Ecuador

Visitor’s Guide to Quito, Ecuador

While many countries sit along the world’s equator, few of them come to mind with travelers as much as the country of Ecuador in South America.  In fact, the country is named after its geographic proximity to the Equator, making it one of the only countries in this world that are named after a geographic feature.  However, there is much more to this fantastic country of over 16 million people than its name.

At 9,252 feet (or 2,820 meters) in elevation, the city of Quito, which is Ecuador’s capital city, is the highest capital city in the entire world.  Not only that, but the city of Quito was also one of the very first World Cultural Heritage Sites designated by UNESCO back in 1978.  The city’s beautiful historic center, with its cobblestone streets and beautiful 16th Century stone houses, is absolutely beautiful.  Touring this area of the city alone is worth a visit to Quito.  Not to be forgotten, Quito is the perfect city to fly into to launch a trip to another Ecuadorian treasure, and the world’s very first Cultural Heritage Site, the infamous Galápagos Islands.

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In this guide, I am going to give you all of the information you need to plan a successful trip to Quito.  I cover the best times to visit and the best ways to get there so that you can maximize what you can see and do on your trip.  In addition to this, I also outline the top things to see and do while you are there and where the best places to stay and eat are.  With this information in hand, you can be confident that your trip to Quito will be one that you remember for the rest of your life.

At A Glance
Top Things to See
How to Get There
Best Time to Visit
Where to Stay
Where to Eat
Recommended Tours and Excursions
Photo Gallery

At a Glance

Before you start making any travel plans, you will want to make sure you have all of the passport, VISA, and immunization tasks for your trip are taken care of.  In addition to this, you will want to make sure you have a clear understanding of what language they speak in Ecuador and what currency they use so that you can plan any translation needs you might have for your trip and exchange currency before your trip if necessary.  I have included some of this key information below for you to review as you start to make your travel plans.

Passport requirements exist. See below for details.
Immunization recommendations are listed below.
The official language in Ecuador is Spanish.
The official currency in Ecuador is the United States Dollar.

Passport Requirements

To enter Ecuador, you must have a passport that is valid for 6 months after the date in which you enter the country.  If you plan on staying in Ecuador for 90 days or less, you will not need a VISA to enter the country.

Travel Insurance

Before you head to Ecuador, I would recommend that you purchase travel insurance.  You will want to have this in case something happens and you have to either postpone or cancel your trip.  It would also be a great idea to purchase emergency medical evacuation insurance.  Should an emergency occur and you need to be medically evacuated from the country, that could cost you into the tens of thousands of dollars.

Travel Immunizations

Before you leave for your trip to Ecuador, you need to make sure you have all of the proper vaccinations.  Not only to protect yourself but to protect others.  If you have questions on what immunizations you will need and what to look out for when you go to get them, below are some general guidelines I can pass on to you from experience.

  • Most specialized travel clinics will not accept insurance so you will have to pay for your travel consultation and immunizations and then request reimbursement from your insurance company later.
  • Some immunizations aren’t accepted by every insurance company, so check with your insurance provider before getting your immunizations.
  • Check with your regular doctor first, as often they can do a travel consultation for you and write you the necessary prescriptions for your immunizations, even if they aren’t able to give them to you.  This way you can ensure that at least your travel consultant will be covered by your insurance up-front.
  • Check with Walgreens or other drug stores that give flu shots to see if they have any of the immunization shots that you require before going to a specialized clinic that doesn’t accept insurance to get them.  Walgreens can give you many of the immunizations necessary for international travel, and they accept insurance up-front.
  • The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) website can be a great resource for answering any travel immunization questions that you have.

In case you are unsure of what travel vaccinations you might need, I have compiled a list below of some of what you might expect your physician to recommend.

