Quito, the Ecuadorian capital, enjoys stellar scenery and a historic city center that’s a UNESCO World Heritage Site. It’s a destination in its own right and an excellent base for exploring other parts of Ecuador. Here are some recommendations for how best to spend three days in this Andean city.
Day 1: City Highlights
Quito’s beautifully preserved colonial center deserves at least half a day of exploration, so start things off with a tour through these historic streets. Venture out on your own aboard the convenient hop-on hop-off bus, or join a guided private or small-group tour to cover more ground in less time. No matter how you choose to explore, don’t miss Independence Plaza, the imposing Basilica of the National Vow (Basílica del Voto Nacional), Governor’s Palace, and the gilded interior of La Compañia church. After lunch, some tours continue on to the surrounding hills, visiting either El Panecillo to see the statue of the Virgin Mary that towers over the capital or the Teleferico Quito, a gondola to the top of the Pichincha volcano for some of the best views over the city. To complete your exploration of Quito, spend your evening wandering along pedestrian Calle La Ronda; grab dinner at one of the restaurants along the street.
Day 2: History, Food, Culture
Now that you’ve had an overview of what Quito has to offer, you’ll have time today to dig deeper into your own personal interests. Foodies might want to sign up for a hands-on cooking class to learn about how traditional Andean dishes are prepared; most classes include a chef-guided visit to a local market to pick out ingredients. Those with an interest in history should visit some of the city’s excellent museums. Admire religious art at the Fray Pedro Gocial Museum or pre-Columbian art at Casa del Alabado, or learn more about Ecuador’s fight for independence at the Museo Alberto Mena Caamaño. End the day with a dinner show put on by the Ecuadorian National Folklore Ballet to enjoy dancing, music, and costumes from a diverse range of Andean cultures.
Day 3: Markets and Volcanoes
You’ve explored the streets of Quito, now it’s time to head out of town and experience a bit more of Ecuador. There’s a day trip for just about every interest. Cotopaxi National Park with its eponymous conical volcano is popular with adventure travelers, while the artisan market in Otavalo appeals to shoppers with its range of handwoven textiles and other handmade goods. Get off the beaten path with a day trip to the cloud forests of Mindo, an area known as one of the most biodiverse on the planet, or spend the day soaking in natural hot springs with spectacular mountain views at a thermal spa in Papallacta. Upon your return to Quito, top off your stay with a walking food tour that includes some of the city’s best spots.