With a beautiful historic center, located between the mountains with a view of several volcanoes and with the equator within reach, Quito is worth a visit. In addition, Quito is the highest capital city in the world, located at 2,850 meters. A versatile city that is also judged differently. Nevertheless, the city has a lot to offer and you can enjoy yourself for a few days. There are plenty of activities to do not only in the city, but also beyond. What is there to do in Quito? And how do you get there and back?
The historic center of Quito is a neighborhood with the best preserved buildings in Ecuador and South America. The houses are built in colonial architectural style, are still well maintained and have been painted in the most beautiful colors. Notable landmarks include Plaza Grande, Cathedral Metropolitana de Quito, Iglesia de Compañia de Jesús, Iglesia Católica San Francisco, and La Ronda Street. Mainly Calle La Ronda (see Google Maps) is a well-known and beautiful street to walk through. You will also find a few nice restaurants here to eat and drink. In addition to these sights, Quito has a number of museums and churches that are worth visiting. Most churches are freely accessible, for others you pay an entrance fee. This also applies to the museums, it is often a few dollars per person.
Despite the fact that Quito feels safe, it is recommended to always be vigilant about your belongings. Do not flaunt too much expensive stuff and do not take too much (cash) with you.
Basílica del Voto Nacional
The largest cathedral in Latin America is the Basílica del Voto Nacional. Built in neo-Gothic style and therefore a different style than most churches in Ecuador and Latin America. At 83 meters high, the cathedral is visible from multiple points of the city and is therefore also a clear landmark. Built between 1887 – 1924, it is not a very old cathedral. Both the cathedral and the towers can be visited. Both have their own entrance. For the cathedral you pay $2 entrance and you pay in the cathedral. If you want to climb the towers, you pay your ticket in the courtyard at a counter, entrance is $3 per person. You can then go up the towers via the left tower, which can be done with a staircase or with an elevator. If you go up the stairs, you go up about 380 steps, you can transfer via a lookout point over the inside of the cathedral to the right tower, you will come across a restaurant in between (in both towers), and you can also see the bell set view of the towers. Once at the top you have a beautiful 360 degree view of Quito. The cathedral is open daily from 7 a.m. – 7 p.m. and you can climb the towers daily from 9 a.m. – 4:30 p.m.
Mitad del Mundo (the equator)
One of the most famous places to walk across the center of the earth is near Quito. Ecuador is also named for its location on Earth and the city of Quito takes advantage of that. The equator is located north of the city and this is visible from a large stone monument that can also be viewed from the inside. There is a clear yellow line on both sides of the monument to indicate the equator. The monument was built on the location that was calculated in 1739 to be the equator. The original monument was replaced at the same spot by the current monument, but we now know through more accurate calculations that the equator is 240 meters further north. The yellow line that should indicate the equator is therefore not correct. In the monument you will find a gallery and timeline about the origin of the monument and how the calculations around the equator came about at the time.
Visiting Mitad del Mundo costs $5 per person. In addition to the Equator Monument, you will also find several restaurants and cafes, a planetarium and museum. You get to Mitad de Mundo by bus that leaves from Terminal Ofelia, and it costs $0.40. Keep in mind that Quito is a long city and Mitad del Mundo is located in the north. A ride from the bus station to Mitad del Mundo can easily take 60 minutes or more. Uber/taxi is more expensive, but faster. Then count on about $12 from the center to Mitad del Mundo or back.
Cablecar Cruz Loma
The Teleférico Quito or Cruz Loma is a cable car that literally takes you to greater heights. Within 20 minutes you ascend from 3,117 to 3,945 meters. From the top of the mountain, and even during the ride, you have a beautiful view of the city. Once at the top you can also see the surrounding and further mountains and volcanoes that Ecuador is rich. If the weather is clear you can also see the snowy top of the Cotopaxi volcano. Not only the drive up is worth it, the environment on top of the mountains is also beautiful. If you have the time you can make a day trip of this and do the walk that takes you along and over the mountain ridge. This walk takes about 5 hours.