  • Typhoid (either a shot, which is good for 2 years or live virus pill, which is good for 4 years).
  • Yellow Fever (The Yellow Fever vaccination is not required to enter Ecuador unless you are 1 year of age and older coming from – or who are in airport transit for more than 12 hours in – Brazil, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, and Uganda.  Please see the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) map of the areas where a Yellow Fever vaccination is recommended for more detail.  You can also refer to the IAMAT website for more details on the Yellow Fever Vaccination Requirements for Ecuador).
  • Hepatitis A & B (if you haven’t had them).
  • Tetanus (if you aren’t current).
  • Dukoral (gives you 3-month protection against travel diarrhea).
  • Flu Shot

Top Things to See and Do

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In addition to being one of the best spots to fly into for international travelers looking to begin an adventure to the Galápagos Islands, there are plenty of amazing things to see and do in the city of Quito itself.  Whether you are looking to tour the beautiful old town section of the city, admire the city’s beautiful churches and cathedrals, or get a taste of the spectacular local cuisine in some of the city’s wonderful restaurants, Quito has something for every type of traveler to enjoy.  To assist you in filling out your itinerary, I have included some of my favorite things to see and do in Quito for you to review below.

Quito Ecuador Top Things to Do Map

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Mitad del Mundo
Iglesia de la Compañía de Jesús
TelefériQo
Virgin of El Panecillo
Parqueadero Basílica del Voto Nacional
Plaza de la Independencia
Catedral Metropolitana
Plaza de San Francisco
Mercado Artesanal La Mariscal
Parque El Ejido

Mitad del Mundo

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If there is one thing you absolutely cannot miss when you visit Quito, it is a trip to the Equator.  While the Mitad del Mundo monument doesn’t sit on the exact Equator, it is the most famous monument in the world celebrating this important geographic landmark.  The Monument to the Equator at Mitad del Mundo was built in the 18th Century and the measurements they took at the time weren’t as precise as the measurements we can do today.

The result is that the monument is roughly 240 meters off from the exact line of the Equator.  Still, the monument is cool enough that I would absolutely recommend visiting.  It is a quick 1.5 hours outside of Quito, so you will either need to rent a car or purchase a tour.  While you are out there, you can make the short trek from Mitad del Mundo to the nearby location of the actual Equator, which is located at the nearby Museo de Sitio Intiñan.

Iglesia de la Compañía de Jesús

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Without a doubt, the Iglesia de la Compañía de Jesús is one of the most beautiful churches that I saw while in South America.  Construction on this stunning, Spanish Baroque styled church began in 1605 and was completed nearly 160 years later.  In addition to being one of the most ornate buildings in all of Ecuador, it is widely considered to be one of the most beautiful churches in all of South America.  Beyond the stunning architecture, the church also showcases 44 paintings and 56 sculptures by local artists, which includes the infamous “16 Prophets” by Nicolás Javier de Goríbar and sculptures of the Holy Trinity by Bernardo de Legarda.

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The church is located along García Moreno and Sucre in the historic center of Quito, about a block to the southwest of Plaza Grande.  It is open to the public from 9:30 a.m. to 6:30 p.m. Monday to Thursday, 9:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. on Friday, 9:30 a.m. to 4 p.m. on Saturday and 12:30 p.m. to 4 p.m. on Sunday.

TelefériQo

TelefériQo

One of the things that make the city of Quito so beautiful is its prominent location at the foothills of the Andes Mountains.  The best way to appreciate the stunning views of this high altitude city is to take the city’s famous TelefériQo cable car up to the foothills of Pichincha Volcano above the city.  The TelefériQo rises from 10,226 feet (3,117 meters) to 12,943 feet (3,945 meters), making it one of the highest aerial lifts in the world.  From the top, you can get some absolutely stunning photographs of Quito in all its glory.  Before you head back down, you can also choose to take a walk on the volcano, which I strongly recommend.

