Top things to Do in Quito, Ecuador and Surroundings
Quito, the capital of Ecuador is situated in-between active volcanoes and at elevation of almost 10,000 feet (3000m). It is is one of the highest capital cities in the world and a great starting point for visiting Ecuador, Galapagos Islands and also start/end point for backpacking in South America. There are a bunch of interesting activities and places you can visit in Quito and the surroundings – climb volcanoes, visit the Equator line, take a walk in the UNESCO world heritage old town – Centro Historico or take a ride with one of the highest gondola aerial lifts in the world. Quito has it all and it’s definitely worth visiting!
My plane landed in Quito late at night at about 1am arriving from San Salvador. Ecuador is a visa free place for up to 180 days for most of the countries. Usually, you will be granted 60 days of stay so if you need more just make sure you ask the immigration officer before getting stamped. While waiting at the immigration line I overheard people being asked for their ongoing ticket out of Ecuador in order to be granted access to the country. Few backpackers in front of me didn’t have any exit ticket and were rejected until they have proof of leaving the country. They start looking for bus or plane tickets online on their cell phones and by that time it was my turn 🙂
Ooops, I didn’t have exit ticket either but luckily they didn’t even ask me and here I was in Ecuador – my first South American country where my backpacking adventure was about to begin.
Have your outward reservation prior arriving in Ecuador together with a 6-month valid passport and on arrival ask for more than 60 days if you need them.
Transport from the airport to Old Town or Mariscal Sucre
The airport is brand new and situated 30km northeast from the city center. You have several options to get there:
- Public bus (transporte colectivo) operates between 6am and 10 pm. It will take you to the Rio Coca Terminal in the north part of Quito for $2. From there you can take local bus for $0.25 to Mariscal Sucre or Old Town.
- New Airport Express Bus is running between new airport and the old one (North Quito) 24 hours a day without any stops. This one will cost you 8$ and from there you can take the $0.25 public bus.
- Taxis have fixed fares between the airport and the city. It will cost you between $20-40 depending on where you want to go. The taxi to the most common backpacking destination (La Mariscal) will cost you $25.
I met at the airport two Canadian backpackers who didn’t have any plans for accommodation or transportation so we choose to share the $25 taxi ride to Mariscal Sucre.
We found a 4 bedroom dorm room pretty quickly for $5 per person and situated two blocks from Plaza Foch (Mariscal main square, where most of the night clubs, restaurants and tourist agencies are).
What to do in Quito and Surroundings
Quito has a lot to offer no matter if you like museums, parks, nightlife, food tasting or mountain climbing. I tried to explore most of it and will try to summarize it:
La Mitad del Mondo
If you are in Quito you could not miss the chance to visit the most interesting equator point in Ecuador. The Mitad del Mundo.
Check here for a complete guide how to get there and what to do.
Teleferico ride to Pichincha Volcano
Teleferico is one of the highest city gondola lifts in the world. After you enjoy your lunch or just a cup of coffee with amazing view to Quito at the top you can hike up to the Pichincha Volcano (4,784m).
Check here for a complete guide.
Enjoy Mariscal Nightlife – Plaza Foch
Mariscal sucre is where most of the cheap accommodations for backpackers are. It is full of cafes, restaurants, night clubs and tourist agencies and all the “gringos” walking around, which makes it totally stand out from the rest of Ecuador. Because of the foreign visitors, it’s also known as “Gringoland”.
Plaza Foch is the main square in the hearth of the neighbourhood and a meeting point for tourists and locals. The diversity is huge – from cheap local restaurants to fancy Italian, American, Mexican cuisines. You can see there from locals begging you for a dollar to fancy clothed tourists. Also, you can find a lot of tourist agencies offering Galapagos Islands tours and local daily trips to the main attractions near Quito, which I’ll explain in details later in another blogpost.
Most of the hostels and hotels in the area are within three blocks of Foch Square and it’s pretty easy to find a place to stay once you get to La Mariscal. Even though the neighborhood is well guarded by the local police it’s not the safest place. Watch out for pickpockets and avoid walking alone at night.
Quito historic city center – a first ever city to be named a UNESCO World Heritage Site offers а mixture of charming colonial architectures streets, churches, plazas, cathedrals and museums. The must-do things to see are: Basilica del Voto Nacional, Museum of Culture, Plaza de la Independencia, Church of San Francisco, Church of La Compania de Jesus and so on. You can visit all these by yourself in a single day.
The better way to do is with a Quito Free Walking Tour. Bilingual guide will explain you everything about Quito and Ecuador in details. And it’s free – just tip the guide if you like the tour. Make sure you bring a camera, sunscreen and rain cover with you.
When in the old town area take a walk to the El Panecillo – aluminum monument of the Virgin Maria standing on a 200 meters high hill above the old city. You will be revealed an amazing 360-view of the entire city.
Taxi from Mariscal area will cost you $5 to the Old City or you can take the local bus for $0.25. The bus stop is two blocks west of Foch Square.
Quito is a a destination you should not miss in South America and it was a great way for me to start my big backpacking trip.
Have you been somewhere in Ecuador? Share your impressions in the comments please.
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