The city of Quito is a cosmopolitan metropolis whose attraction lies away from the busy streets, bustling sidewalks, and towering skyscrapers that dot its business districts and skyline. It is a melting pot where people come from all over the country to be a part of the up-and-coming culture that is changing the face of the city.
The capital’s vibrant charm and depth are worth taking the time to discover during a few days in Quito. It’s a place where walking the cobblestone streets of the historic center reveal overlooked aspects of the culture in a way that ignites your curiosity and puts you one step closer to the heart of Ecuador. Keep reading for a Quito travel guide that takes you away from the manufactured tourist spots and shows you the favorite places where locals take their out of town guests. It is the starting point for most Ecuador tours and the first place you will see when you visit the Andean Highlands.
The neighborhoods of Quito, like any city worth its salt, are the cornerstones of what makes the capital tick. In the new part of town, La Floresta and the Mariscal are the areas for comforts of home, clubs, hipster spots, boutique shops, and an art house movie theater. In the historic center, La Ronda and San Marcos radiate with an authenticity not found in most cosmopolitan areas elsewhere. Artisan shops, museums, and plazas make the journey interesting. Each district has its own character, and all hold gems hidden in plain sight.
The city of Quito has a thriving center for the arts and culture of the country. The national symphony, new interpretations of classics like Mozart’s Magic Flute, and dynamic shows featuring the traditional dance of the country are a small sampling of past productions hosted in the capital.
The Casa de Musica is a modern concert hall with pitch-perfect acoustics where performances of classical, jazz, and ensemble pieces take place weekly throughout the year. The venue hosts national and international acts, and tickets are reasonable-often under ten dollars.
Nuño de Valderrama y Av. Mariana de Jesús streets
During the week, Plaza de Teatro is home to street performers with crowds gathering around to watch the festivities. On weekend nights, the Sucre National Theater hosts shows, musicals, and theater from international and national artists. Opened in 1886, its one of the premier places for the theater in the city of Quito. Across the plaza from the theater is Theatrum, considered one of the best restaurants in the capital of Ecuador.
Guayaquil between Manabí y Flores streets
Quito’s museums boast an impressive variety of exhibits that give you an educated glimpse into the art scene, the cultural background, and the history of the country.
The City Museum, located up the street from the historic La Ronda neighborhood in the historic center, chronicles the people, culture, and social fabric of the city dating back to the time before the Inca. Exhibits detail how everyday life changed with population growth, delve deep into the Spanish occupation, and go on to expand into the cultural changes of the city of Quito after the country became an independent republic.
García Moreno y Rocafuerte streets
Located up the hill form the Basilica in a converted military hospital, Quito’s Museum of Modern Art is a stunning structure that houses revolving exhibits that showcase both national and international artists. There are classes for art students on premises, workshops, and a café for a break between exploring different sections of the museum.
Montevideo y Luis Dàvila streets
Artist Oswaldo Guayasamín is Ecuador’s native son. Internationally renowned with works, murals, and painting displayed all over the city of Quito and internationally, Guayasamin championed the poor and suffering of Ecuador and Latin America. Capilla del Hombre is his legacy to the city, housing floor to ceiling murals depicting stark Picasso-esque characters against colorful backgrounds. The museum sits high on one side of the capital’s valley in the northern part of the city, straddling the divide between the valleys on one side and the urban sprawl of the city of Quito on the other. The artist’s house is also on the property, as is the tree where the artist is buried under the roots.
Mariano Calvache street, Quito
Oswaldo Muñoz Marino died in 2016, leaving behind a portfolio of watercolor paintings that depict the life and landscapes of Quito and Ecuador in vivid color. The museum that houses his work, as well as exhibitions of others, is in the San Marcos area of the historic center. Set on a quiet street, the small space opens up on to an inner courtyard, where workshops and classes are held for students weekly.
Junín y Almeida streets
The past and present of the capital are seen throughout the city by statuesque landmarks in places where the Inca gathered, governments were overthrown, and the Spanish built elaborate and ornate cathedrals. These monuments echo with the tales of pivotal moments in the country’s history and are national treasures that stand as milestones to surpass for the people of the present.
