You’ve got a day to explore Quito, Ecuador and want to make the most of your time in this lovely city. I’ve got a plan for you!
Quito is located along the Equator, so weather is reliably comfortable with a combination of sun and clouds throughout the day. Some parts of the city are along gentle slopes, and the elevation is over 9,000 ft, so take your time walking and drink lots of water! Here’s an itinerary based on how I spent one day solo in Quito.
My hotel was not far from Plaza Foch, so I began by walking to the square. In early morning the streets were quiet but I felt safe. The plaza was nearly empty except for a few coffee shops, but I could almost feel the energy that would come later in the day. From there I kept going to Parque El Ejido. It’s a typical urban park, full of dogs, exercisers, commuters and a majestic Monterrey Cypress tree. Taking a few minutes to rest there and simply observe was a great way to get centered in a new place.
From there I caught the Quito City Tour Bus. I used to think these were tourist monsters but have grown to appreciate them as a means of transportation and nerdy information. I love that you can get off wherever you want and catch the next bus. The El Ejido stop is across the street from a Hilton Hotel, and they’ll let you use the bathroom if you ask nicely at the front desk.
I only went a couple stops on the bus before hopping out at the Basilica Voto Nacional. It’s a gorgeous cathedral! Think gothic inspired with Ecuadorian flavor – instead of gargoyles, turtles and other local animals adorn the façade.
From there, I walked to Community Hostel. The streets were buzzing as I stumbled upon a parade celebrating the Battle of Pichincha, which was fought on the slopes of the nearby volcano and was a key victory in securing Ecuador’s independence. Continuing on, the streets are safe and clean, and the charming exposed store fronts promote a sense of openness and welcoming.
Community Hostel was the starting point for a Free Walking Tour. They also have a water bottle filling station and a restroom you can use. This tour was fantastic – about three hours of exploring and learning about Quito. Our first stop included a local market, were we saw fruits in shapes and colors I’ve never seen before, and sampled some local juices (perfectly fine to drink). Vegetarians beware – there is a large beef section.
Then we walked among the Gran Plaza, saw the outside of the Presidential Palace, marveled at the ornate doors of the Iglesia de la Campania de Jesus (a Jesuit Church), and ventured into Iglesia de San Francisco in time to see part of mass. We walked along a charming street called La Ronda, where gentlemen used to serenade ladies on the balconies lining the street. We came to a spot for great views of the Panecillo in the distance, and ended our tour near an art-deco theatre.
Ovi, our guide, pointed out a small café where lunch is sold for $2.50. I tried it, sitting alone in a tiny restaurant with only 6 tables, and with the front completely exposed to the street, I sat back and people watched. Lunch included soup, chicken, rice, plantain and juice. It filled up quickly with energetic folks on a lunch break, and the restaurant played three of the Spanish-language songs I learned before coming on the trip.
After lunch I ventured back over to the Jesuit church, which was one of the stops on the City Tour Bus. Hopping on, we ascended the absurdly twisted roads that wind their way up the Panecillo to the statue of the Virgen de Quito. I heard from several people that it’s not safe to hike up to the statue so definitely take a car. The bus stops for 30 minutes there, so there’s plenty of time to explore, take photos, and look out across the landscape.
Back on the bus, I sat back and relaxed, content to view Quito from the open air second story of the bus while listening to the guide and chatting with my fellow travelers. My original plan was to stay on the bus as it looped back around and depart at Plaza Foch, but I was on the last bus so the final stop was Carolina Park. It’s huge and it was fun to stroll along its edges, watching locals play games and walk dogs. I ended up walking all the way back to my hotel. Dinner was a delicious pork fritada at Hasta le vuelta, Senor restaurant.
Caveats – I like to walk and put in some serious miles this day (10+ if my phone is to be believed), but cabs are easy to find and cheap. I speak enough Spanish that I knew I could communicate when I needed to, but never found it absolutely necessary. I also paid for a plan with my cell provider so that I could use my data abroad. I am fairly map-literate, but it was nice to have google maps at my disposal for backup.
The following day I visited la Mitad del Mundo, the equator. While it was fun, I much preferred my time in the city proper.