Quito, Ecuador’s capital city, is nestled at a breathtaking altitude of roughly 2800m (9300 ft). Quito is surrounded by the Andes mountains and many volcanic peaks. I spent two months living in Quito and teaching yoga at a hostel in old town. During that time I took advantage of exploring the various neighborhoods, shops, and activities the city has to offer. But I also came to learn that most visitors to Ecuador stay for one to two days in Quito before heading over to explore the Galapagos Islands or simply pass through on their way to Colombia or Peru.
So while two months may be too long for most people to spend here, I’ve compiled some of the best activities you can do with two days in Quito to make the most of your visit! Side note, I’m not great at packing, but I found this Ecuador packing list to help you make sure you have everything you need for Ecuador.
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A Few Fun Facts About Quito
- It’s the second highest capital city, with La Paz being the first. Two days may not be long enough to acclimatize to the altitude (it affects everyone differently). Therefore, I don’t recommend scheduling any strenuous activities, like hiking, as most people won’t be ready for it! I mean seriously, after two months of living there, I still got breathless walking up the stairs in the hostel.
- Thanks to its well preserved, and beautiful, old town Quito is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
- Ecuador uses the USD, which was troublesome for Ecuador’s economy for many years as they made the switch.
- You can view a number of volcanoes from certain viewpoints in Quito, but the two most “popular” and still active volcanoes are Pichincha and Cotopaxi. Pichincha lies within Quito’s city limits and Cotopaxi lies about 30 miles south.
Where to Stay in Quito
There are two neighborhoods where most people stay Old Town and New Town. Old Town which is the historical area where most of the itinerary below takes place. Or La Mariscal which is the newer part of town.
Considering I was teaching yoga in a hostel and living in the same place for two months, I didn’t have a need to try other options. I stayed at Community Hostel located a block away from the historical center, on the same street as Mercado Central, and near really good restaurants and breweries.
It’s a warm and friendly place to stay with activities each night. Activities include a pub crawl, salsa lessons, a movie night, and ladies night. And of course, there are daily yoga lessons on their rooftop where you can catch epic sunsets in Quito.
Safety Concerns for Solo Female Travelers in Quito
Theft is the main concern when visiting Quito. Keep your bag zipped and perhaps in front of your body especially in Plaza Grande and on buses. Keep your phone out of sight when walking the streets. If you need directions, practice your Spanish and ask!
I wouldn’t recommend walking alone at night. Especially in Old Town where it gets pretty deserted after dark.
Make sure the taxi is marked and that the driver puts on the meter. Uber is also a great option here and I often used it more than taxis.
Your Itinerary for Two Days in Quito
Alrighty, on to the itinerary for two days in Quito.
This itinerary is for two full days, feel free to subtract any activity you don’t find interesting or you simply don’t have time for.
Day One in Quito
Eat at Mercado Central
Arise early and head over to Mercado Central for breakfast. This market opens around 5:00 am most days and is where you can find numerous stalls for fresh fruit and veggies, butchers, cheese shops, grains, and roses. They also have a number of food stalls and the employees working there will lively yell to you to come to try their smoothies or food.
Food to try at Mercado Central
I highly recommend getting the Llapingachos (two eggs, sausage, avocado, potato patties) with a smoothie. Just be warned, ask for your smoothie to be without sugar “sin azucar”. They like to load most things up with sugar here!
Two other options for food at the market are Corvina (fried fish with potatoes and ceviche) and Encebollado (fish soup – hangover cure…supposedly). But also pick up some amazing fruit – try the mangos, passionfruit, and avocados!
Take a Free Walking Tour
After you’ve eaten your fill take a free walking tour from free walking tours Ecuador. It departs at 10:30 am and 2:30 pm Monday to Saturday and starts just down the street from Mercado Central at Community Hostel.
The tour will take you through Quito’s old town pointing out buildings of significance such as the Compania de Jesus church. Which is laden with gold on the inside, but they don’t allow photos so you’ll just have to go see for yourself!
Eat Lunch at a Local Spot Recommended by Your Guide
Ask your guide for a lunch recommendation at a local spot. Lunch will cost about $5 and you’ll receive soup, a main dish with meat and rice, and a drink. It’s difficult for vegetarians here. They’ll assume you can eat chicken. So say “no carne y no pollo, solo vegetables”. And hopefully, you’ll get your point across. If you’re looking for a more upscale spot to eat, check out La Purisma near Plaza Chica.