The Basilica, overlooking the historic center, is one of the most recognized landmarks in the city of Quito. Its towering roofline is decorated with the animals of the Galapagos Islands and Ecuador, forgoing the traditional gargoyles. The two towers of the cathedral are open to the public- reached by climbing winding sets of stairs, crossing the roof of the main sanctuary by a wooden boardwalk, and scaling a metal ladder on the outside of the building. Once at the top, the views of the capital of Ecuador are outstanding, and there is a small café that sells light fare before heading back down to the next destination.
Calle Venezuela and Carchi streets
Plaza de la Independencia is a historic meeting point for the people of the city of Quito, dating back to the Spanish. Today, it serves as a gathering point in times of peace and protest. The Carondelet Palace, or the presidential palace, sits on one side and can be toured when government meetings aren’t in session. Adjacent to the palace is the Metropolitan Cathedral on one side and the Archbishop’s Palace on the other. The cathedral is open for exploring when services aren’t being held, and the Archbishop’s Palace is now home to a variety of shops and restaurants where you can buy Ecuadorian crafts and chocolate or stop for lunch overlooking the indoor courtyard.
Chile y Venezuela streets
La Compania de Jesus is one of the best examples of baroque churches in the city of Quito and South America. It’s said that seven tons of gold adorn the interior’s towering ceiling, archways, and alter. There are 44 painting from the Quito School of Art hanging on the walls, and rooms off the main sanctuary have the original wooden bell mechanisms. There is a small fee to enter the building, and unfortunately, no photography is allowed.
García Moreno street, close to Independence Plaza
The first church built in the capital of Ecuador shortly after the Spanish arrived; the church and covenant of San Francisco are home to more than 3,500 works of religious art, a working monastery and an impressive main church that was restored in the last decade. The catacombs of the church, accessed through one of the cafes on the plaza, now showcase a variety of religious and indigenous sculptures along the wall of the winding tunnels. It is possible to visit this and many other important Quito landmarks on just one day, refer to our eight things to do in Quito on a day travel guide for more on this.
Cuenca street near Sucre
Quito sits in a valley extending north and south. On one side is the Teleferico, a gondola ride that climbs high up the foothills of the Pichincha Volcano. The landscape widens revealing the scope of the city before reaching the top. From the overlook, on a clear morning, you can see the peaks of the Antisana, Cotopaxi, Chimborazo, and Cayambe volcanoes in the distance. For active explorers, there is a trail to the summit of Pichincha. Folklore tells that the Cotopaxi and the Chimborazo volcanoes to the south battled over the hand of Tungurahua, outside of Banos. Chimborazo won and when the child of Mama Tungurahua, Pichincha, gets upset- Tungurahua starts to emit gas and steam out of worry.
The capital of Ecuador’s music scene is as diverse as its people. Traditional music is found all over the capital, restaurants host bands of merry players who play traditional instruments including pan flutes, mandolins, and guitars.
Popular up-and-coming bands play at different venues across the city of Quito, including Bandido Brewing and La Oficina in the historic center, and Ananke in the bohemian neighborhood of Guapulo.
For a variety of weekly events including salsa, tango, and lessons, head to Café Libro in the La Floresta neighborhood. The mainstay is a genuine place to hear great music, see lively dancing, and take part in the action if you are feeling the groove.
Menu items include small plates, sandwiches, and an extensive drink list.
Leonidas Plaza between Wilson y Veintimilla
Putting on regular contemporary performances in a small space in the San Blas neighborhood in the historic center, CEDEX features a revolving calendar of shows. This troupe of dancers is on the cutting edge of performance art in the capital, and finding your way to the theater is a rewarding experience that is well worth the effort.
La Capilla Antepara y Los Ríos streets
No Quito travel guide would be complete without mentioning La Ronda, a small pedestrian neighborhood on the southern edge of the historic center close to Santo Domingo Plaza. It’s one of the oldest neighborhoods in the capital and was home to poets, musicians, writers, and artists in the early days of the republic.
On weekend nights, the historic, cobblestone streets fill up with locals looking for a fun night away from the clubs. Small restaurants, street performers, wandering musicians, and an outdoor theater vie for the attention. Canalazos, a hot drink made with sugar cane spirits, fruit juice, cinnamon, and spices-and empanadas are sold in the small shop fronts. Other traditional Ecuadorian food and dishes to try in La Ronda includes cuy, or roasted guinea pig.
