A Guide to Quito, Ecuador: 7 Top Things to Do!
So, best to say Quito and I didn’t get off to a good start…
Lmao why, bus journey from hell?
That was actually fine, straightforward and the bus driver forgot charge me – although it was only a measly $2.50.
It was how I felt on the bus…
Oh boy, not this again…
Lets just say my first two nights in Quito were spent in bed feeling sick. Shout out to Bjöncé (née Björn, the German diva) for putting up with my crap (figuratively, and literally) as I lay in bed complaining. Our first conversation was genuiley the following:
B: (who had just come off of a long haul flight from Frankfurt) Hello how are you?
Me: SICK MY TUMMY ARGHHHHH * runs to the bathroom *
I’m still having to go dairy free ☹️I couldn’t even eat the dulce de leche for breakfast this morning… 😭
Did you even see any of Quito?
Upon returning to Quito after my (disastrous but still fun) visit to Cotopaxi National Park, I did explore a bit of Quito. Like the typical tourist I used my well-thumbed copy of Lonely Planet, researched blogs online and visited Quito’s “must-see” attractions. Here I’m weighing in on the top 7.
(btw Quito is 2,850m above Sea Level – pack some Diamoxin!!!!!)
#1 Go on a walking tour with CarpeDM
Tours with CarpeDM start daily outside The Secret Garden Hostel at 10am. I highly recommend you arrive at 10:20am.
Because of the strange hippie bullsh*t spiel the owner of CarpeDM gives for about 30 minutes before the tour starts. Lucy and I were 10 minutes late, and we still stood around with the group for a further 20 minutes.
Sentences included: “You are so lucky to be alive! The odds of being born are 1 in 400 trillion! Seize the day, seize Ecuador!” And, “We need to feel the love among one another more, look to the stranger next to you, look deep into their eyes and tell them you love them.” And, “EARTHQUAKES!! MOUNTAINS!! Mother nature humbles us, and reminds us of life’s fragility.” 🙃
This. THIS!!!! For thirty flaming minutes. 😵
The walking tour itself (by the time he shut up and introduced the guide – I actually thanked my stars it was somebody else) was actually quite good. Our guide Roxanne was enthusiastic and really knowledgeable about the city. The tour didn’t just involve the run-of-the-mill ‘in 1868 this church was built’ but actually involved us learning a bit of Bombo (Ecuadors answer to salsa. It pales against actual salsa), chocolate tasting and a tour of the Mercado. Sadly the tour lasted far too long – we were at it for almost 4 hours.
#2 Eat at the Mercado San Francisco
Probably THE place to grab lunch and wander around trying the local fruits. You can grab a Menu del Dia for $2-3 and a juice for $1. There are also plenty of options for those who are vegetarian/vegan/gluten free. I know this because I had to go dairy free during my time in Quito.
The variety of fruits here is also fascinating. On the walking tour we were able to sample some of the fruits, and if you have a kitchen I highly recommend you buy some to take back with you.
Fruit is weirdly expensive, considering it is grown here. A mango costs ALMOST the same in an Ecuadorian Mercado as it does in M&S – baring in mind in M&S, we have to fly the mango over from South America, and then they peel and cut the mango for you.
You must get a juice here – only $1. I chose mora (blackberry) and chiramoya (weird bubblegum tasting fruit… I became obsessed. Well I always loved Hubba Bubba 🤷🏻♀️).
#3 Visit the ‘Middle of the World’ or Mitad del Mundo
We didn’t do this because we didn’t have time. To be honest, it wasn’t a priority, but I’m still adding it to the list because many travellers DO visit it. We chose not to prioritise it because of feedback.
Well, we were tired, wanted to get to Baños (which we LOVED – read here) and it is a long way! It is either a $10 cab ride 1-way or a 1.5 hour bus journey from central Quito. AND the monument and equator line isn’t even where the equator is! The true equator line is actually around 300 metres away. There is a museum there, and of course the monument where visitors flock to take selfies but otherwise there isn’t much there.
If you have time, I’d go see it.
#4 Ride up the TelefériQo and climb the Rucu Peak of Pichincha
Teleférico is Spanish for cable car, FYI. The TelefériQo (a combination of teleférico and Quito – clever, huh? I never doubted the Ecuadorian intelligence) runs up the foothills of Pichincha Volcano and offers a view over all of Quito. A ticket cost about $8.50 at time of writing. The TelefériQo is one of the highest sky trams in the world! The ride takes about 10 minutes to the top of Cruz Loma.
Make sure you take sensible shoes, water and a coat! Of course, Lucy and I did not do this and were both cold. It is also surprisingly windy, and they sell cotton candy, which is not a good combination. That was $1 wasted on my part.
Other than the hike (which is challenging as you ascend to 5,426 feet. It takes about 2 hours and the views are spectacular), many people come up the teleferico to go on the swing for cool Instagram photos. Dress for the hike, don’t dress for Instagram. The rest of my walk was not easy, despite looking cute in my American Eagle dress.
