We spent a hell’a lot of time in Quito. Between flight connections, bus connections, meeting parents, meeting friends, illness and all round lack of organisation, we managed to fit in an impressive 4 visits to Quito within the space of a month.
Fortunately, we’re city people and quite enjoyed it. We also found a great hostel to hang out in and met some lovely people (recommendation lurking somewhere within this post…)
Aside from BBQs and brewery visits (both of which are must-do activities in Quito/life in general) we also got round to a lot of sight seeing, market exploring and even out-of-city day trips!
If you find yourself with time on your hands, then look no further than
The Definitive Guide of Things to do in Quito
- Start off with a Free Walking Tour – our go-to activity for the first day in a new place. This one was extra fun as we had Elle’s parents with us. For the duration of our time in Quito they lived on our budget of $25 each per day (roles were reversed when we went to the Galapagos and we lived off of their daily budget – amount unspecified. Fair’s fair.)
We went with Free Walking Tour Ecuador which is based out of Community Hostel in the San Blas neighbourhood and highly recommend them!
The tour is about 4 hours long and very comprehensive, but they give you a great oversight into the city and even factor in breaks for smoothies and coffee.
- Visit the Basilica
Surprisingly not featured on the extensive walking tour, the Basilica makes for a great morning activity! The architecture is stunning – take especial note of the gargoyles in the forms of Ecuadorian wildlife (turtles, frigate birds, blue footed boobies) all around the edge of the roof. Visits are kind of split into two parts – the interior and the bell towers. If you only have time or the budget for one (each section costs £2 to enter) then we recommend climbing the bell tower.
At times hair raising, you’ll go up a series of steps and rickety ladders to reach the very top of one of the clock towers, from which you have incredible views across the whole city. There’s even a cafe and a gift shop halfway up!
- Parque Itchimbia
Perched on the top of a hill above San Blas neighbourhood, this huge city park is home to a cultural centre, wedding venues, a high school, a small lake and a number of outdoor playparks and exercise stations.
There’s also a huge “Quito” sign smack bang in front of another great view of the city just begging for you to squeeze into and take a picture (see below)
Grab a picnic from the mercado central and stroll up here for an easy afternoon away from the city hustle. There’s a lot of steps to climb, but funky street art to keep you entertained along the way.
- Feast at the Mercado Central
Also located in San Blas, this market is the hub of local life in Quito. Stick to the downstairs section for your whole chickens (complete with half-formed eggs), cow tongues and bull testicles. Upstairs we recommend making your way through every jugo on the menu (all made with filtered water) and stocking up on exotic fruits!
This is also the perfect place for a cheap lunch and/or a hungover breakfast. Cebollado was recommended to us on a number of occasions – a spicy onion soup designed to clear your head the morning after! We stuck to seco de chivo served by friendly ladies in lavender aprons!
- Get a chocolate fix
No visit to Ecuador is complete without a heavy dose of local chocolate. If you are planning to go to the jungle then this can wait – you’ll most likely be eating it straight from bean to bar! But if Quito is a close to the Amazon as you’re getting then we recommend Republica de Cacao. This classy-looking chain may be overpriced, but they’re generous with the tasters and have some excellent and unexpected flavours – just make sure you double check the price before over buying!
- Get groovy in Calle La Ronda
Popular La Ronda is known as the ‘bohemian’ zone of Quito. Although we’re not too sure what’s so bohemian about karaoke bars and tourist menus, we can admit that it’s a fun place to spend a Friday night!
By day, the area is home to artisan shops and independent bars – some better than others – that are definitely worth a browse. Note that most places don’t open until around 3pm, but stay open late.
Come here for huge empanadas de viento and the inexplicably popular beverage canelazo before taking your pic of the karaoke scene and mixing with local students! WARNING: Do not book accommodation on this street if you value your rest.
- Museo Guayasamín and Capilla del Hombre
In the very affluent and beautiful Bella Vista suburb of Quito lies the former home and current museum of Ecuador’s most famous artist – Oswaldo Guayasamín. Come here not only to admire his works, but to see the incredible variety of religious; pre-Colombian; colonial; indigenous and at times erotic artwork that he collated throughout his lifetime.
