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Quito is one of the most compelling cities in Latin America. Nestled in a long, narrow valley in the Andes on the slopes Volcan Pichincha to the west, Quito enjoys a spectacular natural setting.
Top Activities and Attractions in Quito


Introduction to Quito

Quito is one of the most compelling cities in Latin America. Nestled in a long, narrow valley in the Andes on the slopes Volcan Pichincha to the west, Quito enjoys a spectacular natural setting. The Ecuadorian capital city’s mix of colonial and modern architecture creates a fascinating built environment. In addition to being the site of the Ecuadorian government, Quito is also the nation’s cultural capital, with an impressive selection of museums, festivals, and nightlife.

Quito is the perfect place to begin exploring Ecuador with, as it’s very centrally located, there are numerous outdoor activities within an hour or two, and it is here where most tours are organized to all corners of the country. The streets of the Mariscal neighborhood of Quito are lined with tour operators, restaurants, and bars, and most travelers spend much of their time in this area.

Quito is also home to the newest international airport in Latin America: Quito’s Mariscal Sucre Airport (UIO) about an hour to the east of the city.

There are myriad Quito hotels and hostels of all types and price levels. Quito is still one of the most affordable capital cities in the Americas and has plenty of budget hostels, but also is home to numerous small family run hotels and boutique hotels that are full of local flavor and helpful owners that are glad to give you advice and help you with your travel planning.

See the historic sites of Quito’s Old Town (also referred to as Quito’s Historical Center or Centro Histórico) and the city’s dozens of churches, museums and other attractions.

Most travelers spend time in the Mariscal district (also coined the zona rosa or entertainment district) where most nightlife, hundreds of shops, cafes, and restaurants; and take advantage of the plethora of day trips, hikes and climbs in the surrounding area by visiting a tour operator.

Some “must-see” things in Quito are the Panecillo mountain overlooking the historical center, Teleferiqo gondola up Pichincha volcano, San Francisco Church, Compañía de Jesus Church, and of course Mitad del Mundo just north of the city.

  • Official name: San Francisco de Quito
  • Capital city of Ecuador
  • Population: 2,671,191 from most recent, 2014 census (Greater metropolitan area)
  • Elevation of the city’s central square (Plaza de La Independencia or Plaza Grande): 2,850 m (about 9,350 ft)
  • Distance from Equator: 25 km (15 miles)
  • Mayor: Pabel Muñoz
  • People from Quito are called: Quiteños (men) and Quiteñas (women)

Quito’s rich, well-preserved history was formally recognized when it was named the first World Cultural Heritage Site (along with Krakow) by UNESCO in 1978.

During the pre-Columbian era, several indigenous groups inhabited present-day Quito, and the surrounding areas including the Quitus tribe from whom the city took its name.

At the beginning of the 16th century, while the Incas controlled Ecuador, Quito served as the capital of the northern half of the Inca empire. In 1533, the Inca General Rumiñahui destroyed Quito so it would not fall into the hands of the advancing conquistadors. Just a year later, after the Spanish conquered the Inca, the Spanish Lieutenant Sebastián de Benalcázar began rebuilding Quito from the rubble that Rumiñahui and the conquistadores left behind. The city’s official name, San Francisco de Quito, originates from the patron saint Saint Francis (San Francisco in Spanish) which in turn comes from the conquistador Francisco Pizarro.

Ecuador was part of the Viceroyalty of Peru from 1544 until 1720 when it joined the newly created Viceroyalty of Nueva Granada. In 1563, however, Quito became a Royal Audiencia of Spain, thus permitting it to deal directly with Madrid on certain matters instead of going through Lima. The name Quito Audencia is misleading because it suggests that the territory under the jurisdiction of Quito was comparable to the limits of the city of Quito today. In truth the territory of the Quito Audencia greatly exceeded that of present-day Ecuador, encompassing the north of Peru, the city of Cali in the south of Colombia, and much of the Amazon River Basin east of Ecuador.

Modern Quito is a city of two halves. The South, where mostly economically disadvantaged populations reside, and the North, the denizen of wealthier Quiteños.

In the middle is the legendary “Centro de Quito“, the historical, architectural and political epicenter of both Quito and the entire country.

The Centro de Quito is also referred to in some travel press as the “Old Town” or “Old City”, and architecturally remains much the same as it did at the end of the colonial period. The streets of the Centro buzz with activity during the day and its numerous historical churches, which date back to 1535, are proudly illuminated in the night.

The north end of Quito, or “New Town” is where the majority of travelers choose to stay while in Quito. The Mariscal area is packed with restaurants, bars, hostels and hotels where the streets are lively day and night.

Quito’s altitude, at 2820 M (9252 feet), Quito is almost twice as high as Denver, Colorado. Though because it sits only 25 kilometres from the Equator, Quito does not suffer through long winters like the Mile High City. On the contrary, Ecuador’s capital enjoys mild days and cool nights almost year-round.

The climate in the Andes varies according to the altitude and the time of the year. In Quito the temperature ranges from 7 degrees C (55 F) at night to 26 C (78 F) at noon, and averages 15 C (64 F). There are two seasons, wet and dry. The wet season is called winter and the dry is considered summer. Quito’s summer usually lasts about 4 months, from the end of June to September, though, in recent years of climate change, the difference between seasons has diminished and it can be both sunny and rainy one day, any day of the year. Quito sees its fair share of rain from October through May, though even during this period the climate supports a multitude of diversions. There are enough sunny days during the rainy season to accommodate all but the most insatiable sun worshipers, and when the sun hides, Quito has plenty to offer indoors.

Take note: most Quito flights arrive at night, and many travelers arrive in shorts and beach wear assuming that since its on the Equator, it must be hot, then the first step out of the airport gives them a crisp, cool Quito welcome. There is a vast array of micro-climates in Ecuador outside of Quito, so it’s wise to plan your itinerary in advance and pack for your trip accordingly. Also, walk slowly as you’re getting off of the plane, Quito is at a high altitude. Take it slowly for the first few days and drink plenty of water.

Most people flying into Ecuador take flights directly into Quito’s International Airport (UIO) on the outskirts of Quito. Quito is accessible by bus from virtually anywhere in Ecuador. Quito’s location is accessible and convenient for travel throughout Ecuador. See our Quito orientation and transportation page for details.

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