Before Galapagos: What to do in Quito

Custom Travel…Simplified

Overview

You booked your Galapagos vacation. You spent hours agonizing over which boat, which itinerary, and when to visit. You have your plane tickets, you’re all packed up and you can’t wait to start your adventure. Then you remember that you have a few days in the Andes before you cruise off into the sunset and you think to yourself “What should I do in Quito before my Galapagos trip? I want to see the sights but I don’t know where to start.” Goodness knows you don’t want to have to start the planning process all over again! That’s where we come in. Our pre and post Galapagos tours are designed for travelers like you who are just passing through but don’t want to miss anything. Let us take care of the planning so you can get busy feeling the rush of anticipation.

Connect with history in Old Town Quito as you explore it’s churches, museums and cultural centers. Stand in both hemispheres at once on the equator or relax into your vacation in local volcanic hot springs. Wake up one morning in a tropical cloud forest paradise and find yourself the very next day wearing llama chaps on the windswept plains.

Many people who travel to Qutio have concerns about altitude, safety, transportation, travel with children, and more. We get questions like these everyday and we plan our trips accordingly. We’ll take care of everything from the moment you step through customs until you’re ready to depart for your next unforgettable experience.

Quito and its surrounding areas are breathtaking, vibrant, and full of diversity. We want to help you see it. Browse through this page to start brainstorming and let us know what you’re interested in by filling out the form on the reservations tab. We would be honored to show you around!

Have Questions? Contact Us anytime. We’d love to talk to you!

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Be inspired by Cotopaxi

Stand in both hemispheres at once on the equator

In Quito

Nestled in a Andean valley at 9,300ft, Quito lies within the shadow of the towering Volcano Pichincha and is brimming with history, culture, modern delights and entertainment for all ages. Ecuador’s capital was the first in the world to be designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site and is chock full of museums, architecture, churches, and traditions that continue to prove the legitimacy of this title. With year-round spring like weather, this Andean city is a perfect location to spend a couple of days preparing yourself for the wonders of the Galapagos Islands and an ideal base from which to explore the stunning landscapes, friendly communities, and  incredible diversity offered by the surrounding Avenue of Volcanoes.

Not ready to venture out of the city just yet? We know the feeling! There are plenty of activities in this gorgeous city to keep you occupied for a few days:

Old Town
Teleferiqo
Mercado Artesenal
City Parks


Old Town

The historic center of town for which Quito was named a UNESCO World Heritage Site, Old Town is full of local life, museums, plazas, churches, monasteries, restaurants, shops, hotels, and more…all too numerous to list here and more than enough to keep you enthralled for at least an afternoon if not days on end. Some of the most popular sites include the Basilica, the golden interior of La Compañía de Jesus, the oldest church in South America Iglesia de San Francisco, museums featuring famous local artist Guayasamín, and Museo del Banco Central.

In the evenings, the street known as La Ronda is the place to be with lively street music, hundreds of people milling about, restored colonial homes with doors open to their gorgeous inner patios, and restaurant owners calling to you from their low stone archways enticing you to duck inside and try various local dishes. Buy a mug of traditional canelazo, a hot citrus beverage with cinnamon and cloves, and stroll until your senses are exhausted before you call it a night.

To explore this historic center, there are three main options.

  1. Walking Tours: Conducted by the Metropolitan Police, these 2-3 hour tours are a great way to duck inside some of the museums, learn about the history of the area, and set a foundation for further exploration
  2. HOHO Bus: To visit the city’s major highlights, a new option just rode into town. Double Decker buses run a wonderfully thorough route throughout the city and a ticket allows you to hop on and off as you please all day long. Overall, a great way to enjoy the city at a relaxed pace and adjust gently to the altitude.
  3. On your own: do you have a list made up of your “must-see” museums, churches, and plazas? We’ll make sure you get there and let you know just how much you can expect to fit into your day.

