Piled high above the Andes, Quito the capital city of Ecuador is one of the most captivating cities in South America. It doesn’t get the attention it deserves. Most visitors to Ecuador zip through town, having just enough time to catch the next flight to the Galapagos, with no time to explore treasure trove Quito.

Trippy user Melissa Curtis was one of the many that fell into this category of travelers. She wrote:

Time crunch must do/see/eat in Quito?
A friend and I are spending two days in Quito in late November/early December before and after a trip to the Galapagos Islands. Any tips for must see, must do activities? Any food recommendations? Any other travel tips? Thanks!

Quito was the world’s first city to be declared a UNESCO World Cultural Heritage Site in 1978. The city has a lot to offer, and it’s one of my favorite cities in South America. If you’re in a time crunch like Melissa, here are 10 top things to add to your list before leaving for Quito:

1. Join a walking tour of Quito historic center

One of the best ways to discover Quito is to wander through the historic center with a tour guide. I like the Live Quito Like a Local tour by Metropolitan Touring. It’s a half-day tour of visiting markets, trying local foods, meeting local herbal healers, meeting artisans and walking on the oldest street in Quito.

For me, the highlights of this tour were lunch at Casa Gangotena in Plaza San Francisco (extra charge) and a visit to Casa del Alabado Archaeological Museum. The museum is in a restored 17th-century colonial mansion with artifacts dating back to 5,000 years ago. It’s one of the rare museums with the most comprehensive pre-Columbian art pieces.

2. Visit Iglesia La Compania de Jesus (Church of the Society of Jesus)

This is the crown jewel of Quito where not a square inch in the interior is left undecorated. La Compania de Jesus Church is one of the most beautiful churches in South America. It’s a must-see for anyone interested in the artwork, history, and culture of Quito.

Constructed in 1605 and completed in 1765, the 160-year construction also means you’ll find different designs in the church. Outside is the Baroque façade, followed by a mix of Baroque and Renaissance interior.

3. Climb Basilica del Voto Nacional

Trippy user Ryan Ferguson from Canada said:

If I had to pick one thing to do in Quito, it is to go to the Basilica del Voto Nacional. You can climb all the way up onto the roof and then up onto the church towers and get a great view of the city as well as scare yourself with the height and somewhat sketchy looking construction!

I have to agree. It’s an adventure to climb the steep stairs to the top of the roof. These stairs would be deemed dangerous and hazardous in the US. Eric Lemond from Colorado replied:

I would second the Basilica del Voto Nacional. I don’t do well with heights, but the view at the top was well worth the climb and was my favorite site in the city.

4. Take the cable car to El Panecillo

Trippy user Scott Mahaffy said:

I would recommend either a taxi ride up to Panecillo to for views of the Virgin Mary statue and great, sweeping views over Quito. Stop by the restaurant, just below the statue, for a cocktail. The food was OK, but the drink, and views were a nice experience. If the weather cooperates, take the Teleferico cable car.

Libby Friede also suggested El Panecillo, but she recommended going up using the cable car:

I would also highly recommend going up Teleferico (cable car that takes you above the treeline and offers great views of the city with some light hiking at the top).

5. Join a food tour

Food gives us an insight into the traditions and customs of the place we visit. It’s the best ways to experience Quito in a short time. Join a food tour with Urban Adventures. The six-hour tour takes you to the fresh market and the oldest bakery, allows you to sample traditional foods and gives an opportunity to try making local delicacies like tamales, pristinos, and empanadas.

6. See the changing of the guard and visit the Government’s Palace

It’s free to visit the Government’s Palace (Palacio de Gobierno). Just bring your passport and present it to the information booth located on Espejo and Garcia Moreno streets. You’ll be given a ticket with an allocated time for your visit.

The 45-minute guided tour of the late 18th-century neo-classical building includes the grand dining room, reception rooms, conference room and the balcony. The balcony is where the President and his staff stand every Monday at 11 am for the changing of the guard parade at Independence Square. If you’re visiting on a Monday, make sure you get to the Independence Square and Palace by 10:45 am for the changing of the guard parade at 11 am.

7. Stroll along La Ronda Street

La Ronda is the oldest street in Quito, home to musicians, poets and historians in the 18th and early 19th centuries. This restored pedestrian cobblestone street has numerous bars, restaurants serving traditional food, Bohemian cafes, art galleries and artisanal shops.

The street is usually quiet during the day and can be noisy and crowded during the night.

Stop by at Chef Tiff chocolate shop for hot chocolate, fruit-infused local chocolates, and chocolate pastries. Try the giant empanada filled with cheese at El Pondo de Barro, a small eatery on La Ronda.

8. Discover La Mitad del Mundo

La Mitad del Mundo or The Middle of the World Monument is located 14 miles north of Quito. There are half day tours from Quito that includes La Mitad del Mundo and Intinan Museum. Both attractions are a must if you want to learn more about the equatorial line where the Northern Hemisphere and Southern Hemisphere meet.

At Intinan Museum, you can try balancing an egg on the head of a nail and learn about the Andean culture.

9. Shop at Otavalo indigenous market

Trippy user Scott Mahaffy said:

If you want to take a day trip, Otavalo Market is a good choice.

Otavalo market is the most extensive outdoor market in South America. Located about a two-hour drive from Quito, the market is open daily but the best day to visit is on Saturdays, when there are more stores and when the animals are traded beside the artisan products. The ‘animal market’ on Saturdays starts at 6 am and ends at noon.

10. Day trip to Quilotoa

Trippy users Eric Lemond and Ryan Ferguson recommended Quilotoa. Ryan wrote:

For me, the best thing to do in Quito was to leave Quito. A day trip to the Quilotoa Crater was one of the best days I had in Ecuador. It is a pretty unique and spectacular sight, and there are lots of good tour operators out of Quito.
I spent a week in Quito, and although there are some cool sights, I think the best thing around there is Quilotoa.

Laguna Quilotoa is about a four-hour drive from Quito. It’s a perfect location for hiking, horseback riding and enjoying the stunning views of the lake and snow-capped mountains.

Melissa took all the advice, and this is what she wrote after visiting Ecuador:

Hey everyone…thank so much for your tips on Quito. I was there about four weeks ago and loved it. We climbed to the top of the Basilica del Voto Nacional, took a taxi to El Panecillo, toured the churches of the Historic Center of Quito, and took a day trip to Laguna Quilotoa while we were there. We also found a very fun karaoke bar our last night, but I don’t remember the name of it 🙂 We spent most of the trip in the Galapagos…which was AMAZING! One of the most special places I have ever been.

Melissa managed to squeeze in five of the things mentioned during her short trip to Quito. Have a question about a destination? Become a Trippy user and get your question answered.

Photos and article by Claudia Looi

Mentioned in this post
  1. Quito
    City in Ecuador

    Quito Ecuador
  2. Casa Gangotena
    Hotel in Quito Ecuador

    Quito Ecuador
  3. Basilica del Voto Nacional
    Attraction in Quito Ecuador

    Quito Ecuador
    (02) 228-9428
  4. Panecillo
    Distrito Metropolitano de Quito Ecuador

    Distrito Metropolitano de Quito Ecuador
  5. Otavalo
    Attraction in Quito Ecuador

    Quito Ecuador
  6. Quilotoa
    Attraction in Ecuador