Things to Do in Quito Ecuador and Quito Day Trips

For those who are thinking about visiting Ecuador, I say book your flights and start planning your trip. There are so many interesting things to do in Quito. Ecuador is an affordable destination to visit in South America and it has gorgeous natural landscapes and rich culture. Overall, Ecuador left a lasting impression.

Ecuador’s green landscape and mountain views.

Before my trip to Ecuador, Melissa from Melissa in the Middle and I bonded over our upcoming trips. Together we created this guide highlighting things to do in Quito and perhaps what to skip. If you’re considering an Ecuador backpacking route, start in Quito and head to Banos, Otavalo Market, and Mindo.

How to Explore Quito

I explored Quito mostly by walking on foot. Despite being a very large and hilly city, I spent a full day roaming around. I walked into local shops, ate at small establishments and checked out a few art galleries.

When I got tired of walking, I hopped in a cab which was super affordable. Just be careful when crossing the street, traffic is intense in Quito!

Things to Do in Quito

Old Town Quito

by Melissa in the Middle

If you are just arriving in Quito and you’re feeling a bit discombobulated by the altitude, it’s worth shrugging off the discomfort to get out and see some of the sites in this amazing South American capital.

The energy of the city will help cure your ills as you stroll through Old Town Quito admiring the amazing architecture.

While exploring Quito, if you’re backpacking Ecuador on a budget, don’t miss climbing to Rucu Pinchincha for one of the best views of the city and Cotopaxi.

Plaza Grande

by Melissa in the Middle

Plaza Grande, Quito’s central public square.

The elegant Plaza Grande is a great place to start your tour of Quito’s Centro Historico. From here, you can get your bearings on a walking tour, bus tour, or just spend an hour people-watching and taking photos.

Churches in Quito

by Melissa in the Middle

Religion plays a large part in the lives of most Quiteños. Some of the most impressive structures in Quito are the churches.

If you go to the Plaza Grande (in front of the Presidential Palace) and do a 360-degree turn, you’ll have a church within your view for the full spin. The buildings in between the churches are grand and the hills rising up to different sections of Quito offers a dramatic view. Add a few moody skies and Quito is an amateur photographer’s dream come true!

Basilica del Voto Nacional in Quito

You can visit the churches for a small entrance fee of $1-$3 USD. The price of admission will usually include a tour but most of the tours are in Spanish.

If you’re on a budget, choose wisely. I recommend that you shortlist La Compañía de Jesus and the Basílica del Voto Nacional. It’s best to choose two or three. There are a lot more things to do in Quito.

Presidential Palace

by Melissa in the Middle

Inside the Presidential Palace in Quite.

I highly recommend the Presidential Palace tour. Not only is it free of charge, but the tour guides speak English. On this tour, you learn about Quito’s historical background.

You can also get a great view of the Plaza Grande and El Panecillo from the palace balcony.

It helps to know:

  • The security guards at the Presidential Palace will check your identification. Remember to bring your passport (or at least a photocopy of it).
  •  Watch your step! The sidewalks are narrow and traffic moves quickly.

El Panecillo

One of my favorite things to do in Quito was visiting the El Panecillo.

On top of El Panecillo (The Little Bread Loaf), stands the statue of the Virgin of Quito. The Virgin of Quito is made out of 7,000 pieces of aluminum, has angel wings and wears a crown of stars – truly one of a kind!

From the hill, you can see all of Quito and even the snow-capped volcanoes in the distance.

Quito at sunset.

It helps to know: 

  • The Virgin of Quito is not very photogenic at sunset. Many guidebooks suggest arriving early in the morning for the best views. I have to agree!

Day Trips from Quito

Quito is a great starting point for exploring Ecuador to explore the surrounding areas like Mitad del Mundo, Cotopaxi National Park, and the Otavalo Market.

1 – Mitad del Mundo

If you’ve ever wanted to straddle the equator, Ecuador is one of the 13 countries that the equatorial line passes through. Visit the Mitad del Mundo to stand on the equator.

Less than an hour drive from Quito, the Mitad del Mundo or Middle of the World is a large complex with museums, restaurants, and shops.

