Quito Destination Guide
Quito offers myriads of cultural and natural escapades for the enterprising traveller. So whether you'd like to traipse off into the wild, meander among the by-lanes of yesteryears, indulge in your own private reverie or pamper your senses, Quito does not disappoint. Quito, Ecuador's second largest city, is an odd bag of bits and ends, a bundle of contradictions that somehow blend effortlessly to present a town that combines old-world charm with a remarkably cosmopolitan outlook. The city is in fact divided into two areas: the Old Town, which UNESCO has declared as a World Cultural Heritage Site and the New Town with its maze of shopping centres, hotels, and embassies.
Outdoor enthusiasts, culture buffs, shopaholics and just about anybody who wants to have a good time will find their roots in Quito!
Our Quito Destination Guide below will give you an idea of the major highlights in Quito. You can also book one of our interesting tours in Quito directly with us to see the sights, or take a look at some of our general information for travelling throughout Ecuador.
Things to See & Do in Quito
Follow the links below or scroll further down the page for details on some of the many interesting tourist attractions in Quito:
Quito is steeped in history and tradition. And nowhere is this more evident than in the Old City. Considered Quito's colonial centre, this area with its cobblestone streets, red-tiled roofs and balconies recall Quito's days as a colony of the Spanish. Some of the Old City's must-see sights include:
La Plaza de la Independencia - Also known as the Plaza Grande, this square has long been considered as the heart of the Old City. Around the square are the City Hall, the towering Cathedral, the Archbishop's Palace, the Government Palace and some of the most important municipal and religious establishments.
Ipiales - An open-air market that offers pretty much everything under the sun, it is especially lively on weekends.
Other notable areas in the Old City include the El Sagrario - an impressive Cathedral lying to the south of the Plaza Grande, the El Palacio de Gobierno - a fine example of colonial architecture lying to the west of the Plaza Grande, the Plaza de San Francisco - lying to the west of the Plaza Grande and boasting a small church, monastery and museum, and the Panecillo - a 180 metre hill with spectacular views lying to the south of the Plaza de San Francisco.
While the Old City is redolent of times gone by, New Quito captures the tourist's heart with its palpable sense of the here and now! Make sure that you visit Guápulo, a mountainside neighbourhood that is famous for its numerous cafés in colonial style setting, the Parque La Carolina, a huge park with bike and jogging paths, athletic fields, a pond, and concert pavilions, and the Parque Metropolitano, another giant park, which is even larger than Carolina.
You had better do your research before embarking on a visit to the museum because Quito has far too many choices! The Museo del Banco Central is perhaps the most impressive one. Considered the country's premiere museum, it houses a large collection of Columbian ceramics, religious art, and pre-Hispanic gold.
El Mitad del Mundo, literally meaning the ‘Middle of the World', consists of a monumental complex of museums and shops marking the exact spot where a scientific expedition by Charles-Marie de la Condamine made measurements to verify the precise location of the Equator. With its numerous restaurants, a model of the colonial Quito, a planetarium, and an ethnographic museum, this is undoubtedly one of the city's top attractions. The yellow line running across and splitting the world into two equal halves has inspired thousands of tourists to take photographs of themselves with a foot in each hemisphere!
Even if you are not a shopping aficionado, the markets are worth a visit, simply because they offer you a glimpse into the local life. Picturesque and busy, the markets in the local towns surrounding the city are the perfect place to indulge in some good-old haggling! The most famous market of course is the legendary Otavalo, sprawling across three plazas before spilling over into the surrounding streets. Dating back to the pre-Inca times, it presents a delightful consortium of artisans and vendors vying to sell their wares.
No visit to Quito would be complete without a visit to the Parque Nacional Cotopaxi and the Volcán Cotopaxi, the highest active volcano in the world. Being located almost 5,900 m above sea level, this is an excellent opportunity for those who want to hike or climb. There are also excellent camping facilities with great opportunities to spot condors, deer or a llama herd. The best months for climbing the volcano are from December to April. While here, you can also make a trip to the Limpiopungo Lagoon and visit an Andean Hacienda.
Paragliding is a major pastime in Quito and you'll find various paragliding schools where you can enroll for a short training course. You could also go on a tandem flight with an experienced pilot and enjoy a tête-à-tête with the local condors!
Basic horse-riding skills are all that you need to take off on a guided day tour. Most programs are managed by the neighbouring haciendas.
You can either climb the mountain all on your own or you can get a jeep to the top and cruise down. Get in touch with one of the many biking tour operators and bike around the cloud forests, highland plains, around Cotopaxi and down the Andes.
Ecuador has in recent years catapulted into the league of the world's most exclusive white water playgrounds. The huge Andean range offers scores of canyons, gorges, valleys and jungles that is conducive to A-class white water rafting possibilities. The Toachi and Blanco rivers are among the most popular rafting spots.
Cotopaxi and Pichincha abound with climbing opportunities for those who are nifty of feet. Bird-watchers too have plenty to celebrate - the rear side of Pinchincha Volcano, the Mindo Reserve, the Bellavista Cloud Forest Reserve, and Pasochoa Reserve give you sightings of rare and exotic birds.
Those with a penchant for archaeology may want to visit the various Pre-Columbian archaeological sites surrounding Quito. The pre-Incan pyramids at Pambamarca and Rumicucho, the burial mounds at Hacienda Zuleta and the fort at Rumicucho are well worth a visit.
Yet another not-to-be-missed activity on your itinerary should be the relaxing bath at the hot springs of Papallacta, almost two hours east of Quito. Ranging from the very cold to the very hot, these baths are supposedly the perfect remedy for those who want to unwind and de-stress - a fitting end to good times!