Ecuador’s charming capital of Quito has the largest historic center in South America, and it’s one of the continent’s most relaxed cities. Unlike most large cities in South America, the street vendors won’t bother you, and there aren’t stores blasting music on every corner. The historic center is truly beautiful, and the city is perfectly set in an Andean valley making for scenic viewpoints. Lots of backpackers say Quito is just another city and to only spend a couple of days here, but I absolutely loved it. Here are the 10 best things to do in Quito!
1. Ride the Teleférico
The 15-minute cable car ride takes you up to 3,950 meters, where you will have sweeping views of Quito and snow-capped volcanos. There’s a 5-hour hike from the upper teleférico station to a peak of 4,785 meters, or you can opt for the short walk to a swing set. Pick a clear day and go early before the clouds and crowds arrive. The cost of a return ticket is $8.50.
2. Day Trip to an active volcano
Cotopaxi is a 5,800-meter active volcano with a national park that is just a 1-hour drive from Quito. An organized tour that includes a visit to Laguna Limpiopung, a hike to the Jose Ribas refuge at 4,800 meters, and information about the park’s ecosystem costs $50-60 per person.
3. Visit the beautiful churches
The historic center has a few spectacular churches that are a must-visit, no matter how many churches you’ve seen. The gold-plated interior at the Church of the Society of Jesus makes it one of the most beautiful in South America.
Basilica del Voto Nacional has panoramic views from the bell tower and is one of the best places to get pictures in Quito. Lastly, Iglesia de San Francisco is set beautifully along a picturesque plaza.
4. Watch the sunset from Lomo El panecillo
The statue that towers over the historic center is the best place to go at night for views of the city. You can climb the Virgen del Panecillo, which is taller than Rio’s Christ the Redeemer, for $1. It’s best to take a taxi here for $3 because the neighborhood at the base of the hill isn’t the safest. Make sure to bring a jacket and buy a canelazo, a traditional spiced cinnamon hot alcoholic drink, from one of the vendors.
5. Taste World Famous CHocolate
Ecuador alone produces 65% of the world’s high-quality cacao and Quito has plenty of tasty chocolate shops. Pacari is the most famous, and in 2013 it won the award for the best chocolate in the world. Yumbo and Republica de Cacao have delicious chocolates as well.
6. Walk the Streets of Guápulo
This quiet bohemian neighborhood built into the hillside is a joy to walk through with its winding roads. The main points of interest are the Mirador de Guápulo (start here so your walk is downhill), Guápulo Colonial Church and Convent, and Guápulo Park.
7. Learn About Ecuador’s Most Famous Artist
The former home of Oswaldo Guayasamín is now a museum where you can learn about his life and observe his art. The elaborate house has incredible views and plenty of history. The entrance to the Capilla del Hombre is $10 and includes a guided tour in English.
8. Take in the Views from a Rooftop Bar
Quito is an incredibly picturesque city, and there are plenty of rooftop bars to enjoy the views from. Vista Hermosa and The Secret Garden are two fantastic options. Make sure to bundle up and order a canelazo because Quito gets very cold at night.
9. Take a free walking tour
Walking tours are always a nice introduction to a big city. Free Walking Tour Ecuador gives an awesome tour of the history of Quito, and you’ll also get to taste local fruit and chocolate.
10. Eat Llapingachos at Mercado Central
Ecuador is not known for its cuisine, but llapingachos always hit the spot. The second floor at Mercado Central is where you’ll find these delicious potato cakes with chorizo.