Virgin of El Panecillo

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One of the most recognizable landmarks in Quito sits up on the bluffs overlooking the heart of the city.  From its perch on the bluffs, the Virgin of El Panecillo looks over the town and its residents.  Inaugurated in 1976, the nearly 150-feet high statue made of aluminum sits over 650-feet above the city, so it can be seen from various points around the old-town section of Quito.  If you are up for a walk, you can hike to the statue and even enter inside and climb up to the top. From there, you will be treated to some truly spectacular views of Quito.

Parqueadero Basílica del Voto Nacional

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If you love beautiful and historic churches, then you won’t want to miss out on visiting the Parqueadero Basílica del Voto Nacional. It is the largest neo-Gothic church in South America that is part of some interesting, if not troubling, superstitions. According to legend, if the construction of the basilica is ever officially completed, the world as we know it will end. That alone sets this church apart from many others that you will visit in South America and throughout the world. The inside of the church is as beautiful as the exterior, with a long central nave that has two smaller, adjoining naves. Throughout the basilica, you will find the most beautiful stained glass windows.

Towers Basilica Quito

The gargoyles on the exterior of the basilica represent some of the native animals you will find in Ecuador, including iguanas, tortoises, armadillos, and condors. If you decide to visit, the $2 entry fee that you pay to enter also allows you to ascend to the top of one of the two towers of the church. If you are up for the climb, the views from the top are well worth the effort.

Plaza de la Independencia

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In the heart of the beautiful historical center of old Quito, Plaza de la Independencia, which is known colloquially as Plaza Grande, is one of the busiest and most well-known plazas in Quito.  The square is not short on history, with the Heroes of the Independence statue in the square’s center and four of the city’s most historical buildings surrounding it.  Among these are the Presidential Palace, the Municipal Palace, the Archbishop’s Palace, and the Cathedral of Quito.  If you are going to visit the plaza, I would strongly recommend you try and visit on a Monday morning.  This is when the “Changing of the Guard” occurs as the Presidential Palace, and it is a wonderful tradition to witness.

Catedral Metropolitana

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Though it has had to survive numerous natural disasters including a volcanic eruption and an earthquake since being constructed in the 16th Century, the Catedral Metropolitana de Quito still stands and attracts flocks of visitors to this day.  While the exterior of the church is a clean white, the interior of the church showcases several colorful murals, marble columns, and decorative gold.  The church is so important to the people throughout Ecuador that it was officially declared the country’s most important church back in 1995.  If you decide to visit, the price of entry includes a guided tour that you should take advantage of.  The tours are in both Spanish and English and include a wealth of historical information about the church and city.

Plaza de San Francisco

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There is a lot of history to see in Quito’s historical old town. With its cobblestone streets and old buildings, touring this area will really take you back in time.  Perhaps the place where this is more true than anywhere else in the old town is at the infamous Plaza de San Francisco.  Throughout much of the history of Quito, the Plaza de San Francisco was the place where people would congregate to trade.  Today, the plaza is a place to congregate in a cafe to enjoy the company of your friends and to people watch.

What hasn’t changed is the beautiful Monastery of San Francisco, which still sits in the plaza to this day.  If you’re interested in touring the monastery, there is a great collection of 16th-century artwork and beautiful, intricate furniture inside.  You will also note a collection of images of the sun that decorate the interior.  These were used by the monks of the monastery to try and convert the native people to Christianity when the monastery was opened.  With so much history, it is little surprise that the Plaza de San Francisco and the Monastery of San Francisco are two of the biggest tourist attractions in Quito to this day.

Shop at the Mercado Artesanal La Mariscal

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For those of you who love to do some shopping when you travel, one place that you will not want to miss out on visiting when you are in Quito is the artisan market.  The Mercado Artesanal La Mariscal is an indoor\outdoor market with vendors that sell a wide variety of hand-made goods and other items.  You will find a good selection of clothing, jewelry, art, handbags, leather goods, and much more at the market.  Make sure you bring your haggling skills and have some fun bartering for deals on souvenirs to bring home.

