The second tallest capital in the world, known as “Carita de Dios” (The Face of God), is a colossal beauty. Those visiting Quito, Ecuador even just for one day will be able to appreciate its landscape, architecture and bohemian vibe. The surrounding mountains and the Pichincha volcano make for some very unique Quito landmarks, and the city is also known as the Florence of the Americas due to its visible European influence. The middle of the world is a spectacular place to visit, so here is a one-day itinerary for top things to do in Quito, Ecuador.
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What’s the best time to visit Quito
Quito can be an all-year-round destination. The annual average temperature is around 15 degrees Celsius (60F) and varies little during the entire year. The dry season is only three months long – from June to September. This doesn’t mean it rains constantly during the rainy season, though, but February to May are the rainiest months. The prices and activities remain the same throughout the year, so for the best weather choose June to September.
A few facts about Quito
The full official name of Quito is “San Francisco de Quito”. Quito was the first city to be declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site and its old town is the best-preserved historic center in Latin America.
The city sits at 2,800m above the sea level, which makes it the highest constitutional capital in the world (La Paz is not a constitutional capital). Nervous flyers should not look outside their plane window when landing in Quito airport as it is one of the harder airports to land in. However, the new airport is much safer than the old one, so you should be just fine.
You don’t need to worry about malaria here! The malaria parasite cannot reproduce due to high altitude and lower temperatures.
One Day in Quito Itinerary
It’s easy to spend more than one day here, but when short on time you have to pick the best of what to do in Quito. There are plenty of sites to see and food to try, but here is what you should check out if you have a single day on your hands.
Start your day at Basilica Del Voto Nacional
As soon as you arrive to the city, the towering Neo-Gothic church is the first thing you’ll spot. Why not start your day right there? “Basilica of the National Vow” is a majestic landmark impossible to miss. The church is 115m tall, making it the highest of its kind in all of the Americas. In 1883, a French man Emilio Tarlier designed the basilica in honor of Roman Catholicism in Ecuador. The construction itself took a hundred years to complete!
The Pope blessed the project in 1985, but the basilica is technically still under construction. A local legend claims: “Once Basilica Del Voto Nacional is done, the end of the world will come.” The entry price comes to 2-4 USD per person and it will get you in the church as well as to the viewpoint from the top of the tower. Allow yourself at least an hour to explore!
Visit the Old Town
After seeing the majestic basilica, the old town is just a short walk south down Venezuela Street. It’s easy to spend the entire day in Quito old town, but when you have one day for your exploring there are a few highlights you can not miss.
Check out Iglesia de la Compania De Jesus also known as the “Gold Church” because of its golden interior. The entrance fee is no more than 5$ and it’s well worth it. The “Gold Church” isn’t the only one in the area, so if you’re on a budget there are plenty to choose from with no entrance fees, just walk around the old town Quito.
Iglesia de la Compania de Jesus (Church of The Jesuits) is close to two plazas. The popular Plaza Grand or the Plaza San Francisco where you can enjoy street performances or take the next best Instagram photo. Both plazas are worth seeing and are a five-minute walk away from each other!
Have lunch at Calle De La Ronda
Ask anyone what to do in Quito, Ecuador and they will tell you to see Calle De La Ronda. When you visit Quito, there are numerous little streets to see but this one you can’t miss. La Ronda is the finest representation of the bohemian history of colonial Quito. Ecuador’s famous poets, painters, and musicians all used to gather on this street. Not only the artists hung out here, but all kinds of “bohemian” crowd from the prostitutes to the priests.
At one point in time, La Ronda was home to shady characters but ironically, this only served as a benefit as the street was never torn down to make way for shopping malls. Today, it’s a major tourist attraction and the best place to try the empanadas de viento (a cheese-filled pastry) or canelazo (a cinnamon rum drink). For lunch, visit “Bohemia” or “La Casa de Los Geranios!”
Check out El Panecillo
When you’re only spending one day in Quito, Ecuador you won’t have time to see the Pichincha Volcano. It is also good to see the volcano after you’ve adjusted to the altitude. Instead, you can see El Panecillo for equally amazing views. The name El Panecillo comes from the hills resemblance to a small bread (“panecillo”). There are a few ways to get there, all according to your budget. You can go with a hop-on hop-off Quito city tour bus. This is the safest way because you’re guaranteed to have a ride back. You can take a taxi or Uber, but make sure you have internet access to call one to get back. You can end up with no ride down in a torrential downpour. Taxis are hanging out up there but not at all times!
The Virgin of El Panecillo is the tallest statue in Latin America (yes, taller than Christ The Redeemer in Rio De Janeiro). Up here you can visit the museum located in the statue itself and enjoy the spectacular view of the city. There are vendors where you can try local food or buy a souvenir for a reasonable price.
Enjoy a dinner with a view
All the sightseeing will work up your appetite, so why not enjoy dinner and a fantastic view? For those on a budget, the vendors on El Panecilo offer a selection of Ecuadorian food for a good price. If you have some cash to spend, you can try Pim’s Panecillo located near the statue for a wonderful view overlooking the city or you can head back to the old town. Once you’re back in the old town try out Restaurante El Ventanal in the San Juan neighborhood. The view of the entire old town and El Panecillo make for an unforgettable dining experience.