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Teleferiqo

Soaring above Quito to 13,300ft, the Teleferiqo cable car carries passengers to breathtaking views along the slopes of Volcano Pichincha. Once you reach the top, you have several options. Hike to the summit of Volcano Pichincha if you wish or choose to ride horseback  most of the way. Not feeling adventurous? Take it easy and enjoy stunning vistas of the capital sprawled below you and the Avenue of Volcanoes stretched in all directions.

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Mercado Artesenal

Tucked away in La Mariscal section of town, this covered traditional market offers up a colorful array of classic Ecuadorian goods along narrow aisles filled with lusciously soft vicuna scarves, hand made leather goods, vibrant paintings, llama pillows, sparkling silver jewelry, decadent chocolates, and the famous Panama Hat (unfortunately misnamed, this well known hat is actually Ecuadorian!). Not a shopper? No problem…the experience of haggling can be exhilarating and is not only a wonderful glimpse of the market culture here, but also an expected and respected practice. Take time to hone your skills and pick up the perfect souvenirs. One tip: before you buy any vibrant, breezy overalls, sincerely consider this question…”Will I EVER wear this at home?!”

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City Parks

A beautiful escape from the bustle of this metropolitan city, Quito’s city parks are wonderful places for soccer games, family gatherings, street vendors, kite flying, paddle boats, skate parks, bmx tracks, and more. When you want to take a break from your explorations or take a jog, these green spaces provide just the perfect amount of peace as well as a glimpse into the daily lives of Quiteños who play, exercise, and relax here too!

Metropolitano

El Ejido

Carolina

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Popular Day Trips

Below is a list of the most common day trips from Quito. Take in the breathtaking landscapes of Ecuador’s Avenue of Volcanoes and catch a glimpse of the diversity offered here in the Andean region of the mainland. Wake up one morning to the warm, moist air of a tropical cloud forest paradise and find yourself the very next day sporting llama chaps an the windswept highland plains. And seriously, who DOESN’T want to wear llama chaps?!

Otavalo
Cotopaxi National Park
Mindo Cloud Forest
Pululahua Crater
The Equator: Mitad del Mundo & Intiñan Museum
Papallacta Hot Springs
Quilotoa Lake


Otavalo

This small mountain town is best known for its Saturday market when the streets overflow with vendors from all across the region hoping to sell their colorful crafts, woven goods, farm & food animals, produce and so much more. Over the years this market has become quite the tourist destination as it is the largest traditional market in South America. Because of its popularity, Otavalo has also taken on a reputation as becoming “too touristy” but we believe that if you want to see a traditional market and have limited time, THIS is the one to see. Only 2 hours from Quito with regular buses running the route, Otavalo is easily accessible, simple to navigate once you’re there, and offers plenty of side activities for members of your group who may not be so thrilled about shopping.

Enjoying an overnight stay? Other activities near Otavalo include: Cuicocha Crater Lake, Peguche Waterfall, Horseback Riding to Mojanda Lakes and tours of nearby indigenous communities.
A few blog posts about Otavalo: Inti Raymi Festival, The Saturday Markets, Peguche Waterfall

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Cotopaxi National Park

Ecuador’s second most visited national park (after the Galapagos, of course), this area is also home to the world’s highest active volcano! Options for ways to interact with this gorgeous, surreal landscape in just one day include downhill mountain biking, hiking to the climbers refuge at 15,748ft or further still to the glacier’s edge, or a combo hike/bike. All day trips will include round trip transportation from Quito, equipment, guide and lunch. We highly recommend that you spend a day or two acclimating in Quito before you take this trip to see how you adjust to the altitude (FYI, Quito is situated at 9,300ft).

Enjoying an overnight stay? Awesome! We LOVE the historic haciendas in this area and believe wholeheartedly that if you have time to relax by a crackling fire with a steamy mug of local Canelazo, you should do it in a heartbeat! Visit the national park then take advantage of a horseback ride with your hacienda of choice before returning to Quito the next day…you get to wear cozy llama chaps and will look like a traditional Ecuadorian chagra (cowboy). You’ll love it!