On top of the mountain near the cable car you will find several restaurants and cafes, you have a few swings and you can go into the area. If you want to take it more adventurous, you can choose to walk back (about 1.5 hours) or cycle on the way back. Some cable car cabins have special bars on the side to be able to carry a mountain bike/bicycle. You will then pay a little extra.
The Teleférico Cruz Loma is open daily. Monday to Friday from 9:00 AM to 6:00 PM (last ticket sales at 5:00 PM) and Saturday and Sunday from 8:00 AM to 7:00 PM (last ticket sales at 5:30 PM. Tickets cost $8.50 for adults and you can go there and back.
Virgen del Panecillo (viewpoint)
Due to the position and location of Quito, the city offers several possibilities for vantage points. Not only from a higher altitude such as from the Teleférico Cruzo Loma (see below), but also from the Virgen del Panecillo viewpoint. This is a statue of an angel located on a hill in the middle of Quito. You can visit it for free and look out over the city. It is a safe place to be, but it is recommended to get there by taxi/Uber. You can walk to the lookout point, from the center there is a staircase going up. However, it is not recommended for tourists to do so for safety reasons. A taxi/Uber to Virgen del Panecillo is recommended. Once at the top it is safe again.
Because Quito is partly located in a valley, you have a beautiful view of the city from the sides that are somewhat higher. A wonderful way to end the day is with a drink on a roof terrace. Secret Garden Hotel has a beautiful roof terrace with a view over the city and a daily happy hour from 6 pm. Other rooftop bars include Vértigo, on top of Hotel Mama Cuchara and Love me Rooftop. Good to know that most rooftop bars are not budget locations.
In Quito you will also find a relatively large souvenir market, Mercado Artesenal La Mariscal. Here you will find all kinds of local products such as sweaters and socks made of llama wool, handmade wooden statues, jewelry and bags. It is a very colorful market, well organized and clearly divided into several stalls. Negotiating on the market is possible and you don’t even want to pay too much if necessary. You will find the Mercado Artesenal La Mariscal in the Mariscal Sucre district. If you search on Google for the name of the market you will find the exact location. You can get there on foot from the center (between 30 – 45 minutes), by taxi/Uber or by bus.
How do you get there and back?
You come to Quito from all corners of the world. Quito has several bus terminals. For destinations north of Quito, you arrive and depart from Terminal Carcelén. For destinations further south, you depart from Terminal Quito Sur (also called Quitumbre). From the border with Colombia you travel by taxi to Tulcán and from there direct buses go to Quito. Buses run to and from Quito to Mindo (4x a day, 5x on weekends), to Latacunga, Baños (de Agua Santa), Cuenca and Guayaquil.
Uber and Didi, among others, are taxi applications that also work in Quito. It is good to know that these applications are officially illegal. But everyone knows it exists in Quito and Ecuador. It is a nice, safe and cheaper way to get from A to B in and around the city. For example, the taxi driver may drop you off something outside a terminal, because there is a police check. This is the only restriction you might notice if you go with the Uber.
If you want to go to Latacunga, the bus leaves from Terminal Quito Sur (or Quitumbre). The easiest way is to take a taxi/Uber to the terminal. There are several bus companies that operate this route. They all run several times a day, so there is always one that runs when you want to go. When you walk past the multiple counters, the destinations are called. If you indicate where you want to go, there are always people who will tell you which counter you should go to. You will probably need a counter around numbers 20 – 30. If you have time, it may be advisable to ask some bus companies and compare prices and times. Bus company Cotopaxi costs $2.75 per person and the ride from Quito to Latacunga takes more than 2 hours. You will arrive at Terminal Terrestre Latacunga. To be sure, check whether the bus stops at this terminal and not at Paso Lateral. This is a side road of the Panamerica Highway and is about 5 kilometers from Latacunga.