Quito, Ecuador is the capital city at the second highest altitude in the world, and also the closest capital city to the equator, so it’s pretty unique! More than that, it was another city that enchanted us in South America. Unlike Lima, where we were pleasantly surprised by it’s modern buildings and artsy neighbourhoods. Quito enthralled us with its old cathedrals, winding cobblestone roads and beautiful squares. Most backpackers stay in one of two areas, Mariscal or The Old City. Mariscal is known for its late night parties and nightclubs, and The Old City is closer to the major cultural attractions in Quito. We stayed in the latter, and highly recommend it. Ensure that you spend a few nights here, and plan to spend a day in the nearby Otavalo Market and maybe even opt for a trip from here into the Amazon Rainforest!
How to Get There
The first thing you need to know about transit around Quito is that there are two bus stations; Carcelen (North) and Quitumbe (South). Keep that in mind and make sure you go to the right station!
We arrived from Latacunga after our amazing 4 day Quilotoa Loop hike. It was a short bus ride straight north up the highway from Latacunga to Quito on a bus headed for Cotopaxi (for $2.30 USD). The bus was hot and the wifi was terrible, but the legroom was decent, and the ride only took about 1.5 hours. We were dropped off at the Southern Bus Station (Quitumbe). From there you’ll need to grab a taxi (there’s a well marked taxi stand outside of the station) for about $10 USD for a 40 minute ride to The Old City. There is also a bus that can get you into the city, but it takes about 2 hours.
We also travelled between Quito and Otavalo for a day trip to one of the largest markets in South America. You can get to Otavalo from the Northern Bus Station (Carcelen), which is just less than an hour $10 USD taxi ride from The Old City. Find the Otavalo ticket booth (our ticket cost us $2.60 USD) and then proceed through the turnstile and find your bus! The trip takes about 2 hours. On the way back, simply go back to the bus station and hop on a bus heading to Quito. You pay on the bus and it costs $2.50 USD.
We headed up to Colombia from Quito as well. To cross the border you need to take a $10 USD taxi ride to the Northern Bus Station (Carcelen) and head to Tulcan from there. We were on the Expreso Tulcan bus for $6.25 USD, and the trip took about 6 hours. Make sure to exchange money before going to the border, as they only accept Colombian pesos there. Your taxi ride from the Tulcan bus station to the border should cost you $5-$6 USD. We’ll have an in depth post on crossing the Colombian border coming soon!
Finally, we also travelled to the Amazon from Quito. We had to get to a town near tha Amazon called Lago Agrio (also known as Neuva Loja) where our tour started. Buses to Lago Agrio leave from the Southern Bus Terminal (Quitumbe), which is a 40 minute taxi ride from The Old City that will cost you $10 USD. You buy tickets on the second floor at the east end near booths 1-15. Our booth said Banos (another city in Ecuador) on it but Lago Agrio in smaller letters, as we went with the “Banos” bus company. Our tickets cost $12 USD, and the bus was pretty nice! Comfy seats that reclined really far back, and there was also a bathroom on the bus. The trip took just under 6 hours, but we were told it would take 7 hours, so we ended up in Lago Agrio bright and early at 5:15am. You can find more information in our Amazon Guide!
Where to Stay
- Hostal Quito Backpacker – This was a cool old building with lots of rooms, and a rooftop breakfast and chill area. The wifi was spotty in the rooms, but worked fine in the downstairs common room. We paid $24 USD for a very spacious double room with private bathroom, and that also included a pretty boring breakfast (still free breakfast though!). There were movie nights and a pool table in the rooftop common room. The main draw of this place was that it was relatively cheap, and a 5 minute walk from the main attractions of The Old City! You can book Hostal Quito Backpacker online here.