Try the Street Food Near Parque El Ejido

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Before you leave Quito, you absolutely have to try the wonderful street food in the city.  One of the best places to find great street food in the city is on the outskirts of Parque El Ejido.  You will find quite a few street vendors setup along Avenida Patria selling some delicious food you will want to try.  Here is a sample of some of the food you might find when you visit:

  • Tortillas – These potato patties typically include sausage and are topped with a fried egg, chopped lettuce, tomato, and rice.
  • Tripa Mishki – If you are on the adventurous side, this dish is something you might want to give a try as it is one of the most popular dishes in Ecuador. Consisting of seasoned and fried intestines, the texture takes a while to get used to.
  • Empanadas de Viento – This dish is my absolute favorite in Ecuador. These tasty empanadas are filled with cheese and then deep-fried and sprinkled with sugar. Make sure you grab more than one as they are both very light and incredibly addicting.
  • Seco de Pollo – This chicken stew is typically served with rice, boiled egg, and potatoes. It is so popular with the locals that it has become a staple in Ecuadorian cuisine. Though you will find this dish throughout Ecuador, the city of Quito is known for having some of the best.

How to Get There

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If you are visiting Quito from outside of Ecuador, the best way to visit is to fly into the city’s international airport.  There is a wide range of international flights into and out of Mariscal Sucre International Airport (UIO) every day, so you should have plenty of options.  If you are visiting Quito from other areas of Ecuador, the easiest way to travel between cities is by airplane.  There are several airports throughout Ecuador that you can take advantage of for your travel needs.  To assist you in your planning needs, I have included a map of the country’s many airports for you to review below.

Getting to Quito, Ecuador Map

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The Basics of Bus Travel

If you are looking for a cheaper way to travel throughout Ecuador, your best bet is to use the country’s bus system.  From Quito, there are two main bus terminals: Quitumbe and Carcelén.  From here, you can visit many of the cities throughout Ecuador in a relatively reasonable amount of time.  As a general rule of thumb, plan on paying between $1-$1.50 per hour for bus travel in Ecuador.  For instance, I have included some example travel times and costs for you to review below.

  • Quito to Canoa = 6 hours ($6-$9)
  • Quito to Guayaquil = 8 hours ($8-$12)
  • Quito to Cuenca = 9 hours ($9-$13.50)
  • Quito to Montañita = 10 hours ($10-$15)
  • Quito to Baños = 3.5 hours ($3.50-$5.25)
  • Quito to Tena = 6 hours ($6-$9)
  • Quito to Coca = 7 hours ($7-$10.5)
  • Quito to Otavalo = 2 hours ($2-$5)

Bus Safety

While you are generally safe from violent crime while traveling by bus in Ecuador, the buses are known to be frequented by pickpockets.  If you are traveling with luggage in the bus’s hold, I would recommend locking your bags if possible.  If you don’t have luggage locks, just make sure your luggage is closed well.  I would recommend keeping anything of value with you in the passenger compartment.  If you are keeping a carry-on bag with you in the passenger compartment of the bus, do not put your bag in the overhead storage or on the floor.  Instead, keep your bag with you on your lap while on the bus.  This will prevent anyone from having convenient access to your bags.

Best Time to Visit

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The city of Quito is located in a subtropical highland climate.  At an altitude of roughly 9,350 feet (or 2,850 meters) and a location right on the Equator, the city has a fairly constant cool, but not cold, climate.  Throughout Ecuador, the climate in the country is divided into two primary seasons – the wet season and the dry season.  The dry season lasts from Jun thru August, while the rest of the year sees a fairly high amount of rainfall (especially between February and April).

While the dry season may seem like an ideal time to visit Quito because of the nice weather, it is also the busiest time of year for tourism in the city.  If you visit during the dry season, expect to see larger crowds at the popular tourist spots.  It is also the best time to visit the Galápagos Islands, so there is a greater number of tourists traveling thru Quito on their way to the islands as well.  Perhaps the best months to visit are the shoulder months of May and September.  These months tend to still be relatively dry, but there are also typically fewer tourists visiting during these months as well.

