and leave a small environmental footprint. If you go on a tour with anyone, go with them. And, as a reader of this site, you’ll get a discount when you click the link!
- Grassroots Volunteering – For volunteering, Grassroots Volunteering compiles a list of good local volunteer organizations that keep the money within the community.
- Rome 2 Rio – This website allows you to see how to get from point A to point B the best and cheapest way possible. It will give you all the bus, train, plane, or boat routes that can get you there as well as how much they cost.
- Free Walking Tour Quito – Get oriented with a Quito free walking tour! These tours are informative, fun, and super interesting. You’re just expected to tip at the end.
- EatWith – This website allows you to eat home cooked meal with locals. Locals post listings for dinner parties and specialty meals that you can sign up for. There is a fee (everyone sets their own price) but this is a great way to do something different, pick a local’s brain, and make a new friend.
- World Nomads – I buy all my travel insurance from World Nomads. They have great customer service, competitive prices, and in-depth coverage. I’ve been using them since I started traveling in 2003. Don’t leave home without it!
Quito Gear and Packing Guide
If you’re heading on the road and need some gear suggestions, here are my tips for the best travel backpack and for what to pack!
The Best Backpack for Travelers
Straps: Thick and cushy with compression technology that pulls the pack’s load up and inwards so it doesn’t feel as heavy.
Features: Removable top lid, large pocket at the front, hydration compatible, contoured hip belt
If you want something different, refer to my article on how to choose the best travel backpack for tips on picking a pack and other backpack suggestions.
What to Pack for Your Trip
- 1 pair of jeans (heavy and not easily dried, but I like them; a good alternative is khaki pants)
- 1 pair of shorts
- 1 bathing suit
- 5 T-shirts
- 1 long-sleeved T-shirt
- 1 pair of flip-flops
- 1 pair of sneakers
- 6 pairs of socks (I always end up losing half)
- 5 pairs of boxer shorts (I’m not a briefs guy!)
- 1 toothbrush
- 1 tube of toothpaste
- 1 razor
- 1 package of dental floss
- 1 small bottle of shampoo
- 1 small bottle of shower gel
- 1 towel
Small Medical Kit (safety is important!!!)
- Hydrocortisone cream
- Antibacterial cream
- Hand sanitizer (germs = sick = bad holiday)
- A key or combination lock (safety first)
- Zip-lock bags (keeps things from leaking or exploding)
- Plastic bags (great for laundry)
- Universal charger/adaptor (this applies to everyone)
- LifeStraw (A water bottle with a purifier)
Female Travel Packing List
I’m not a woman, so I don’t know what a woman wears, but Kristin Addis, our solo female travel guru, wrote this list as an addition to the basics above:
- 1 swimsuit
- 1 sarong
- 1 pair of stretchy jeans (they wash and dry easily)
- 1 pair of leggings (if it’s cold, they can go under your jeans, otherwise with a dress or shirt)
- 2-3 long-sleeve tops
- 2-3 T-shirts
- 3-4 spaghetti tops
- 1 light cardigan
- 1 dry shampoo spray & talc powder (keeps long hair grease-free in between washes)
- 1 hairbrush
- Makeup you use
- Hair bands & hair clips
- Feminine hygiene products (you can opt to buy there too, but I prefer not to count on it, and most people have their preferred products)
For more on packing, check out these posts:
Quito Gear Travel Guide: Suggested Reading
Wildlife of the Galapagos, by Julian Fitter, Daniel Fitter, and David Hosking
Here’s your must-have guide for visiting the Galapagos! It’s a definitive field guide to the natural world of this incredible archipelago, including info about 400 different species of birds, mammals, reptiles, plants, and invertebrates. There are also over 600 photographs, maps, and drawings, as well as a section that gives you the low down about the islands’ history, climate, geology, etc. It’s a completely comprehensive look at the Galapagos, and you’ll be well prepared to visit after reading this.
Floreana: A Woman’s Pilgrimage to the Galapagos, by Margret Wittmer
This is the first-hand account of Margret Wittmer’s attempt to make a new home on the small island of Floreana, in the Galapagos. In 1932, Wittmer leaves Germany with her husband and step-son to settle into the nearly unpopulated island – where they clear land, live in an old pirates’ cave, and then build a home just in time for Wittmer to have a baby. Over the years the family acquires a number of amazing neighbors — like convicts and military personnel — and they welcome a series of exciting guests like Franklin D. Roosevelt. Some of these stories seem too good to be true, but they’re real, and they’re an amazing look at life in Ecuador before the tourism boom.
Huasipungo (The Villagers), by Jorge Icaza
The Villagers is a brutally raw and honest account of the exploitation and extermination of an Indian village in Ecuador by its landlord. When it was first published in 1934, this book shocked its readers, and brought around a lot of attention (not all favorable) to the author, Jorge Icaza. It’s a heavy read — there’s no covering up the human suffering — but it’s considered one of the best works of contemporary writing in Latin American literature. It’s a useful read if you’re looking to understand Ecuador a little better.
The Old Man Who Read Love Stories, by Luis Sepúlveda
In a tiny village on the Nangaritza River lives an old man in a hut. The village is so tiny that the dentist only visits twice a year – and he brings books all filled with rich love stories to the old man. This book is about the wild world of Amazonia, and how the Shuar Indians have learned to live in harmony with it — despite the onslaught of machines, settlers, and gold prospectors.