During the day, the area’s artesian shops open their doors for visitors-bakeries, craft shops selling tops, and chocolatiers are a few of the reasons to take a stroll through the neighborhood before heading off to the other sites in the historic center.
Juan de Dios Morales street
The city of Quito’s restaurant scene is coming into its own after decades of being overshadowed by its neighbors to the north and south. Today there are international restaurants that cater to palates from across the globe, a new national revival of Ecuadorian fusion restaurants that use traditional recipes as inspiration, and all things in between.
Urko is one of a new crop of restaurants that have revitalized Ecuadorian cuisine in the country. Chef Daniel Maldonado uses ingredients from the four regions of Ecuador to create tasting menus revolving around the agricultural cycle of the country, its traditional recipes, and the cultures of each place. The menu changes with each cycle- and past dishes have included fish four ways from the jungle, cured pork with dehydrated potato from the Andes, and corn and salprieta served on toast from the coast. There is also an A La Carte menu at the bar that overlooks the open kitchen.
Isabel la Catolica N24-862 y Julio Zaldumbide streets
Zazu is one of the restaurants in the capital of Ecuador that ushered in the current age of fine dining in the city. It’s on the top of the list for many a Quito travel guide-being one of a few Relais and Chateaux rated establishments in the country, and for good reason. From their extensive wine list, to dishes including octopus, shrimp, and calamari ceviche; duck carbonara, and pork confit-everything is above the bar. Zazu also offers a chef’s tasting menu featuring pork belly fritada, smoked octopus, and four chocolate desserts using Ecuadorian cacao.
Mariano Aguilera y La Pradera streets
Voila is one of those places that you hesitate to mention when writing a Quito travel guide. It’s an intimate place where the owner tends to tables and two others work in the kitchen. The menu is fondue done right. Combination vegetable, meat, and dessert platters arrive at the table where a pot of oil is placed over the center burner. Bottles of wine are reasonable, and the covered, open-air dining area is the perfect spot for a relaxing night far from the crowds of the new town.
Av Coruna y Ernesto Caamano streets
Located in the center of the historic district and a stone’s throw away from Independence Plaza, Vista Hermosa’s rooftop terrace brings the romance of the old town to life. Aside from the ambiance, the Ecuadorian menu features grilled meats, classic dishes like secco de chivo (slow-cooked goat stew), and empanadas.
Mejia y Garcia Moreno streets
El Labatorio between the Mariscal and La Floresta in the new part of Quito, is one of the capital’s in-the-know hot spots. Located in a revamped industrial space, the restaurant hosts new chefs with specialty menus every few months. Past concepts have been Vietnamese, Ecuadorian fusion, and French bistro-style cuisine.
Lizardo Garcia between 12 De Octubre y Jose Tamayo streets
La Gloria is hidden in plain sight restaurant in the La Floresta neighborhood. The menu is Spanish, with Ecuadorian, Peruvian, Italian, and French influences. Paella, cuy, and crepes all have a place on the menu, and the wine list features bottles chosen to compliment the food perfectly.
For those of you that would like to be more adventurous, the city of Quito also offers many local street food markets, perfect places to mingle with the local culture and to try some authentic Ecuadorian food.
Valladolid y Francisco Salazar streets
The city of Quito, as opposed to other places in South America, does not have a distinct time where the weather factors heavily into travel plans. There is a dry season from June to September and a wet season from October to May. This can fluctuate depending on the year. During the dry season expect blue, sunny skies with the occasional rain shower. During the wet season, it can be sunny in the morning, cloud over by midday, and continue to rain through the night. There are more overcast days during this time-sometimes with heavy rains and hail showers.
Other things to consider when making plans for traveling to the capital of Ecuador are festivals and holidays. Quito comes alive with street parties during the early parts of December when the city’s founding is celebrated. During New Year’s Eve, people flock to the streets burning effigies and dancing under the firework lit sky.
