Quito, the capital of Ecuador, is a mixture of old and new and is quite quaint for such a large city. Strolling through the historic center you will feel as if you have stepped back in time. The city has been beautifully preserved and declared a World Cultural Heritage Site by UNESCO. Visit the neighborhood of Mariscal and modern cafes, bars and an eclectic mix of restaurants for all tastes will surround you. Nature is also paramount around Quito since there are numerous volcanoes and excellent areas for hiking. Quito is a great destination with something for everyone that is still affordable for backpackers.
Where to stay:
– We got really lucky and found a good deal for Hostal Quito Cultural in the heart of the historic center for $29USD per night (Sept. 2015). Two friendly and extremely helpful Brazilians run the place and really make you feel at home. The breakfast was included with the room and it was delicious. The hostel is in an old colonial home with access to laundry, a library, a courtyard, hammocks, and a roof top terrace with city views that can’t be beat!
– The neighborhood of La Mariscal also has many options from hotels to hostels. Although we did not stay here we met many fellow travelers who did and were satisfied with their stay.
What to see/do:
–El Teleferico/ Hike Pichincha- A 10 minute cab ride from the city center at a cost of about $5 will take you to the entrance of the city’s cable car. From here you can purchase a round trip ticket for $8 per person. The 10-minute ride will take you from about 2,900 meters up to 4,100 meters so visitors are warned to take it easy once they reach the top. The views of the city are extraordinary and we were even able to see Cotopaxi volcano as it was erupting.
If you’re feeling adventurous you can continue to hike up the Pichincha Volcano to an altitude of 4,698 meters. We decided to hike up last minute just to see how far we could go. I would suggest starting early if you’re going to attempt the hike as it can take up to 6 hours going up and coming back down. We could really feel the altitude and had to take many breaks along the way. Near the end we got to a point where you had to climb rocks while staring into an abyss so needless to say we stopped there. Regardless, the views were superb and just kept getting better as we ascended. The hike was difficult but being among nature in such a unique setting was incredibly serene and worth every sore muscle!
– Free walking tour Ecuador- This free tour through the city is a great option to get to know all the major sites in the historic center. You can go onto their website freewalkingtourecuador.com to reserve your spot. Tours are provided Monday through Saturday and meet at Community Hostel. Our guide Obi was knowledgeable and had a great personality. While the tour is free we were more than happy to tip him at the end.
– Mitad del Mundo/ Pululahua Volcano- You can visit the monument and museum that pay tribute to the equator. Although the actual midpoint that separates the Northern and Southern hemisphere has been debated, it is still fun to straddle the yellow painted line at the monument and symbolically be in two hemispheres at once. A taxi from Quito can cost between $10-$15 dollars but if your on a backpackers budget you can take local transportation at a cost of .80 cents round trip per person like we did. The ride takes about 2 hours each way with a transfer at Ofelia station to catch the Mitad del Mundo bus.
From the museum you can book a tour to Pululahua Volcano and observe an inhabited crater at a cost of $4 per person. From mitad del mundo you will take a 10-minute ride in a van that takes you to the viewpoint. Since there is a cloud forest sitting above the volcano crater you have to wait a bit for it to clear up and the guide promises half your money back if it doesn’t. Thankfully, when we visited the clouds suddenly dissipated and we got a glimpse of the amazing town below where time seems to have stood still.
– La Ronda- We visited this beautifully restored Bohemian Street on a Friday night and were able to enjoy the sights, sounds and tastes of the city. On what is known to be one of the oldest streets in Quito we found talented street musicians, artists and fantastic Ecuadorian delicacies. To get there from the city center just hop on the local trolley or take a quick stroll on foot.
–La Mariscal/ Foch Plaza- If you’re looking for nightlife this is the place to be. Known as the zona rosa of the city, here you will find a good concentration of nightclubs, bars and cafes. Foch plaza is packed with tourists and locals alike and you could find a variety of foods ranging from cheap eats to gourmet meals.
What to eat:
-City Center Market- During our visit to the market we tried the fresh smoothies prepared on the spot. They were not only tasty but also incredibly affordable at around $2 each. Here you can also find the traditional Ecuadorian dish locro de papa, a mouth-watering potato and cheese soup finished with fresh avocado.
– El Maple- Located in La Mariscal this quaint restaurant serves up fresh quality vegetarian food at a reasonable price. Portions are enormous here and two people can easily share one plate. They have a variety of tasty vegan and vegetarian options and fresh fruit juices.
How to get there & Getting Around:
– From Bogota we boarded a cheap flight to Quito on Viva Colombia and arrived at Mariscal Sucre International Airport. From here we took a taxi about 45 minutes at a cost of $27 (Sept. 2015) to reach Quito’s city center. While at night the city’s historic center can be quite desolate, we found it to be lovely and walk able during the day. Transportation around town is great, easy to navigate and quite inexpensive. From Marin station near our hostel we boarded a bus for about 15 minutes that took us to La Mariscal neighborhood for .25 cents each (Sept., 2015). There are also easily accessible trolleys throughout the city that will get you where you need to go for a reasonable price.