It helps to know: 

  • The real equatorial line is a few doors down. After the GPS, historians confirmed that the monument is on the wrong site – whoops! The real equatorial line is at Museo de Sitio Intinan.

2 – Mindo

Another incredible destination in Ecuador is the lovely and lush Mindo. Whether you visit during a day trip from Quito or spend several days, you’ll fall in love with this small town in the cloud forest.

Hummingbirds 

by Melissa in the Middle 

Mindo’s hummingbirds are the resident pixies.

Although you can book a hummingbird tour at any guesthouse, I was content with photographing them flitting around the bird feeders in my hostel’s garden.

Chocolate Tour 

by Melissa in the Middle

I spent most of my Mindo budget at El Quetzal, a café that specializes in chocolate. Why? Because they make their own!

At El Quetzal, there are chocolate trees growing on the property. You can learn about the entire production process in the ‘Bean to Bar’ tour ($10 USD). The other part of my budget went to enjoying brunch in the El Quetzal café. It was a tad expensive for Ecuador (around $8-$10 USD), but I loved using the free wi-fi.

It helps to know: 

  • Join a one-hour chocolate tour seven days a week.
  • Mindo is a popular weekend destination for Ecuadorians. If you want to avoid crowds or price gouging, plan your visit on a weekday.
  • If you are visiting Mindo on a day trip from Quito, call ahead for reservations.

Zip-lining

For less than $20 USD, zip-line through Mindo’s cloud forest on 13 cables. As you hike deeper into the forest, the views of the mountaintops get better and better!

It helps to know:

  • You can also enjoy other activities like hiking, canyoning, tasting hand-crafted beer and tubing.

3 – Quilotoa

Unfortunately, I arrived at Quilotoa after sunset so I missed what could have been one of my biggest adventures in Ecuador. Get to the water-filled caldera early for a day trip, or spend a few days trekking the Quilotoa Loop. The rigorous hike is worth the spectacular views of the lagoon.

4 – Banos 

Banos is Ecuador’s premier adventure capital. After spending a few days exploring Quito, I arrived in Banos Ecuador and it quickly became my favorite destination in the country.

Swing at the End of the World

Banos Ecuador Adventures

One of my first adventures in Banos was the Swing at the End of the World. Despite its simple craftsmanship, two pieces of rope tied to a wooden plank, this swing was extraordinary. The swing hangs from the Casa del Arbol, a treehouse, and it swings over the edge of a cliff that overlooks an active volcano, Mount Tungurahua. Waiting my turn, I watched dozens of people ride the swing, but nothing prepared me for the thrill I was about to experience.

As my feet dangled over the abyss and I held onto the rope for dear life. I felt dangerously free. I screamed and shouted and with every swing, I felt like I was going to leap out towards Mount Tungurahua and meet an untimely death. Besides that scary thought, the experience and the views of the clouds and lush green mountains were breathtaking.

My ride ended after the fourth swing and honestly, I was too happy to be back on solid ground. Even though I couldn’t stop shaking after the ride, I would do it again in a heartbeat next time I’m in Banos Ecuador. It was absolutely worth the $2 USD admission and the bragging rights.

Whitewater Rafting

Another activity that I really enjoyed in Banos was whitewater rafting with Imagine Ecuador in the Amazon. Since rafting is very expensive back home, when the opportunity presented itself in Banos Ecuador, I was sold. Our guides picked us up from our hostel and within an hour we were conquering the Class III/+IV rapids of the Mad River.

The sheer power of the river created a thunderous sound as rocks rolled past each other at the bottom of the river bed. And when I wasn’t paddling down the river, I was admiring the Amazon. For the first time in my life, I was surrounded by a jungle.

Our guides were very adventurous and enthusiastic. They pushed us past our comfort zones and dared us to play games inside the raft. We even jumped in the water a few times for fun. I loved Banos Ecuador and I know you will too.

For more incredible moments in Ecuador, head to the Galápagos Islands. Jordan from Inspired by Maps shares an unexpected but memorable moment he had in a cove where he bonded with a baby Galápagos sea lion.  As you can see, these travel moments will stay with us forever, so come to Ecuador to experience these adventures for yourself.

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