Climb the Towers at Basilica del Voto Nacional
Basilica del Voto Nacional dominates the skyline of Quito. You can see its impressive towers from various vantage points in the city. In the afternoon, burn off your lunch by walking up the stairs and testing your fear of heights on the ladders of Basilica del Voto Nacional as you climb the ladders to the towers.
Buy your ticket from a window near the bathrooms and you’ll start climbing up a number of flights of stairs until you reach a beautiful stained glass window. Then you’ll walk along a wooden plank where below are the church pews (don’t worry, you can’t see them). Then climb up the ladder to the outside. From here its a rickety spiral staircase to the top of the tower. I almost didn’t go up out of fear, but I’m so glad an older lady told me to just do it.
Eat Dinner from the Food Trucks at La Pradera Food Garden
I stumbled upon this outdoor food truck plaza after a wander in La Floresta. I returned the next night with a few new hostel friends to celebrate a birthday. There are a number of food trucks that sell local food, vegetarian options, pizza and ice cream! There are plenty of tables to choose from and a bar for drinks. Definitely, a good spot to try a few things or share a meal with new friends!
Go Salsa Dancing
In the evening, get your salsa dancing on at Salsateca Lavoe. Located on the northern end of the city, this is where you can witness some professional level salsa dancing. Many of the people who come here are really good. But, if you’re not, don’t worry. You can still take a spin on the dance floor with someone who knows what they’re doing. Or just get out there and dance like no one’s watching!
Day Two in Quito
Breakfast at En Dulce
So, if you opted to go out last night, you probably slept in a bit. For breakfast head over to En Dulce. This tiny cafe in Old Town has great breakfast options and large windows where you can watch the bakers bake up some tasty treats.
Ride the Telefériqo
After you’re nice and full take a taxi to the Teleferiqo. This cable car will bring you to the starting point for a popular hike up to the active Pichincha volcano. But don’t worry, you don’t need to hike it to take in the sweeping views of Quito below. From here you’ll really get an appreciation for how long and skinny this city is. On a clear day you may even be able to see Cotopaxi.
The taxi ride should cost at most $5.00 and the cable car costs $8.50. Make sure to have the taxi driver turn on his meter!
Explore La Ronda & Learn About Chocolate at Chez Tiff
In the afternoon head to La Ronda – a charming area of the city with narrow pedestrian paths, plenty of restaurants, and shops. This is a great place to visit at night as well to drink, dine, and dance, but I’m sending you in the afternoon to check out a popular chocolate shop called Chez Tiff.
Chez Tiff is the product of a Swiss and Ecuadorian love, which resulted in this beautiful chocolate experience. They hold demonstrations that show the process of making chocolate all the way from cacao bean (which you can taste) to the various forms of white to dark chocolate that we enjoy around the world.
Honestly, I am unsure of what times these demonstrations are held. A friend and I wandered in one afternoon and there was a gentleman working who only spoke Swiss and Spanish. We asked for a demonstration which he obliged for the two of us and he gave it to us in Spanish. It was such a great experience even if I only understood half of what he explained. I returned here many times to pick up a mid-afternoon sweet treat.
Visit the Madonna on the Panacillo
From La Ronda, hop in a taxi to take you up to the Panacillo. I wouldn’t recommend walking as it’s not the safest part of Quito. Once at the Panacillo you can climb to the base of the Madonna and witness another great vantage point for Quito. This is a great place to watch the sunset on your final night in Quito.
La Ronda at Night
After the sunset, grab another taxi to take you back to La Ronda where you can witness the change of environment from afternoon to evening. Dine at any of the restaurants or even try Cuy. The evenings in Quito can get chilly so try a traditional drink called Canelazo to warm you up. It’s a rum drink. And it’s delicious.
This two-day itinerary for Quito is quite the whirlwind. But it really gives you a good taste of what this city offers.
If you have more time to visit Quito here are a few other options for an epic time:
It’s a tough hike, but if you’ve never climbed an active volcano before, this is a great place to start! Make sure you’re acclimatized to the altitude and start early in the morning!
Visit the City’s Parks
Quito has so many green spaces within the city limits. One of my favorite parks is Itchimbia. It’s easy to get to from Old Town, there’s a jogging path surrounding it, a large soccer field, and a restaurant. Two other great parks are Parque Carolina and Metropolitano both located in the north of the city.