#5 Go for bevvies in La Ronda
I’ll tell you where NOT to go for bevvies – La Mariscal. It is touristy, overpriced and I swear most bars took their inspiration from the Bigg Market in Newcastle or the strip in Magaluf. Yup, I’m talking fish bowls and buckets of anonymous blue alcohol. La Mariscal is only enjoyable if absolutely utterly SMASHED. I was on antibiotics so had to endure the whole evening sober. Even Lucy had a terrible time and she could drink.
La Ronda is a more upmarket (but similarly priced) area of Quito to go drinking. It is also lovely to visit in the day; to wander down the streets, shop in its boutique outlets or just grab a coffee and people watch.
Oh, by the way everything in Quito shuts after 2 or 3am. When I questioned the staff at The Secret Garden they shrugged and simply said, “This is Ecuador, not Berlin.” – well Ecuador, your nightlife SUCKS.
FYI: whilst you’re in La Ronda try a Canalazo: special Ecuadorian booze served hot, made from aguardiente, local citrus fruits, and cinnamon.
#6 Climb the Basilica del Volto National
If you climb the central basilica you get fantastic views atop. We all know I love a good mirador… It does cost $2 to enter the cathedral, so make sure you’ve got your wallet on you!
#7 Stay in Plaza Foch and visit the Artisan Market
Missed a bargain in Otavalo? Not around Quito on a Saturday to take a day trip to the big market? Or simply can’t be bothered to schlep 2h on a bus? I hear you sista – and it is find, Plaza Foch has a small artisan market on daily, and it is filled with all the same cr*p as Otavalo. It doesn’t make a fun day trip, but certainly forms part of a nice day out in La Mariscal.
Where to stay in Quito 🏨
First of all – you have three main options.
Option 1: Stay in Old Town. This will mean you’re within walking distance from all of the main sights, but will mean you’re an UBER away from Quito’s shopping malls (Quicentro – YES of course I visited the mall and had a fab time) and from the main nightlife.
Option 2: Stay in La Mariscal, otherwise known as Gringolandia. You’ll be a walk away from home on a night out, but you’ll need to take the bus or an UBER to see Quito’s main sights. La Mariscal also has a wider diversity of restaurants and bars than Old Town, but expect to pay tourist prices. Old Town feels safer than La Mariscal, and is much prettier – I decided the cab right after a night out was worth it.
Option 3: La Floresta – apparently this area is up and coming. I didn’t visit, but they mention it in Lonely Planet. Hey, if you go tell me how it is. 😉
We initially opted to stay in Quito Old Town, reasoning we could get an UBER to La Mariscal for a night out. We stayed in La Mariscal for 1 night, but hated the hostel (and the area) that much we came crawling back to The Secret Garden the following day.
The Secret Garden
Very sociable hostel, with a fantastic rooftop. My main complaints are 1 – at $11 a night (at time of writing) it is a bit pricier than other options in Qutio, and 2 – for $11 there is no breakfast included. The hostel serves breakfast for extra, but if you go round the corner you’ll find the SAME pastries for like 10 cents.
Note – where NOT to stay! Vibes Hostel, La Mariscal: I met so many travellers who buzzed about this hostel, and it is even mentioned in Lonely Planet. I’m not sure why? It is terrible! It is so small, the rooms are super run down and the common area feels as if you’re in someones living room. I wanted a glass of wine, and I had to awkwardly disturb the owner who rolled his eyes because he was mid (dubbed) Lord of The Rings
Where to eat in Quito (for Vegetarians/Vegans) 🌿
I was also dairy-free whilst in Quito due to my bug. After asking The Secret Garden to ‘veganise’ my stuffed pepper (as the vegetarian version was filled with cheese), they gave me pepper… stuffed with pepper. After that I decided to eat out.
Very imaginatively named, but the owner couldn’t stop feeding Lucy and I free food when he found out I was 1/4 Yemeni. This is a great option for vegetarians, vegans and meat eaters alive. For those who have never eaten Yemeni food – don’t fret! You can get falafel, hummus and other foods you’ll recognise!
This restaurant is okay for vegetarians, as they are ready and willing to create alternatives (i.e. the shrimp soup but with more potatoes over shrimp). However the best thing about this place was its signature desert – fried bananas with vodka 😍, raisins, nuts, cinnamon and honey.
Café San Blas
A half decent and relatively cheap pasta around the corner from The Secret Garden hostel.
Super tasty vegetarian/vegan burgers! THIS is where we went instead of Mital del Mundo.
A note on getting to and away from Quito 🛩 🚌
Quito has two bus stations both a while out from the city. Carcelen is Quito’s northern bus station, which serves Otavalo, Ibarra, Mindo, Esmeraldas, and other destinations north of Quito. Quitumbe is Quito’s southern bus station, and serves Guayaquil, Cuenca, Baños, Latacunga and other destinations south of Quito.
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