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Mindo Cloud Forest

A birder’s paradise and an adventurer’s playground, this tiny town is just a gorgeous two hour bus ride from Quito. The atmosphere of this town is heavenly. With only one main road running the length of town and few side streets, you can take your time enjoying the laid-back atmosphere rather than rushing to get your bearings. Breathe in the warm, moist air and your lungs will thank you for escaping big city life. Outdoor activities include canopy sip-line tours, waterfall hikes, and river tubing while those seeking to take a break from an adrenaline-pumping lifestyle can enjoy butterfly and orchid farms, chocolate tasting and bird-watching tours.

Enjoying an overnight stay? We love the lodge and the folks out at El Abrazo del Arbol for a feeling of cloud forest immersion and some quality peace and quiet in their sparkling mineral pool. If you would rather be closer into town, check out The Dragonfly Inn, Caskaffesu, or Casa de Piedra.

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Pululahua Crater

One of only two inhabited craters in the world, Pululahua is a lush and welcome site after traveling briefly through the dry forest region just north of Quito. If you love horseback riding, we highly suggest a 3-4 hour ride that will take you through the scenic highlights of the crater: colorful volcanic mineral mounds, small waterfalls, lush green fields, and natural springs. Along the way, keep your eye out for some wild and beautiful orchids and after your ride, take time to enjoy a home cooked meal in the hostal’s garden while hummingbirds zip around you. On the way back to Quito, stop by Mitad del Mundo and the Intiñan Museum to stand in both hemispheres at once (mentioned next)! We’ll make sure you visit in the morning as mists slide into the crater every afternoon to keep the area lush.

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The Equator: Mitad del Mundo & Intiñan Museum

Only half an hour from Quito, the equator is a cheesy, fun afternoon must-see for many folks who want that classic photo standing in both hemispheres at once. While you’re there, we’ll be sure to visit the Intiñan Museum just up the road from the large monument. Embrace your inner child while you attempt to balance an egg on a nail head, watch water swirl in different directions in each hemisphere, learn about shrunken heads, and participate in other wacky equatorial demonstrations.

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Papallacta Hot Springs

Heated by Volcano Antisana, these natural springs are a great spot to recover from a long day of travel or a long year of working! The two hour drive to reach the small town of Papallacta is stunning. When we arrive, we head straight to Termas de Papallacta for the most beautiful of the numerous area pools. Soak your worries away and enjoy a local favorite, trucha (trout) for lunch.

Enjoying an overnight stay? Sign up for treatments at the spa or venture into the nearby ecological reserve by horseback or on your own two feet.

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Quilotoa Lake

We left this gem for last for a reason…Yes, you can visit Quilotoa Lake as a day trip from Quito but be warned that this can turn into a VERY LONG day filled with bumpy, dusty roads, traffic delays, tired bones and breathtaking scenery (note: roads to this area are currently being improved: good for the future, bad for current traffic). We highly recommend staying overnight in the nearby town of Chugchilan or continuing to Quilotoa after a stay in the Cotopaxi NP area (this is detailed on our Overnight Trips page) but sometimes our guests just don’t have enough time. When this is the case and you’ve been dreaming of Laguna Quilotoa for ages, we’ll get you there and you’ll love it. After a ride along the incredibly scenic Quilotoa Loop, we will arrive at this aquamarine lake where you can discover serenity on a bluff overlooking the every changing colors of its deep waters, slip your way down into the crater through soft volcanic material and ride gracefully back to the crater’s rim by horseback. Depending on the day of the week, we may even catch a traditional market on the way back to Quito. Haggle!

Enjoying an overnight stay? Wonderful choice! We love introducing folks to the small, welcoming community of Chugchilan perched on the side of the spectacular Toachi Canyon just a bit up the road. After a peaceful slumber in a world renowned eco-lodge, we will complete the Quilotoa Loop and return to Quito or you may opt to stay additional days to enjoy numerous opportunities for hiking, horseback riding, and visiting with the locals.