In late February or early March during Carnival, it is hard to turn around without seeing people dousing each other with water and flour or spraying one another with foam. During the dry season, music festivals bring acts from all over the country to perform in the city’s parks.
August is a time where the historic center sparks with light at night during the annual Fiestas de Luz-a spectacular display of visual arts projected on the facades of the churches and plazas, created by international and national artists.
Ecuador and Galapagos Insiders offer a variety of services for those spending time in the capital of Ecuador before or after a trip to the Galapagos Islands, the jungle, and all points in between. We can arrange airport transfers for couples, groups, and solo travelers-and have trusted drivers and guides for day tours in the city and trips to neighboring towns.
The infrastructure in Quito for getting around includes bus systems that run north and south, taxis, and a hop-on-hop-off bus that shuttles visitors between the points of interest in the capital.
Quito’s main bus systems-the Ecovia, and the Trole- run between the historic center to the south and the parks and business districts in the north. At peak times it is crowded, and the notion of personal space is not a custom here.
Taxis around the city are reasonable. During the day they are required to use the meter, and at night when hailing a cab on the street, riders negotiate a price before setting off, still it is one of the most convenient ways to take public transportation in Quito.
Apps including EasyTaxi and Uber are safer options during the evening, rates are established and the drivers are vetted.
Our day tour of Quito includes transportation and a certified English speaking guide. The trip takes you to the historic center, where you visit La Ronda-followed by a stop at the artisan market in Quito for crafts, clothes, and shopping. The afternoon takes you to Mitad del Mundo, the center of the world. After exploring the sprawling complex along the equator, you make the short drive back to Quito. Guides personalize tours by using your preferences for food and interests to show you the in-the-know spots in the city.
The Quito Hop-on, Hop-off, double-decker bus runs daily throughout the city with stops in the north at La Carolina Park, in La Mariscal in the center of the new town, and in various places in the historic center. It’s an easy way to get around the city independently, and tickets are sold at various places around the city.
In almost every direction from the capital of Ecuador there are towns and points of interest that you can visit on day trips, if you have a few days to see the city and its surroundings, it is wise to put together a personalized custom made tour. Some of the main sites to visit include the market town of Otavalo, where the largest outdoor market in South America takes place daily, spilling out into the streets and plazas of town. Neighboring communities and nearby lakes and volcanoes are other points of interest that are waiting to be discovered.
Other places that Ecuador and Galapagos Insiders offer day trips to are Cotopaxi, Quilotoa Crater Lake, Mindo, and the Papallacta Hot Springs, remember to inquire about our day tours to the most impressive lakes of Ecuador in the surroundings of the city.
Cotopaxi National Park is the most visited park and volcano on the mainland. The snow-covered giant stands towering above the lowland paramo below; where lagoons, Inca ruins, and trails take you through the lush tundra amid endemic wildlife.
The Quilotoa Crater Lake is a sparkling, turquoise-blue volcanic pool that mirrors the clouds in the sky on a clear day. There are trails down to the water where you can kayak, those that follow the rim for a hearty hike, and mules are available for the journey back to the top.
Mindo, to the northwest of Quito, is the hub for those interested in exploring the cloud forest of Ecuador. One of the premier areas in the country for bird watching, the town is also home to one of Ecuador’s chocolate makers. Tours include stops that highlight the natural wonders of the area and explore the process of making chocolate, including tastings!
The Papallacta Hot Springs are a spa lover’s dream destination after trips to other points on the compass in the four regions of the country. A short drive from the capital, the small town offers hot springs to soak away the bumps in the road, massage treatments, and hikes into the surrounding countryside. For more on the best day tours to take from Quito follow this link to another one of our insider travel guides.
Quito has an incredible variety of hotels to choose from, including elegant mansions redone into first-class hotels in the historic center, quaint bed and breakfasts and international hotels in the new town, and convenient well-appointed hotels near the airport.
Listed by Travel and Leisure as one of the top hotels in the world, Casa Gangotena is the epitome of elegance in the historic center. Murals adorn the walls, Egyptian marble columns accentuate the interiors, paintings from the Quito School of Art hang in rooms, and everywhere you look there are lush appointments.