- The Secret Garden – Our friends stayed here, and we were able to check it out while we were in Quito. It is definitely the trendier backpacker option, with organized dinners for $5 USD, group bar nights and other activities. Obviously this comes with a higher price, as the double rooms go for $37 USD with a shared bathroom. It’s right around the corner from Hostal Quito Backpacker, but offers much better views of the city with a more open rooftop dining area and a large cool hammock to relax in. If you’re willing to splurge a bit on your Quito visit, definitely look into this hostel! You can book The Secret Garden online here. Pro tip: If you just head in to the hostel at high traffic times and walk to the roof top, you can pretend you’re a guest and eat and drink up there for a fun time without paying the room premiums!
What to Do
- Visit the Equator – Quito is one of only a few cities located close enough to the equator for a visit! Unfortunately, there’s a little bit of confusion as to where actually is in Quito. The main Ecuador monument, Ciudad Mitad del Mundo, was built in 1982 to replace a previous monument that has stood there since 1936. Unfortunately, both of these monuments were built 240 metres south of the actual equator, based on modern GPS measurements. This monument is still impressive and cool to see, and it costs $3.50 USD for entry or $7.50 USD if you want to check out the museums as well. It takes about 30-45 minutes to get there via taxi, and the driver will wait for you to check out the monument (make sure you agree how long he needs to stay!) and then drive you back. Our driver started at $40 USD (there were 4 of us) but we settled at $30 USD. We also had to pay $3 USD for his parking pass. There’s also an Intiñan Solar Museum about 200 metres north of the Ciudad Mitad del Mundo which claims its located on the actual equator, and although it’s closer, it’s still about 40 metres too far south! Entry is $4 USD, and includes a quirky tour showing the effects of being on either side of the equator. These effects are really just for show, and aren’t backed scientifically (also can’t be real because it’s not actually on the equator!) but are still kind of fun. Either way, all you really need is a picture of yourself straddling a line, and both of these locations provide that! You can easily see both monuments within an hour.
- Free Walking Tour – We’ve heard the walking tours in Quito can be amazing, and we can believe it with all of the gorgeous old buildings and squares The Old City has to offer. Unfortunately we didn’t have the best experience with the CarpéDM Walking Tour organized through The Secret Garden hostel. The organizer and guide both seemed to be more interested in team building activities and outrageous stories than showing us the incredible sights of the city. It took us an hour and a half to just get through the introductions, walk to the basilica (a 10 minute walk), and then listen to stories and go through a bunch of team building activities! We ended up leaving the tour after that and explored the city ourselves. We highly recommend taking a free walking tour, but maybe stay away from the CarpéDM one.
- Basílica del Voto Nacional – This giant basilica that dominates part of the Quito skyline is definitely worth a visit. It’s actually the largest neo-gothic basilica in the Americas! Entry is $2 USD, make sure to get there before it closes at 4:30pm. You get to climb all the way to the top, for a great view of the city, and an up close view of an amazing stained glass window.
- Beautiful Squares – We hope you’re not sick of beautiful South American squares yet, because Quito is full of them! Make sure to check out San Francisco Square and Plaza Grande, as well as the surrounding area.
- Ecuador Family Tours – We just wanted to give a shoutout to this tour company who helped us book our Amazon Tour. Gabby was awesome, and provided us with tons of info to help us make our decision. Make sure to check these guys our if you plan on going to the Amazon. You can learn more about our trip in our Amazon Guide!
- Day Trip to Otavalo Market – You’re only a two hour bus ride to one of the largest markets in South America, why not check it out? Head over to our post here for more details.
Where to Eat
- Govindas – A great spot with a yummy all-you-can eat vegetarian almuerzo (cheap meal of the day!).
- La Oficina – A hole in the wall spot near Hostal Quito Backpacker with $3.75 USD craft beer on tap, and simple snacky meals like $4 arepas or a $4 hummus plate. They have a comedy show on Wednesdays, live music on Saturdays, and they’re open on Sundays for a movie night.
Ristorante Pizzeria La Terraza – Another spot right near our hostel with some great pizza. Stay away from the salads they are pretty boring (who gets a salad at an Italian restaurant anyway?). Try the calzone; it’s giant!
- Quilotoa Loop
- Otavalo Market
- Complete Guide to going to The Amazon Rainforest in Ecuador
- Top Places to See in Ecuador