Quito in eight verbs: how to fall in love with the capital of Ecuador

The Ecuadorian capital and its surroundings are the perfect combination of colonial city and beautiful natural landscapes. Make sure to visit it and explore the area

Mariana Campos Getty Images

Published November 2019

1. Walk around the city

To get into the city’s mood, we’d recommend a tour of Quito’s main tourist attractions. Start at Plaza de la Independencia and its surroundings, where Palacio de Carondelet, the Metropolitan Cathedral, Palacio Municipal, and Palacio Arzobispal are located.

If you’re an art aficionado, visit the Iglesia de la Compañía de Jesús, a church built hundreds of years ago. In its interior, you’ll find some sculptures of Quito’s colonial school and paintings by national references, like Bernardo de Legarda. The structure’s façade is entirely made of volcanic rocks.

2. Feel the work of Guayasamín

Open to the public since 2012, the house that belonged to the famous Ecuadorian painter is currently one of the most important museums in the capital. Built between 1976 and 1979, the structure features an architecture that’s completely different from the aesthetics of the era in Ecuador, designed by Gustavo Guayasamín, the painter’s architect brother.

The house/museum has a large collection of pre-Columbian art as well as religious paintings acquired by Guayasamín throughout his life. His main project was to show it to the Ecuadorian people one day.

3. Stop at the center of the world

This is literal and you’ll want to take more than one picture there.

In northern Quito is Ciudad Mitad del Mundo, an area on our planet that’s exactly on the equator, the same line that divides the Earth into two hemispheres.

4. Blend in with Otavalo’s colors

Otavalo is a village located almost two hours north of Quito. On Saturdays, it gets multiple colors at its famous handicrafts market held at Plaza de los Ponchos. Considered the biggest in South America, there you’ll find sweaters, quilts, bags, Andean instruments, rugs, and costume jewelry.

Many pieces are made by Otavalo Indians, known for preserving and showing to the world the richness of their manual skills.

We’d recommend arriving early (buses leave from Quito every 30 minutes) to visit the animal fair as well, which is held in the early morning hours. To get better prices, shop on the streets further away from the plaza.

5. Visit the Ecuadorian mountains

Some 25 miles [40 km] from Quito, the Pasochoa Forest Reserve is one of the last preserved humid forests in the Andean mountains, with over 50 types of trees and 100 bird species. A 4-hour hike leads to the top of the dormant Pasochoa Volcano, at an altitude of 13,780 feet [4,200 m]. In this region, you can also see condors, Ecuador’s national bird.

6. Explore the Maquipucuna Biological Reserve

Just 43.5 miles [70 km] separate the capital, Quito, from a tropical forest with over 6,000 hectares. The Maquipucuna Biological Reserve is home to seven types of hummingbirds, endemic animals like the venomous frog and the only bear species in Latin America – the Andean bear –, alongside 350 other bird species.

With several heights, difficulty levels, and lengths, the trails must always be explored with the help of a guide. There are several picnic areas and you can go horseback riding and rafting in the surroundings of the reserve.

7. Take a stroll among orchids and go abseiling in Pahuma

Do you love flowers? We know they all have their charms, but orchids have something special about them. A little over 31 miles [50 km] northwest of Quito, you’ll find 260 types of the flower – and nine are endemic species.

If your adventurous spirit calls for more action, go abseiling from a spectacular 72-foot [22 m] waterfall. Just take a trail, accompanied by a guide, to Cascada Pacay, which is 147.5 feet [45 m] tall. Further up, you’ll arrive at Gallo de la Peña, where the abseiling magic happens.

8. Experience the Cotopaxi’s altitude

At almost 19,685 feet [6,000 m], the Cotopaxi is the highest volcano in Ecuador, after the Chimborazo. To climb it up, you need to be physically fit, but the park, which is 36 miles [58 km] from Quito, also offers options for the less adventurous, such as biking and trekking.

The first shelter on the way up is at an altitude of 15,780 feet [4,810 m], where you can rest before resuming the hike to an area close to the glaciers. If you prefer a more relaxing activity, walk to the beautiful Laguna Limpiopungo, at the foot of the volcano.

Quito: journey to the center of the Earth

Quito, volcanoes and the middle of the world

5 fun facts about Quito airport