The hotel has a rooftop terrace overlooking the lights of the historic center, a bar with wood paneling and overstuffed leather chairs, and a fine dining restaurant where the Le Cordon Bleu-trained chef uses ingredients from the different regions of Ecuador to re-imagine traditional cuisine into a fusion of flavor and textures.
Luxury rooms on the ground floor spill out into the garden. Higher up, rooms and suites look out over the garden and into the plazas and lights of the historic center. Others face the San Francisco Plaza, giving you a brilliant view of the first church built in the city of Quito by the Spanish.
Amenities include full bathrooms with showers and tubs, fine linens, flat screen TVs, WiFi, and in-room safe boxes.
Bolivar y Cuenca Streets
Time Magazine included the Ila Experience in their World’s Greatest Places collection, noting that each of the hotel’s three floors represented an era in Ecuador’s past.
The Ila Experience is a restored 18th-century mansion in the San Marcos historic neighborhood of the historic center. With ten elegantly-appointed rooms, the hotel differs from the others by offering guests experiences where local artists and craftspeople showcase their work for guests. These demonstrations include chocolate makers, watercolor artists, and weavers, who show-instead of tell-the rich traditions of the country.
The hotel’s restaurant Nuema, is one of the capital’s best-kept secrets. Using ingredients from the four regions of the country, chef Alejandro Chamorro and his team serve dishes that follow the “rule of three.” Each dish has three ingredients, three textures, and three flavors. Paiche, a fish from the Amazon; peanuts, aji, ferns, coconut, and cacao find their way onto fusion plates that the chef himself is often on hand to explain.
Junin y Juan Pio Montufar Streets
Located in an unbeatable position on the corner of Independence Plaza overlooking the presidential palace, Hotel Plaza Grande sets a new standard for international accommodations in the city. Its 15 suites have carved wooden furnishings, chandeliers, and marble bathrooms. La Belle Epoque, a fine dining French restaurant, pulls out all the stops and offers an impressive list of classic dishes and innovative plates using Ecuadorian ingredients and recipes as inspiration. There is also a café serving sandwiches, soups, breakfast, and ceviches.
Built during a time when writers, musicians, poets, and artists lived in the historic neighborhood of La Ronda, staying in Casona de la Ronda means taking a step back in time while enjoying the modern amenities of the present.
The 22 rooms surround an indoor courtyard, and have overstuffed bedding, wooden floors, and modern bathrooms. This is a good option for families; breakfast is included, and the house restaurant features an A La Carte menu with a variety of items for all tastes.
Calle Morales Sreet
A stylish hotel located in the center of the Mariscal neighborhood of the new town of the capital, Anahi Boutique Hotel offers hip rooms with original artwork and murals, an in-house restaurant and bar, and amenities including a Jacuzzi and rooftop terrace.
Themed rooms take their décor from different eras and materials of Ecuador. There is an Incan Suite, one decorated with wood from the Andes, another with bamboo from the coast, and others that mimic Spanish haciendas and are designed by Ecuadorian artists.
The house restaurant offers a hearty buffet breakfast and dinner. The menu includes soups, salads, sandwiches, and Ecuadorian dishes like llapingachos and churrasco.
Tamayo y Wilson Streets
The Marriot Hotel in Quito offers everything you would expect from the international chain. Accommodations range from doubles to suites, there are a few in-house restaurants to choose from, a business center, a spa, and fitness center.
Rooms have high-speed WiFi, deluxe bathrooms, in-room safes, and flat-screen TVs with international cable channels and movies.
Restaurants include the Bistro Lantino serving a breakfast buffet and lunch, and La Hacienda-serving steaks from Argentina, and the Exchange Lobby Bar & Sushi Bar, where top-end cocktails complement a sushi menu using ingredients imported from the coast.
Set in a colonial-style house a few blocks from the center of the bustling Mariscal district, Fuente de Piedra is a refuge that offers spacious rooms with private bathrooms, a buffet breakfast, a bar and restaurant, and free WiFi.
Juan León Mera y Baquedano Streets
A newcomer to the Mariscal neighborhood of the new town, Selina opened its doors in mid-2018 and it is a hip spot where salsa and yoga classes, an eighth-floor co-working space, and a stylish bar and restaurant compliment the variety of rooms available. Options include deluxe rooms and suites with sweeping views of the surrounding area.