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Don’t you wish now that you had at least a week just for this small area? Well, you’ll just have to come back and visit again soon! Everything on this page (with the exception of Quilotoa) is within a couple of hours of Quito and easily accessible. Ecuador is known far and wide for its dazzling array of landscapes, wildlife, culture, and communities. Even with only a few days in the area, you’ll be able to experience some of this diversity without wearing yourself out. Leave the logistics to us and prepare yourself for an unforgettable introduction to the Ecuadorian Sierra region.

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Galapagos Cruises

More Information Coming Soon!

Reservations

We are so excited that you have decided to spend time with us and we can’t wait to explore the Andes together. Please fill out the form below and we will begin planning your stress-free itinerary within 24 hours. We like to see this as the beginning of a conversation. Please never hesitate to ask any question you come up with along the way and feel free to change your mind as often as you like!

How many travelers are in your party?

How many days will you be in the Quito area?

Do you know your arrival date?
 Yes No       If yes,

Would you like us to arrange accommodations for you while you are in Quito?

What are you interested in doing and seeing?

In Quito (hold ctrl for multiple selections).

Day Trips from Quito:

Overnight Stays:

Do you Prefer Public or Private Transportation?

Your Name (required)

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Anything else?

FAQ

Read general information about Ecuador from the US Department of State
Accommodations:

The accommodations we use are generally double occupancy with private bathroom and include breakfast. We only stay in places we have personally approved and base our decisions on elements such as comfort, safety, location, views and how delicious breakfast is and we prefer to support locally owned businesses when available. If you are traveling alone, welcome! We do our best to pair each independent traveler with a tour-mate of the same sex and won't charge you a single supplement fee unless you elect to have your own room. If you would like to request your own room for an additional charge, just let us know when you book and we'll be happy to arrange it for you.

Please note that the pictures below show the level of lodging we will be using and final plans will be based on availability and group size. If we're not in the hotel/hacienda pictured, we'll be in one similar or better. We will provide you with your specific lodging list when you receive your final itinerary if you would like to leave contact information for friends and family.
Quito:
Otavalo:
Mindo
Cotopaxi:
Chugchilan/Quilotoa Loop:
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Altitude:

At just over 9,000ft, Quito qualifies in the High Altitude range for medical purposes. Please consult your doctor if you have a condition that can be escalated or affected in any way by activity at high altitude. We arrange our itineraries to include light activity for the first couple of days but that doesn't guarantee that you will not feel the affects of altitude.

Altitude sickness is a commonly occurring set of symptoms caused by lower concentrations of oxygen in the air at high altitudes. Symptoms can feel like a bad hangover and include nausea, difficulty sleeping, lethargy, headache and decreased appetite. Altitude sickness generally dissipates as your body acclimatizes but it can also be more serious and deadly if symptoms worsen or expand instead of decrease. Remaining well-hydrated can help alleviate and prevent symptoms so we recommend making sure you start paying careful attention to your water intake (at least 3L per day) at home before you depart and continue to do so while you are here. Also, stay away from alcoholic beverages while traveling to Ecuador and at least for the first few days that you are here as this can lead to an exacerbation of symptoms. There are some medications that can help with altitude symptoms; we suggest talking to your doctor before you travel to find out more. Altitude sickness can affect anyone regardless of age or fitness level so don't assume you won't be affected. To find out more, check out WebMd's brief summary of symptoms, suggestions and resources and an informational article from Princeton

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Deposit & Cancellation Policy

All of our trips require a significant amount of planning and (wo)man power. In order to plan your trip accordingly we require a deposit of $850 when you book with us to guarantee your spot. This deposit is non-refundable. Final payments are due 60 days prior to departure.
Cancellation penalties are as follows:
  • Cancellations more than 60 days before departure: trip costs minus deposit are 100% refundable.
  • Cancellations within 60 days of departure: trip costs minus deposit are 50% refundable.
  • Cancellations within 30 days of departure: total trip costs are non-refundable.

