Quito in 3 Days: a guidebook for getting the most out of your visit

Quito, the capital of Ecuador, is recognized as the city with the best preserved historic center in South America. There are many attractions you can visit during your 3-day stay in Quito, combining history, culture, traditions and natural beauty.

Lorena Morales

Lorena Morales

10 min read

Quito in 3 Days: a guidebook for getting the most out of your visit

OTAVALO.- CASCADA DE PEGUCHE |©Marcelo Quinteros Mena

The capital of Ecuador is the second highest city in the world, which sits on one of the slopes of the Andes Mountains and very close to the Equator, which makes it a unique tourist destination. Here is a 3-day itinerary with the most representative of the city, so you can organize your next visit.

There are many things to see and do in Quito during 3 days, such as taking a tour of its historic center, observing the city from its viewpoints with panoramic views and climbing to 4 thousand meters high with the cable car. You can also set foot in each hemisphere or visit the markets, squares and museums where the life and culture of this vibrant city takes place. I'll tell you day by day below.

Day 1: Historic Center and Mitad del Mundo Monument

Basilica del Voto Nacional - Quito, Ecuador.|©Wild Lapse
Basilica del Voto Nacional - Quito, Ecuador.|©Wild Lapse

On your first day in Quito you can tour the historic center and see the main buildings of the city. You can start at the Voto Nacional Church, and then walk about 8 blocks to Plaza Grande, the central square of the city. From there, you can go to the Iglesia Compañía de Jesús, which is about two blocks from the square.

In the afternoon, a good option is to take a bus to visit the Monumento de la Mitad del Mundo, one of the most popular sites in the country, or hire a guided tour of Quito, as it is included in most tours. By bus you can get there in about an hour. On the way back, if you are not too late, you can walk along the traditional street La Ronda, and try the delicious local dishes.

Voto Nacional Church

The Iglesia del Voto Nacional is considered the largest neo-Gothic church in South America. Its construction was inspired by the church of Notre Dame. The Galapagos animals guarding the entrance are striking, instead of the gargoyles seen in churches of that style.

Besides being amazed by its architecture, you can climb its towers of more than 100 meters high, which are some of the best viewpoints in the city. On special days you can also go up at night, which you can check on the church's website.

  • Location: Venezuela 11-263 (and Carchi), Quito 170130.
  • Hours: Monday to Friday from 9 am to 5 pm, and weekends from 9 am to 6 pm.
  • Entrance fee: about 4 EUR.

Book a guided tour of Quito

Plaza Grande

About 8 blocks from the church is the central square of the city: the Plaza Grande. In the center of the square you can see the Independence Monument, which was built to honor the heroes who promoted the Independence of Ecuador in 1809. Another option, if you do not wish to walk, is to make the tour by bicycle, either public or part of a guided tour.

In the surroundings of the square there are several historic buildings that you can visit, if they are of your interest:

  • The Metropolitan Cathedral, which is the oldest church in South America, built in the 16th century.
  • The Carondelet Palace, the presidential residence, where guided tours are available by reservation. The Tarqui Grenadiers guard the entrance in typical costumes.
  • The Archbishop's Palace, from the 16th century, is one of the oldest buildings. It also has cafes and restaurants where you can have lunch or enjoy a brunch.
  • Location: Venezuela Av. between Chile and Espejo. Historic Center of Quito.

Book a bike tour

Compañía de Jesús Church

From the Plaza Grande you can walk about 200 meters to the Iglesia Compañía de Jesús, one of the most outstanding churches in Quito, because its interior is covered with thin sheets of 23-karat gold leaf. The walls were finely carved by artists of the Quito School.

  • Location: García Moreno N10-43, Quito.
  • Hours: Monday to Thursday from 9:30 am to 6:30 pm, Fridays from 9:30 am to 5:30 pm, Saturdays and holidays from 9:30 am to 4:00 pm and Sundays from 12:30 pm to 4:00 pm.
  • Entrance fee: about 5 EUR per person. It costs about 3 EUR extra to go up to the domes.

Middle of the World Complex and Monument

One of the most popular attractions near Quito is the Mitad del Mundo Monument which is apparently located on the Equator line, where you have the possibility to set foot on each hemisphere. It is located 28 km from the center of Quito and can be reached in about an hour by bus.

The Mitad del Mundo bus, which passes through the street Avenida Mariscal Sucre, is the one that takes you to the Complex. Another option is to hire a tour in Quito, which will surely add other interesting activities to the tour.

In the Mitad del Mundo Complex you can perform different experiments related to Latitude 0, and visit other attractions such as the Cacao Museum and the Craft Beer Museum. You can also take the opportunity to visit the Intiñán Solar Museum, where it is said that the true line of the Equator passes.

  • Location: Manuel Córdova Galarza Av. SN, Quito.
  • Hours: Monday to Friday from 9 am to 5 pm; and Saturdays, Sundays and holidays from 9 am to 6 pm.
  • Admission: about 5 EUR for adults and 2.5 EUR for children.