Diego de Almagro y Cordero Streets
Part of the international chain of world-class hotels, the Whydham Airport hotel offers double and king rooms, suites, and a wide range of amenities including a business center, spa, restaurant, and fitness center. There is also an onsite ATM, a dry cleaning services, gift shop, and masseuse.
The house restaurant serves a breakfast buffet daily and offers a variety of international and Ecuadorian cuisine in a formal setting. Room service is also available.
Being a big city, the capital of Ecuador has its fair share of annoyances to be aware of and avoided. While far from a complete list and meant to keep you safe and not scared, here are a few tips that will keep your time in the capital without incident.
Keep your valuables and passports in the hotel safe. Carry a copy of your passport, and don’t take large amounts of cash with you when out and about.
Take marked taxis, have restaurants call them for you, and avoid walking at night. Explore the plazas and churches of the historic center with guides in the evening. It’s easier, takes away the worry of being in a new place, and lets you enjoy yourself without being blindsided by those with ill intent.
Keep an eye on your bags and belongings when in public. Bags get stolen using a scam here where one person splashes mustard or something worse on you, another offers to help clean up the mess, and when bags are put aside they are taken by an accomplice, while all involved disappear into the crowd.
Health concerns include drinking tap water. While many don’t need to worry, the different climate and altitude can affect each person differently. Stick to bottled water and avoid the hassle of getting sick during your time away.
Notify your bank that you are traveling in Ecuador and South America. Many times automated systems flag cards at the onset of a trip, it’s a good idea to both call your financial institution and bring a backup card to avoid being stuck in an awkward situation.
Most who travel to Ecuador see the capital as a stopover on the way to the Galapagos Islands and the Amazon Rainforest, or as a jumping off point to explore the nearby towns of Otavalo and Mindo on day trips between legs of their journey.
Far from being the case, the capital of Ecuador has a lot to offer those who are here for the first time or on return visits. In addition to the aforementioned places and activities, here are some insider tips that take you off the beaten path while exploring the city.
Rent a scooter to explore on your own after getting your bearings on our day tour. Ecuador Freedom Bike Rental has scooters with self-guided GPS systems to discover the nooks and crannies of the city. The neighborhood of Guapulo, between the city proper and the valley of Cumbaya, is a quiet up and down area where cobblestone streets lead to the Guapulo church and plaza, and the nearby Guapulo Park. The plaza has a sweeping view of the valleys of Quito, and the park is a converted estate where paths take you to peaceful spots to take a break from the busy city.
Other parks to check out in the city include La Carolina, where weekend crowds gather for sports, markets, and paddle boating on a manmade lake; and Ichimbia, located above the San Blas neighborhood in the historic center. Trails lead to scenic overlooks that take in Quito, the historic center, and the valleys outside the city.
The Artisan Market on Jorge Washington and Juan Leon Mera in the Mariscal is the place for shopping. Rows of vendors have stalls with Ecuadorian crafts, clothes and textiles, jewelry, art, leather goods, and chocolate.
For the adventurous eater, try Parque de las Tripas in the La Floresta neighborhood. Every night vendors set up carts where hundreds of hungry locals gather to eat tripe, fried empanadas, and pork hornado-all traditional specialties of the city.
Take some time to learn some Spanish before you travel. Knowing key phrases, making an effort to talk to people, and having a basic vocabulary open up a new world.
The Ecuadorian people are warm and welcoming, and being able to communicate on any level helps to alleviate the worry of being in a different culture, and puts you on a path to understanding a new world within your grasp.
While this Quito travel guide aims to give you the best of the city, safety tips, and things to do and places to see-bear in mind the capital is a city on the move. Events such as free performances of classical music take place seemingly at random, restaurants open and close each week, and event schedules for the coming months and year ahead have yet to be confirmed.
The rules for travel to Ecuador also change periodically. This can be daunting, but all our local team many of them born and raised here, are experts at helping you navigate this terrain.
For more information about what to see and do during your days in the city of Quito, and your options for exploring other parts of the country including the Galapagos Islands and the Amazon jungle, contact a member of our team for current up-to-date information.