Quito spreads along the floor of a high Andean valley in a roughly north–south direction. The Centro Histórico (historical center) holds most of Quito’s famous colonial architecture; locals call it El Centro, and English-speakers the ‘Old Town.’
North of the Old Town is modern Quito. Most hotels and restaurants are found here, especially in Mariscal Sucre (aka the Mariscal), which is packed with guesthouses and bars.
Those seeking a bit of adventure can spend the day rock-climbing, hiking amidst volcanoes and cycling – all within city limits.
Local mountain-biking companies rent bikes and offer excellent tours, including one-day rides through the páramo (high-altitude Andean grasslands) of Parque Nacional Cotopaxi as well as downhill descents, and trips incorporating a stop at Papallacta hot springs. Two-day trips take in Cotopaxi and Chimborazo or Cotopaxi and Quilotoa. Single-day trips cost about $60. Compare prices and trips before committing to a particular operator.
Free Wheeling in Quito
Every Sunday, the entire length of Avenida Amazonas and most of the Old Town closes to cars from 9am to 2pm as thousands of cyclists take to the street for the weekly ciclopaseo. The entire ride (some 30km), which you can cycle part or all of, stretches past the old airport, through the Old Town and into the southern reaches of Quito. It’s a marvelous way to experience the city. Bikes can be hired along the way for $3 an hour.
Another good place for cyclists to check out is the bicycle-loving cafe La Cleta Bici Café.
Ecuador is a great place to study Spanish, with homestays, organized activities and volunteer opportunities typically on offer. Some of our favorites:
Quito is also a good spot to hone (or learn) those salsa moves. Some of the best:
Quito is one of the easiest places in Ecuador to arrange a guided tour, be it a Galápagos cruise, mountain-climbing, Amazon lodge, biking tour or white-water rafting. Itineraries ranging from one day to several weeks can be customized for small groups. Many agencies offer standard tours to nearby places such as Mitad del Mundo, Pululahua and further afield to Otavalo, Mindo, Cotopaxi and Baños. Be sure to stop by on weekdays (many offices close on weekends), and for longer trips try to meet your guides in advance.
Most travelers tend to stay near Mariscal Sucre (known as the Mariscal), a guesthouse- and hostel-packed district. The quieter neighborhood of La Floresta is a pleasant alternative and begins only a few blocks away. There's a good range of accommodations in the Old Town (including most of Quito's best top-end hotels), which offer easy access to its museums, churches and other sights. Here, a lack of nightlife is the downside.
Where to Stay
The Old Town is an obvious choice: a Unesco-listed area of architectural jewels. Several hostels are in the Old Town neighborhood of San Blas, an ordinary, working-class area on the east side of the Av Pichincha that you'll need to taxi to and from at night.
International chains, including Marriott, Best Western, Swissôtel and Hilton, are well represented throughout the city, but particularly in the modern and massive New Town. Whilst most foreigners who stay here do so in Mariscal Sucre – replete with hostels, touristy bars and restaurants – the most appealing area of the New Town is the quiet and refined La Floresta neighborhood.
Practical Tip: Airport Accommodations
Following the opening of the city's first airport hotel, sleek Wyndham Quito Airport, there's talk of several other international chain hotels setting up properties at the airport. Alternatively, a cozy and lovely place located only 10km away is the family-run Posada Mirolindo. Worth considering for those with early flights to the Galápagos or the Amazon.
Jungle Lodge Bookings
Ecuador’s culinary capital is a great place to explore the classic dishes from the Andes and beyond. The city's rich and varied restaurant scene also offers a fine selection of international fare. All budgets and tastes are catered for, and you’ll find everything from modern sushi restaurants to Italian trattorias.
Where to Eat
The Old Town is where you'll find Quito's most traditional eateries, some of which have been perfecting family recipes for generations. Seco de chivo (braised goat stew) is an Ecuadorian classic typically served with yellow rice and patacones (plantain fritters). Potatoes, of course, originated in the Andes and are put to imaginative use in dishes like llapingachos (fried potato-and-cheese pancakes), often served under grilled steak or fried eggs. A few places also serve cuy asado (roasted guinea pig), an indigenous specialty dating back to Inca times.
Head to the new town's Mariscal Sucre for the broadest choices and densest concentration of multicultural and international eateries. For more high-end dining and the city's best restaurants, look to La Floresta, La Pradera and neighboring areas. Off the tourist radar but worth exploring is Benalcázar, an upscale neighborhood of high-rise condominiums, offices, cool cafes and restaurants. It's bounded by Parque La Carolina on the east and Avenida 6 de Diciembre on the west. Take the Ecovia to either Eloy Afaro or Benalcázar.
Drinking & Nightlife
Most of the farra (nightlife) in Quito is concentrated in and around Mariscal Sucre. A weekend night wandering La Ronda, a cobblestone lane lined with bars and restaurants in the Old Town, shouldn't be missed. For more relaxed, low-key hangouts, head to one of the sophisticated spots in La Floresta, Guápulo or Benalcázar. A spate of microbreweries have opened recently in the city.
Mariscal Sucre, otherwise known as the Mariscal, has bars that, for better or worse, are generally raucous. Plaza Foch is the neighborhood's epicenter, where the line between ‘bar’ and ‘dance club’ is blurry. Bars with dancing often charge admission, which usually includes a drink. Monday to Wednesday nights tend to draw an older crowd, while university-aged Ecuadorians swarm into the area on Friday and Saturday nights.
Hitting the dance floor of one of Quito’s salsatecas (nightclubs where dancing to salsa music is the main attraction) is a must. If you don’t know how to salsa, try a few classes first.
Carry ID when going out at night in case you're carded.
Drinking & Nightlife
Quito's theaters stage a variety of dramas, dance performances and concerts, so check ahead to see what's on. Look out too for performances by local musicians playing everything from salsa and merengue to rock, jazz and blues. Several bars and restaurants in the Old Town and Mariscal Sucre have regular live music nights.
Some Quito cinemas show popular English-language films with Spanish subtitles; the rest just dub.
Estadio Olimpico Atahualpa
Located in the northern part of the city near the shopping mall Quicentro, Estadio Olimpico Atahualpa is the city's main soccer stadium and seats 37,750. Ecuador's national team, Deportivo Quito (www.deportivoquito.com) and El Nacional (www.elnacional.ec) play here. Take an Ecovia bus to the Estadio stop.
There are some excellent crafts stores in Mariscal Sucre. If buying from street stalls, you should bargain; in the fancier stores, prices are normally fixed. Note that souvenirs are a little cheaper outside Quito, if you have the time and inclination to search them out.
Centros comerciales (shopping malls) are similar to their North American counterparts, and sell international brands.