Quito, Ecuador: What to do and budget tips for visitors
Quito is Ecuador’s capital but it’s unlike many big cities in that it’s not too fast paced and the people are quite friendly. The central area is in the middle of a valley surrounded by volcanoes, making it a great base point for hiking day trips in the countryside.
Quito is at 2,850m in altitude so it’ll take you a few days to adjust when you arrive. You might experience a shortness of breath and it’s important to drink lots of fluids so you don’t get dehydrated.
The weather is consistent all year round thanks to the altitude, maintaining an average of about 66°F/18°C each day.
Things to do in Quito
There are lots of free things to do in Quito and even for the attractions where you do have to pay, the price isn’t going to break the bank.
Some of our favourite cheap things to do in Quito included:
Climbing up Basilica del Voto National
It only costs $2 to climb the church spires and once you’re up the top you get one of the best views over Quito. You can also visit the church itself for another $1. There’s a café on the fourth floor which allows you to enjoy a meal while you admire the view.
Watching the President’s Parade
Every Monday morning at 11am the Ecuadorian President comes out onto the balcony of the Presidential Palace, located in Plaza Grande, and waves to everyone. The soldiers parade takes place at the same time with a lot of pomp and pageantry. It’s well worth watching this 20 minute display for an insight into Ecuadorian culture and history.
Visiting the Monastary of San Francisco
The Monastary of San Francisco only costs a few dollars to visit and it’s one of the city’s most beautiful buildings. Monks still live here and you’ll see them strolling around the place as you admire the gold-covered ornaments gracing each part of the church.
Museum of Culture
Free to enter, the Museum of Culture is one of Quito’s hidden gems. There’s loads of Inca gold on display on the basement floor of the building and the process of creating the jewellery hundreds of years ago is explained in detail. There’s also a mummy that’s been so perfectly preserved she still has her hair.
Art and craft market
This is one of the best places in Quito to buy souvenirs and gifts for your family. The vendors sell tourist T-shirts, handmade crafts and locally made knitted clothing like scarves and shawls. It’s a small market but the quality of the goods is high.
The middle of the world
About half an hour outside of Quito is the equator line, and although touristy, it’s a lot of fun to visit. There are two museums here – the ‘real’ museum and the ‘fake’ museum. The latter is much larger and feels a bit like a theme park with a grand monument honouring the equator in the middle of the grounds. The problem is… it’s not actually on the equator.
A short walk down the road will take you to the real equator line museum. This museum is a bit more interesting as you’re guided around the site and shown experiments which can only be conducted successfully on the equator line. Both museums cost only a few dollars to visit.
Transport in Quito
Transport is very cheap in Quito. Expect to pay 25 cents for a bus trip, no matter the length, and around $3 – $4 for every 10 minutes you’re in a taxi. I would recommend against hiring a car as driving in an Ecuadorian city can be quite scary and intimidating, and the price of car hire is expensive.
Language barrier in Quito
It can be a little difficult to get around in Quito if you don’t speak Spanish, as many people don’t speak English. Learn some basic terms before you go to help you out if you get stuck.
Your taxi drivers probably won’t speak English so we found that writing down the address of our destination on a scrap piece of paper and then handing it to the driver worked well.
People in Quito are very friendly and they’ll be happy to help if you need it. Just practise a few greetings in Spanish beforehand!
Modern vs traditional dining
The more modern dining options in Quito are more expensive. For example, a three course meal for two people, including wine, at Zazu – Quito’s highest rated restaurant – will set you back around US$120.
But don’t despair, the more traditional food in Quito is cheap. You can pay as little as three dollars for a soup and main dish at many restaurants dotted around the town. Normally these joints will have plastic chairs and not much atmosphere but the food will be filling.
Hygiene is also valued in restaurants and it’d be unlikely you’ll get food poisoning, even from the street food.
Lunch is the main meal for Ecuadorians and they often take a two hour break to relax and enjoy their meal. If you make lunch the main meal of your day while you’re visiting Quito, you’ll save cash because most of the restaurants have lunch deals making it the cheapest time of the day to eat out.
A typical lunch deal will include a soup, main dish, salad and dessert.
Accommodation costs in Quito
You can expect to pay around US$8 – US$12 for a bunk in a dorm room of a hostel in Quito, or around US$15 – US$25 per person for a double room.
Many accommodations call themselves ‘hostels’ in Quito but are more like hotels than backpacker joints. For one of these fancier hostels you can expect to pay US$80 a night for a double room for two people.
It’s common that breakfast will be included in your nightly rate but don’t expect great things; it’ll most likely be bread, jam and coffee from a giant thermos.
When we were in Quito we opted to use Airbnb to find our accommodation and we weren’t disappointed. The first time we were there we rented a one bedroom apartment in Guapulo, one of the richer areas of Quito, for about US$400 a month.
The second time around this apartment was booked out and so we stayed in a shared house for three nights, paying just US$8 a night for the two of us. We shared the apartment with another couple and it had a lounge area, a kitchen and our own bathroom, so it was perfect for our needs.
Have you been to Quito? What are your money saving tips for this beautiful city?
By Carmen Allan-Petale
Carmen is one half of the couple behind Double-Barrelled Travel, a travel blog focused on vlogging. Carmen married Dave two years ago and they quit their journalism careers in mid-2013 for a life on the road.
Top photo by Rinaldo Wurglitsch on Flickr, all other photos by Carmen Allan-Petale