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Things to do Around Quito
Quito affords easy access to many of Ecuador´s diverse activities and regions. Moreover, the city’s extensive network of travel agents and tour operators make arranging excursions simple. Below are some of the most popular Quito day trips and activities.
If you want to explore the treasures of Latin America´s ornate churches and flowered plazas, take a guided tour of the colonial center of Quito. As a UNESCO World Heritage site, modern buildings are forbidden, therefore, old town has retained its colonial charm despite the city’s modernization.
La Mitad del Mundo.
Photo by Mark Horton.
Tours usually include such sites as the Plaza de Independencia, the monastery of San Francisco and its accompanying museum, and El Panecillo. From the top of El Panecillo at the south end of the colonial district, you can get an expansive view of the capital as well as a close-up of the statue of winged Virgin of Quito at the hills summit. Some tours contrast old and new with a visit to the museum of Guayasamin, celebrating Ecuador’s most famous contemporary artist.
A tour of colonial Quito can be done in a morning, but Quito´s niches and corners will take at least a few days to thoroughly take in.
About 2 hours east of Quito on the road to Baeza, rest the hot springs of Papallacta. The baths range from ice cold to hot as hell. Weekday visits are recommended over weekends, as the resort can become quite crowded on Saturday and Sunday. The pools at La Merced are somewhat nearer to Quito, but most operators arrange tours to the more scenic Papallacta area.
Local towns that surround Quito offer markets any day of the week. The most famous, Otavalo, buzzes seven days a week, however, the best day to go is on Saturday. Artisans, weavers, and vendors of every sort come from miles around to share their ware with the world. For last minute gift shopping in Quito, Park Ejido, across the street from the Hotel Colon, hosts a weekend market. There are also smaller, less touristy markets in towns such as Zumbagua and Guangaje.
Sunday: Santa Domigo de los Colorados, Otavalo, and Park Ejido in Quito
Tuesday: Latacunga, Otavalo
Wednesday: Pujili, Otavalo
Thursday: Saquisili, Otavalo
Saturday: Otavalo, Latacunga, and Park Ejido in Quito, and Mitad del Mundo
For more information on Ecuador’s markets, please visit our indigenous markets page.
Literally “The Middle of the World,” this monument marks the spot where in 1736 Charles-Marie de la Condamine’s scientific expedition made measurements that verified the location of the equator. Hosting a model of colonial Quito, a planetarium, a ethnographic museum, and a number of restaurants, this monument is a very popular attraction. Also, the brilliant yellow line splitting the world in two, makes for an irresistible photo opportunity with a foot in each hemisphere. A trip to the monument is often included as an afternoon segment of Quito city tours, but it is easily an excursion on its own.
Where else can you paraglide from a volcanic peak a half-hour from a major metropolitan center? Several paragliding schools can be found within an hour of Quito. You can take a week-long training course, or entrust yourself to an experienced pilot on a tandem flight. Flights last around 10-25 minutes depending on the air currents, take place in the morning for maximum airlift. According to aficionados, trying to imitate a condor feels surprisingly natural – and you certainly won’t get any better views. For more information on paragliding in and around Quito as well as in other locations, please check out our paragliding and handgliding page.
Numerous Pre-Columbian archeological sites in the countryside surrounding Quito await! Explore pre-Incan pyramids at Rumicucho and Pambamarca, the fort at Rumicucho and the burial mounds at Hacienda Zuleta. These tours are best for people with a real interest in archeology, as the sites in and of themselves are not Palenque-sized nor as grandiose as Machu Pichu. For more information on archeological tours, please check out our archeological and cultural tours page.
Ecuador boasts one of the most diverse bird populations in the world; over 1,500 native species have been recorded. From Quito, tour operators offer a number of one and two-day excursions to paramo and the cloudforest region, which are home to some of the rarest birds found anywhere. Two-day trips give you a better chance of seeing such rare and beautiful birds as the outrageous Andean Cock-of-the Rock. The reserves at Mindo, Bellavista Cloudforest Reserve, Maquipucuna, Pasochoa Reserve, and the Yanacocha Reserve on the back side of Pinchincha Volcano are all recommended. For more information on birding in Ecuador, you can visit our birdwatching and birdwatching tours pages.
Guided day tours are available for all standards of riders – and if you’ve never ridden before what better place to start than in the Andes? Most day programs are managed through one of the nearby haciendas or the Green Horse Ranch located in the geobotanic reserve of Pululahua, an ancient volcanic crater filled with tangled vegetation.
Traversing the splendor of the Andes via mountain bike can be surprisingly effortless. Becuase high altitude biking is a challenge for even the most fit, jeeps usually take riders and their bikes to the top of one of Ecuador’s many mountains, and from there they cruise down. If zipping down hills is not your thing, or you want to work up a lather, you can arrange more strenuous riding, including some painful uphill climbs.
Biking tour operators offer a range of trips that navigate cloudforests and cross the paramo (highland plain), often on deserted and unpaved roads. Other popular trips include biking around the base of Cotopaxi and down the Andes to the cloudforest town of Mindo.
The popularity of whitewater rafting in Ecuador grows daily. Ecuador has emerged from whitewater obscurity to fame, and is now known as one of the world’s premier whitewater playgrounds.
The massive Andean range gives birth to scores of rivers east and west that carve their way through spectacular gorges, canyons, valleys and jungles leaving behind hundreds of miles of breathtaking world class whitewater. Near Quito you can race through humid tropical forest, which you’ll have little time to notice as you negotiate the class II/III rapids, making for a thrilling, not-too-dangerous day out. For a little more “peligro,” there’s the “raft-eating” class III-IV rapids of the Rio Toachi. For complete information on whitewater rafting and kayaking in Ecuador, you may visit our whitewater rafting andwhitewater tour operators pages.
You can escape the bustle of Quito to the fresh air of its surroundings where opportunities for rock climbing, mountaineering (locally called andinismo), trekking and hiking are numerous. Cotopaxi and Pichincha are two of the areas most popular excursions. Cotopaxi National Park, with Ecuador’s second highest peak and the world’s highest active volcano, is just one and a half hours from Quito, and Pinchincha is just minutes from Quito.
For a complete listing of Ecuador’s climbs and hikes get a hold of Climbing & Hiking in Ecuador by Mark Thurber.
Read our what to do section for detailed information on the activities listed above.