See a live band
If you’re one of those people obsessed with views, Cafe Mosaico is your best choice to see a local live band perform (weekends only) while enjoying a fabulous view. It is a bit harder to find but once you arrive at the San Blas neighborhood find Manuel Samaniego street. For the view, head up to the second floor. If you wish to stay closer to the city center check out Plaza Foch, where you’ll find a selection of bars including The Dirty Sanchez. Even though the name suggests a certain act – don’t worry, there is none of that here. Just cocktails, happy hour two-for-one drinks and a great atmosphere.
Salsa the night away
Plaza Foch is an area with a lot of tourists so for a more local experience find one of the salsa clubs. Close to La Ronda is a local favorite “Azúcar El Portal de la Salsa”. It doesn’t matter if you’re a salsa expert or a terrible dancer, this place is a judgment-free zone ideal to end your one day in Quito. For a quieter experience try “Cafe Libro” located in the La Mariscal district. Artists from all over Quito love to gather here for a night of salsa or tango dancing and fantastic drinks.
Where to stay in Quito?
Vicente Rocafuerte OE 123 y Av Pedro Vicente Maldonado, Centro Histórico, 170130 Quito
In Quito’s old town, you can relax in this quaint hotel. Enjoy the views from the guest terrace every morning while eating your (free) breakfast. The hotel’s location is fantastic to explore the city. Travelers who wish to enjoy a good, quiet night’s sleep while still surrounded by the life of the city particularly enjoy this hotel. All rooms come with a private bathroom, wi-fi, and TV. The hotel has a 24-hour reception with helpful and friendly staff!
Junin Street Oe1-61 y Gral. Juan Jose Flores St, Centro Histórico, 170401 Quito
Another centrally located place with a sun-terrace but more geared towards a budget traveler is Friends Quito hostel. The on-site bar and a shared lounge are perfect places for travelers looking to meet new people. The staff is helpful, friendly and available 24 hours. The old town Quito is in your backyard so for those short on time, Friends Quito is a great option. There are private rooms with private bathrooms for travelers looking for privacy or dorms for those looking to meet new people.
Masaya Hostel Quito
Calle Venezuela OE3 – 85 con Calle Rocafuerte , Centro Histórico, 170403 Quito
The old town is full of hostels and another excellent choice is Masaya Hostel. Masaya is great for active travelers looking to enjoy different activities. You can play table tennis, billiards, and darts, try the on-site solarium or drink at the bar. The hostel is on La Ronda street so you will save a lot of time and manage to see the best of Quito in one day. Wi-fi is available in all rooms and dorms. They offer pub-crawls and have regular movie nights!
Day trips from Quito
While it is possible to visit the viewpoint the same day you arrive in Quito, it’s not actually recommended. Rucu Pichincha is an active volcano with a peak at an elevation of 15,413 feet (around 4500 m). Many travelers find the altitude sickness gets them when climbing up to the volcano, so it’s better to take a day or two to adjust and then go. Take an extra day and dedicate it to this activity. You can climb up there on the cable car. The ride offers fantastic views of Quito and costs about 8$ for a round-trip. Once out of cable car, you can enjoy the view of the city but for those wishing to see the volcano, the hike up to the peak takes up your day so be prepared, or hire a guide. Make sure to bring adequate clothing. It’s a challenge, but this day trip from Quito is very much worth it!
Mitad Del Mundo
Technically, the real equator line is a bit more north from this point, but there is not much there, so it’s a lot cooler to visit this place. You can get a passport stamp from the center of the world in any of the cafes on site while sipping on amazing coffee. Check out the on-site planetarium and museums all included in your admission price. Mitad del Mundo is affordable and less than an hour away from Quito. You can Uber (around 10USD) or hop on one of the many buses available. There is also a tour option for those wishing to know more about the history of Ecuador or those who want to make sure they have a planned way there and back.
Cotopaxi National Park
Cotopaxi National Park is just a two-hour drive outside of Quito. This is one of the world’s highest active volcanoes and the national park is a stunning site. Wild horses and untouched nature make Cotopaxi an excellent day trip for those who love nature. Spend some time adjusting to the altitude before you attempt to hike up to Cotopaxi and you will have the time of your life.
For travelers not into altitude and hiking, Otavalo is a cultural experience you’re going to love. The town is about two hours north from Quito. The town has the largest indigenous population. You can spend a whole day exploring its surrounding lakes, mountains, and nearby villages. Otavalo is great for shopping as it is home to Latin America’s largest outdoor market. There is also an animal market just outside of the city!
Extra tips for visiting Quito
Check Your Money – Ecuador uses US dollars, but there is a lot of counterfeit bills. Don’t exchange your money on the street and check the bills when you get change back. They have 1$ coins, unlike the US, so don’t be alarmed if you see those. To check if your bill is a real look for raised printing, you should feel a rough texture along with the portrait.
Use A Taxi or Uber Application – Most taxi drivers in Ecuador are fantastic, but a few ruin it for everyone. To avoid scams, use an app. Quito uses Uber and has a few taxi applications. Uber is very cheap in Ecuador, so you can get anywhere you need without the added stress.
Wear Sunscreen and Bring A Jacket – The mild temperatures can trick you into thinking the sun won’t hurt you, but it will. The altitude and the fact that it’s on the equator make sunscreen a necessary item on your visit to Quito. Temperatures change from day to night so it’s always good to have an extra layer or a light jacket.
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Things like lightweight travel backpacks, for example, are ideal for short trips and allow you to move around with ease, and a passport holder will make sure you keep your documents safe at all times.
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