The guides (English and Spanish speaking) are incredibly well informed and interesting. The museum is in two parts – Guayasamín’s home and the not-so-innocuous structure he built in the garden: La Capilla del Hombre. Definitely pay the entrance for both ($8).
Inside The Chapel of Man are some of Guayasamín’s largest, most politically motivated pieces that are not only beautiful in themselves but pretty important in understanding some of the struggles faced by the Americas in the last century.
- The Equator, (kind of)
Unless you’re asleep you’ve realised that ECUAdor is home to a huge chunk of the EQUAtor – the imaginary red line that runs around the middle of the earth.
There’s a few options for visiting the equator, with the true irony being that none of them are actually situated at 0 degrees latitude. Fun.
The first and most famous is El Mitad del Mundo – a museum complex hosting rotating exhibitions and a big monument to the equator that looks really good on Instagram. If, like us, you can’t afford to think with social media at the forefront of your life (or just think that’s a silly thing to do) then you’ll forego the $10 entrance fee and walk a few hundred metres down the main road to Intiñan Museum.
We were entertained but a bit bemused by the Intiñan’s mismatched exhibitions that covered venomous animals in the Amazon, Ecuadorian tribes and their preferred past time of shrinking heads (spoiler alert: they tell you how it’s done), traditional homes from the last century and finally a lot of smoke and mirror demonstrations on how gravity works differently at the exact spot of equator (which isn’t actually where the museum is located).
Still, it was cheap and a nice day outside of the city. There’s no need to take a taxi here – you can take the metro bus for 40 cents.
The actual equator is a few hundred yards away from the Intiñan and home to a sacred indigenous site – not open to visitors.
- Craft beer in Plaza Foch
Is there anywhere in South America that doesn’t have a craft beer to hand? Plaza Foch is branded as Quito’s ‘red light district’ – a name that makes it sound much seedier than its reality. Although not brimming with Ecuadorian culture, it’s a pleasant place to come for a beer and a burger – especially if you’re missing cheap, western eats!
- Museo de la Ciudad
At this point we were really searching for things to do – but it ended up being a great choice! The museum has an interesting exhibition on the history of Quito and Ecuador generally, featuring well curated galleries on pre-colonial life, the Spanish conquest and the modernisation of Quito. For lovers of gore: the building was previously used as a hospital and currently has an exhibition on surgery practices in colonial times…
We included this even though we didn’t actually do it….but it is basically the first thing people tell you to do in Quito. For our first 2 visits it was closed, for the 3rd the weather was too meaning visibility was too low to merit the $12 fee, and by our 4th visit…well…meh.
But if you happen to find a sunny morning and some spare change in your pockets then it’s supposed to be a highlight of Quito! Let us know!
- Presidential Palace
The Presidential Palace in Plaza Grande is the seat of the Ecuadorian Government and, until recently, the residence of the country’s presidents. After a series of untimely and quite horrific deaths in the palace’s vicinity, the most recent President decided against moving in. Instead, he opened it up for administrative purposes and created a museum open to the public for free.
It won’t be the best museum you ever go to, but it’s worth it just to see inside the building, to stand and wave on the Presidential Balcony and to look at all of the random gifts that have been presented to Presidents over the years!
Entry is timed and you will need your passport both to register for your ticket and to enter. No fee.
- Iglesia Compañía de Jesús
If you’re interested in religious architecture or just fancy marvelling at an incredible amount of gold then the Compañía de Jesús in Quito’s Old Town is the church for you. It’s $5 per person just to go in and walk around, but it’s a truly awesome sight and worth the spends (presumably they use the proceeds to re-plaster the walls in gold-leaf annually).
Think we missed anything off? Please drop us a comment and let us know – it’s possible we’ll end up in Quito a fifth time! And that hostel we mentioned at the beginning of this post….? Colonial House Hostel in San Blas neighbourhood – full of happy staff, friendly vibes, filling breakfast and free bananas! Find them on hostelworld or directly via their website: colonialhousequito.com