We strongly recommend that you purchase a travel insurance plan that covers many reasons for cancellations (typically included in the required emergency medical travel insurance) so that you do not suffer a loss in these sometimes unavoidable and unfortunate situations.

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Packing:

A large backpack is the preferable type of luggage for this trip as they are easy for you to handle and will generally hold everything you need. Large rolling suitcases are also fine and at the end of the day, we recommend packing in whichever container you feel most comfortable managing yourself. A smaller daypack will be sufficient for our daily activities and we highly recommend having a money belt for your credit cards, cash, and documents. Please note that we allow one "checked luggage" and one "carry-on" piece per guest. You will be charged an excess baggage fee for extra baggage. Leave the expensive jewelry and valuables at home, you won't need them here! We will provide a suggested packing list for your itinerary after you have booked with us but to satisfy your curiosity now, here is our general list of Recommended Items:

First some things to LEAVE AT HOME:
  • Valuables: Jewelry, expensive accessories, etc. You won't need them here
  • Travelers Checks. People here don't trust them and often will not honor them. It is a huge hassle to redeem a travelers check and we recommend a debit and back up credit card instead.
  • Laptops/Tablets/IPads: Because we are moving around quite a bit, there is a higher probability of damage to these valuable items. Also, electronics are much more expensive down here than in the US and therefore, a highly coveted target for pickpockets. Every town we visit has a plethora of internet cafes to keep you in touch with loved ones back home but if you must bring it, please make sure you have a protective cover and lock it in the hotel safe when out of your room.

Things to BRING WITH YOU: Keep in mind that this list is not comprehensive. We will send you an itinerary-specific list with more detail once you have booked with us.
  • Passport (with photocopies)
  • Travel insurance (with photocopies)
  • Airline tickets (with photocopies)
  • Cash and credit or debit card (Ecuador uses the US Dollar, don't carry large bills as they are difficult to break here)
  • Any entry visas or vaccination certificates required
  • Large backpack and smaller daypack (keep in mind that you will be handling your own luggage if possible so bring something comfortable/easy to carry and bring along a smaller bag for day trips)
  • Camera, film, extra batteries/memory cards, etc (we recommend a point and shoot camera that can fit in your pocket if you don't have a strong preference)
  • Reading/writing material/small, inexpensive mp3 for longer rides and relaxing
  • Ear plugs/Eye mask (we highly recommend the ear plugs for light sleepers, especially as some areas are home to early-rising roosters ;)
  • Waterproof cover for backpacks
  • Zipper/luggage lock
  • Synthetic layers (long underwear, fleece top)
  • Windproof/waterproof jacket
  • Rain Pants
  • Fleece jacket or wool sweater
  • Small travel towel & bathing suit
  • long sleeve shirts/t-shirts
  • 2 pairs of long pants
  • Pair hiking pants/gym pants
  • Pair of shorts for coastal visits (we recommend lightweight long pants for visits into the jungle)
  • PJs
  • Underwear
  • Socks (synthetic socks for hiking are best as they help keep your feet dry and comfy)
  • Money belt
  • Hiking boots/sturdy walking shoes (we recommend waterproof shoes; these will suffice for all horseback riding, biking, and hiking included)
  • Sport sandals
  • Hats (one for sun protection and one thermal for the chilly nights)
  • Bug spray (primarily for visits to the Amazon or tropical cloud forests)
  • Sunscreen (Remember, you are on the EQUATOR!)
  • Sunglasses
  • Toiletries
  • Watch with alarm clock
  • 2 Water bottles (the standard recommendation for water intake is 3 liters/day or more for active itineraries)
  • First-aid kit with any over the counter drugs you take regularly, lip balm, Aspirin, IB Profen, Band Aids, anti-bacterial cream, anti-histamine, Imodium or similar for mild cases of diarrhea, Tums, extra prescription drugs you may be taking, contact solution, glasses repair kit, etc.