Parque Carolina has a lot to offer. You can rent a bike to ride through it, take a boat on the water, take part in a dance class, or use their outdoor gym.
Parque Metropolitano offers hiking! It feels like you’ve stepped into a forest within Quito. All of these are great options if you need a little escape from the city.
Explore La Floresta
This is the hipster part of town filled with lots of great restaurants and cafes. This is the neighborhood where I thought “if I were to live here, this is where I’d live.” It’s a bit quieter than Old Town and La Mariscal. You can check out the museum and former home of famed Ecuadorian artist Guaysamin, La Capilla del Hombre. Admittedly, I didn’t visit the museum, but I heard great reviews!
Take a Few Day Trips
Quito is a great base for exploring surrounding areas. It is well served by buses that can take you virtually anywhere in the country. A few of my favorite day trips where to Mitad del Mundo, Mindo, and Otavalo Market.
Generally, Ecuador is a great place to learn Spanish. Not many locals speak English so you’ll have to learn a bit anyway! But they speak slower making it easier to understand and they don’t have any crazy accents (lookin’ at you Argentina).
Participate in Ciclopaseo
This is one of the coolest things I did in Ecuador. Every Sunday, the main street shuts down for cars and opens up for cyclists, runners, and walkers. You can rent a bike in Old Town for about 10 dollars and join the locals as they ride through the city. It ends at the old Airport which has been turned in to a type of playground for adults and kids alike. Community Adventures usually hosts this each week if you’d like to find a group to go with!
Food to Eat in Quito
- Lapingachos. Two fried eggs, an avocado, sausages, a beet salad, and two potato patties. For 2.50. So good.
- Encebollado. Reportedly a hangover cure. This fish soup filled with yuca, red onion, and cilantro is very hearty. Add some popcorn on top. And for $2 you’ll be refreshed after a night of partying and off to explore the city.
- Corvina. Fried chicken or fish. You can find this in the market.
- Cuy. I didn’t actually get the nerve to try Cuy in Quito or in Peru. Just a reason to go back, I guess?
- Empanadas. Eat ’em all!
- Ice Cream Cone. You’ll also see locals walking around with a swirl ice cream cone. One side is pink, the other side is white. There are lots of vendors selling these and it’s a nice treat!
You can also try even “weirder” items. I took a food tour where I ate Menudo (tripe and other cow insides) as well as a soup made out of placenta. I tried them both. They weren’t terrible.
Also, one day I tried a random spot that said “hídago” on the menu. I sat down and ordered it. Only to find out later that it was in fact liver. But it was only $5 and not half bad!
What to Drink in Quito
Definitely try the Canelazo in La Ronda.
Also, you may find a street vendor offering an herbal drink made with aloe. It is so tasty. Although since it’s made with aloe, the texture is quite thick and could be off-putting. But hey, I ate placenta so maybe you shouldn’t listen to me ha!
All of the hot chocolate.
While we are talking about drinks, I took it upon myself to try out all of the hot chocolate in Quito. These were my favorite places for it. But be warned, it’s a bit more bitter than I expected, which was actually quite enjoyable.
Favorite Cafes for Hot Chocolate
Jaru is located near Parque Carolina and has a hip vibe and strong WiFi. They have a good food and coffee menu as well as delicious hot chocolate. It’s a good place to get some work or trip planning done after exploring Parque Carolina.
Ocho y Medio
Ocho y Medio located in the chic La Floresta neighborhood is actually a movie theatre that shows local and international independent films. There is also a cafe with large windows, beautifully tiled floors, comfortable seating, and delicious hot chocolate.
Cafe Galleti in Plaza Chica in Quito’s old town is where I had my first realization that hot chocolate can, in fact, be bitter. They’re also known for their coffee so it’s a great spot for coffee drinks to try. They also had some sweet treats available, ample seating, and large windows for people watching.
Pacari is a high-quality chocolate maker that uses only Ecuadorian cacao. And they have a shop just off of Plaza Grande. There is a cafe on the second floor that is tiny, but if the balcony seat is open enjoy your creamy hot chocolate with a view of the bustling street below.
This is more than enough to keep you occupied in Quito for two days! You have lots of food to eat, great viewpoints to visit, and neighborhoods to explore! Let me know what you’re most looking forward to about your trip to Quito in the comments!