Top things to do in Quito
What to do and see in Quito
Ecuador’s capital city is considered one of the finest in Latin America and its setting, which is flanked by volcanic peaks, is simply breathtaking.
Divided into the old and new towns, Quito offers a diverse mix of tradition and modernity while somehow managing to retain a wholly Ecuadorian flavor. The old town is a wonder, with blocks and blocks of colonial architecture, narrow streets, and picturesque plazas which date back to the mid-1500s when the Spanish founded the city.Declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1978, the old town suffered a major earthquake in 1987, which led to intensive repairs and renovations but it has managed to retain its charm and ‘old world’ feel. In contrast, the new town is a sprawling mass of modern shopping malls, multi-story hotels, and high-rise government buildings and offers a lively, vibrant face to modern-day Ecuador.
- Quito city tours
- Equator Monument.
- Pichincha Volcano. From here you will board the “teleferico” (cable car)
- Day trip to Otavalo, Cotopaxi National Park, Mindo Cloudforest
Read about our favorite activities in and around Quito.
Read about our favorite hotels in Quito.
Read about our favorite restaurants in Quito.
The Galapagos Islands
When Charles Darwin first came to the Galápagos in 1835, he discovered animal species so untouched by humans, they came right up to him, fearlessly.
Today Darwin is long gone, but the Galápagos’ astonishment persists, as the iguanas, tortoises, flightless cormorants, and Sally Lightfoot crabs that inhabit this enchanted biosphere blithely strut past their appreciative human visitors.
They can do so, because the Galápagos still manage to keep humans’ footprint to a minimum. Their delicate ecosystem is preserved by extensive environmental controls, meaning that even with yachts cruising the bays and tourist hotels dotting the beaches, these volcanic islands are a place apart, free from mankind’s encroachments.
The upshot is that the fauna you’ll encounter here are astonishingly varied—more endemic species than anywhere else on earth. They include blue-footed boobies, Galápagos penguins, finches, and frigate birds. Offshore, five species of dolphin frolic and chirp, while sea lions sun themselves lackadaisically on the rocks.
Here are other highlights awaiting you on this once-in-a-lifetime, bucket-list experience:
- The islands can be explored via cruise ship or from a hotel on shore. Whichever you choose, you’ll enjoy scuba diving, snorkeling, kayaking, and wildlife-spotting during lengthy afternoon walks.
- Isabela, the largest island in the archipelago, is the Galápagos’ crown jewel. It features active volcanoes towering over mangrove swamps, as well as a tortoise center where you can watch the giant reptiles growing from hatchlings to adults.
- Looking for a marine adventure? Go on a shark dive—if you dare. These underwater odysseys take you face-to-face with a host of fascinating predators, including hammerheads and the massive but gentle whale shark.
- When you’re longing for a bit of civilization, Santa Cruz has all the amenities you need. Here you’ll relax in comfortable restaurants and hotels, set amidst a stunning landscape of lava tubes, volcanic craters, and a fully repopulated colony of marine iguanas.
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The Avenue of the Volcanoes
Otavalo is a small, mostly indigenous town that is surrounded by the peaks of the Imbabura (15,190 ft), Cotacachi (16388 ft), and Mojanda volcanoes.
The indigenous population is known for its artisan crafts and Andean Folk music. Their main craft is weaving textiles, primarily of wool. Thus, many travelers come to the town for its exceptional market. The music style from the area plays a primary role in the indigenous festival for summer solstice, called Inti Raymi, and has become quite popular worldwide.
The elaborate and beautiful traditional clothing is another feature of the population that draws visitors. The mountains, lakes, waterfalls, and other natural features in the surrounding areas are also notable.
Riobamba is located in a valley of the Andean highlands, surrounded by several large hills and snowcapped mountains. It is best known as the starting point for the train ride to Nariz del Diablo (Devil’s Nose). It is also the nearest city to Ecuador’s highest mountain, Chimborazo (20500 ft).
Ecuador's "3rd city" after Guayaquil and Quito, Cuenca is arguably its most charming. The narrow, cobblestone streets are filled with whitewashed, red-tiled buildings and the pretty plazas and domed churches help it retain the grandeur of its colonial past. 50 years before the arrival of the Spanish, the Inca Tupac-Yupanqui began constructing a major city on the site of present day Cuenca, intended to rival Cusco in terms of splendor and importance.
Stories abound of gold-covered temples and stone carved palaces in the city known as Tomebamba but the fate of this city is largely shrouded in mystery. By the time the Spanish arrived in 1547, the city lay in ruins but its strategic location led the Spanish to establish the city of Cuenca, which was honored by UNESCO in 1999, declaring it a World Cultural Heritage Site.
The Ecuador Amazon
Coca, also known as Puerto Francisco de Orellana, is located in the Amazon Rainforest at the confluence of the Coca River and the Napo River.
It is typically used by tourists as a gateway into the rainforest. The Amazon Rainforest is a moist, broadleaf forest that covers most of the Amazon Basin in South America and represents over half of the planet’s remaining rainforests. It contains unparalleled biodiversity, to the extent that one in ten known species in the world lives in the Amazon Rainforest.