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Passports & Vaccinations:

Ecuador automatically grants visitors from many countries (including the USA) a 90-day tourist visa each year which requires no effort on your part and makes entering to visit this amazing country EASY and STRESS FREE! That being said, you are responsible for all visas, permits, necessary health requirements, and any other documents as required by laws, regulations and orders of the countries you visit. All passengers traveling to South America need a Passport, valid for 6 months beyond the conclusion of their trip, and with appropriate visas according to the policy of each country of residence. Please visit the website for the Washington DC Ecuadoran Embassy for more details.

Need to apply for your passport? See the State Department Requirements

Please see your local medical professional to make sure you receive all of the appropriate vaccinations (and bring copies of this documentation with you to present to your trip leader). Your doctor should also be consulted for information on altitude sickness and preventive medication and/or pre-existing conditions that may affect which activities are appropriate and safe for you.

For a list of recommended vaccinations for Ecuador, see the CDC Traveler's Health Page

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Safety:

Your safety is of the utmost importance. We will do what is possible on our end to ensure your comfort and safety while traveling abroad. Don't let this issue stress you out; most of the people we've encountered in this amazing country are warm, friendly and welcoming! However, it is also important to practice some common sense in order to avoid drawing unwanted attention and to safeguard your valuables...just as you would in many large cities in the US!

  • Don't carry large amounts of cash with you. It is difficult to break large bills in Ecuador anyway so we recommend against carrying them and since most of the logistics for your trip are already taken care of, you'll only need to carry enough cash for shopping, personal items, drinks, etc. We recommend the use of indoor, guarded ATMs when possible to restock your cash supply as opposed to ATMs on the street. Many hotels will include in-room or front-desk safes for your use. Use them!
  • Be aware of your surroundings and keep track of your personal belongings at all times, especially when on public transport. We recommend a money belt or an under-the-shirt travel pouch to safeguard valuables, passports, credit cards, money, etc. One method pickpockets use to distract targets is spilling something on the person to draw attention away from their valuables. Keep a hand and eye on your belongings.
  • If you are carrying a day pack, consider purchasing a small lock to secure your zippers and act as a deterrent against pickpockets and carry the pack in front of you instead of on your back when on public transport.
  • Always travel in groups, especially at night
  • At night take an official taxi, even for short distances. It's cheap and it's worth the extra safety.
  • Never take an unofficial taxi. If you are arranging a taxi on your own, it is best to let the hotel or restaurant call one for you.


We also recommend that you bring copies of all important documents with you (especially passports) and keep them in a separate location from the originals. Even better, scan copies of the documents and send them to yourself in an email so that you may access them electronically at any time.

We will be providing more safety tips and reminders when you arrive and are available any time before your trip if you have any questions or concerns.

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Insurance:

To support stress-free, smart travel, we REQUIRE our guests to have travelers insurance with medical, emergency evacuation and repatriation coverage at a minimum. We recommend extending your coverage to include loss of personal items, cancellations, personal liability, etc. Please visit the following links to compare some popular companies or consult your travel agent:



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Weather:

Although Ecuador is on the equator, the highlands can get pretty chilly at night year round so come prepared with layers. There are two main seasons here, rainy and dry. The dry season in the Ecuadorian Andes is from June-September which also coincides with the most popular tourist season and also tends to be windy in the highlands, cloudy on the coast. While the second half of the year is known as the rainy season, this typically manifests as afternoon showers and is also the season of less wind for the highlands and more sun on the coast. With appropriate sun protection and layered clothing, you can easily be comfortable and prepared for whatever the Andes bring your way. See what Lonely Planet has to say about when to visit Ecuador and check out Weather Underground for current weather conditions.

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