Average Temperature (°F)

One of the remarkable things about the weather in much of Ecuador, and especially Quito, is the consistency of the high and low temperatures throughout the year.  Because the city sits right on the Equator and at a high altitude, the high temperature throughout the year fairly consistently reaches the upper 60’s and the low temperature rarely falls below the lower 40’s.

Average Precipitation (Inches)

While there isn’t much variation in the high and low temperatures, there is much more variation in the amount of precipitation the city gets throughout the year.  The dry season in Quito is from June thru August, whereas the wettest time of year is usually between February thru April.  If you are planning on spending a good deal of time outside, you might want to avoid visiting during these months.

Where to Stay

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One of the most important decisions you will have to make when planning your trip to Quito is where you plan on staying while you visit.  Between hostels, hotels, and home-sharing sites like AirBnb and VRBO, there is a wide variety of options for you to choose from.  If you are looking for some hotel and hostel recommendations within Quito, I have listed several recommended accommodations at different price points for you to review below.

Quito, Ecuador Hotels Map

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Posada del Maple ($)
La Posada Colonial ($)
Holiday Inn Express Quito ($$)
Boutique Hotel Cultura Manor ($$)
Boutique Hotel Casa El Edén ($$$)
Le Parc Hotel ($$$)
Hilton Colon Quito ($$$$)
JW Marriott Hotel Quito ($$$$)
Hotel Swissôtel Quito ($$$$)
Hotel Plaza Grande Quito ($$$$$)

Where to Eat

Casa Gangotena

In addition to all of the wonderful things to see and do within Quito, the local cuisine is very popular with tourists who visit.  There is no shortage of great restaurants, cafes, and street food vendors for you to sample during your stay.  If you are looking for some recommendations, I have included a number of highly-rated restaurants for you to review below.

Quito, Ecuador Restaurant Recommendations
Restaurant Cuisine Price
Casa Gangotena Restaurant Ecuadorean, International, Veggie $$$$
Osaka Peruvian, Fusion, Vegan $$$$
De La Llama Soups, Latin, Seafood $$-$$$
URKO Cocina Local Latin, Ecuadorean, Veggie $$-$$$
SOMOS Restaurante Ecuador Latin, Ecuadorean, Contemporary $$-$$$
Restaurante Maitane Seafood, European, Spanish $$-$$$

 

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No trip to Quito is complete without a little bit of adventure.  There is so much to see and do within the city and the surrounding area, it is hard to know where to begin.  If you are looking for some recommendations for tours and excursions to take during your stay, I have included a link to the options on Viator’s website below.  I love using Viator to book my excursions and tours because their user reviews are always extremely helpful and the vendors are well screened and typically very reliable.

View Quito, Ecuador Tours on Viator.com

Quito is one of those cities where you don’t really have to put in much effort to get some amazing photographs when you visit.  With beautiful things around almost every corner, finding things to photograph couldn’t be much easier.  If you would like to see some of the photographs that I took during my stay in Quito, I have included a gallery of some of my favorite images for you to review below.

Quito, Ecuador

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8 replies »

  1. Oh my goodness! You know too much! Tell me you have a book or something?! South America has always interested us. We are a homeschooling family and want to do more world schooling; what are your thoughts on Ecuador with small children? I’m guessing wait until they’re in their teens, but wanted to check with you.

    • Thank you so much for the kind words!! I think Ecuador would be great for younger kids. We saw a number of families while in Quito and the Galapagos. It’s an amazing country! 😄

  2. Hmmm… it kinda feels like the world is ending right now, so maybe they completed the cathedral?? Looks like a beautiful city – so cloudy though! Did you get any sun at all while you were there? Wonderful travel guide, as always.

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