La Ronda

On returning from the Middle of the World, and to get a taste of Quito's nightlife, you can go to La Ronda street, a bohemian street with craft stores, cultural centers, literary cafes, restaurants and a chapel with a curious legend, the Capilla del Robo (Chapel of the Robbery).

The street, which is actually called Juan de Dios Morales, extends from the old Cumandá Terminal to Boulevard 24 de Mayo. It is about 500 meters from Plaza Grande.

  • Location: QFGP+87W, Venezuela, Quito 170130, Ecuador.
  • Hours: Bars, restaurants and discotheques are open daily from 3:00 pm to 0:00 am. Stores are open from 10 am to 6 pm.

Hire a tour of legends

Optional: San Francisco Church, museums and Itchimbía Park

If you have some free time left in the historic center of Quito, or you are not interested in visiting the Mitad del Mundo Monument, there are other interesting places to visit:

  • San Francisco Church, considered the largest religious complex in South America, which houses some 3,500 works of the Quito School of Art, which flourished between the sixteenth and eighteenth centuries.
  • Itchimbía Park: it is a green space of about 54 hectares where there is also a viewpoint and the cultural center known as the Crystal Palace. It is about 3 km from the Plaza Grande.
  • Museo Casa Guayasamín: is the house where the renowned Ecuadorian artist Oswaldo Guayasamín lived, which today exhibits his works, as well as his private collection of pre-Columbian and colonial art. It is located 7 km from the Plaza Grande and is one of the best museums in Quito.

Buy tickets for Capilla del Hombre and Casa Museo Guayasamín

Day 2: El Panecillo, TeleferiQo, La Mariscal Market and Foch Square

TeleferiQo|©Elias Rovielo
TeleferiQo|©Elias Rovielo

On your second day in Quito, when you are more acclimatized to the altitude, you can climb a little higher, to enjoy incredible views of the city, the surrounding mountains and volcanoes. In the morning you can go to El Panecillo hill, where the statue of the homonymous Virgin is located, and in the afternoon you can take the Teleférico de Quito, in the north of the city.

El Panecillo hill is located 2 km from Plaza Grande. If you walk, you will arrive in about 30 minutes, or in about 40 minutes if you go by bus. From El Panecillo to the base of the cable car you have one hour by bus, or 20 minutes by cab or car. Then you can go to the Mercado Artesanal La Mariscal or go to Vulqano Park, which is at the base of the cable car. The market is about an hour away by bus.

El Panecillo Hill and the Virgin of Panecillo

El Panecillo is a hill located in the center of the city where you have a panoramic view of the city and the surrounding mountain ranges. At the top is the statue of the Virgen del Panecillo, an aluminum statue 30 meters high, and a small museum.

Although you can climb to the top of the hill, it is not recommended, as the road is not very safe. You can take a cab to the top or a tourist bus, or join a guided tour of Quito, as most of them include this hill in their itinerary, and other highlights of the city.

  • Location: Fulgencio Araujo, y, Quito 170527.
  • Hours: Open all day. The museum is open Monday to Friday from 9 am to 6 pm, and closes one hour earlier on weekends.
  • Admission: free. The entrance to the museum costs about 2 EUR per person.

Join a guided tour of Quito

Quito Cable Car

After climbing El Panecillo, you can go to the base of the Quito Cable Car and climb to the top of Cruz Loma, which is about 4,000 meters above sea level. The ride takes about 20 minutes. At the top of the hill it is very popular to swing on a swing where you experience a sensation close to flying.

Other activities you can do, besides taking pictures, are hiking, biking or climbing, if you are up for it. Remember to take it easy, as the effect of the altitude makes any physical activity more tiring. It is advisable to take coca leaves, candies or pills if you think the altitude may affect you, although not all people are affected in the same way.

Lorena's Traveller Tip

From the Cruz Loma hill you can take a trail to the Pichincha Volcano, which is 10 km long.

La Mariscal Artisan Market

The Mercado La Mariscal is one of the main handicraft markets in the country, where you can find paintings, embroidered fabrics and garments, tapestries, jewelry made from seeds, musical instruments such as quenas and ocarinas, Panamanian hats (which are actually from Ecuador) and many other things that may interest you.

To get there, you have to take a bus at the base of the cable car that will drop you off in about 50 minutes at the market, or in about 15 minutes by cab.

  • Location: Jorge Washington 611, Quito 170143.
  • Hours: Monday to Saturday from 8 am to 6 pm, and Sundays from 9 am to 5 pm.

Lorena's Traveller Tip

Another option, especially if you go with children, is to visit Vulqano Park, an amusement park located at the base of the cable car, where both children and adults can have fun.

Foch Square

About 600 meters from the Mercado Artesanal La Mariscal, you will find Plaza Foch, one of the liveliest squares in the city. It is a great option to dine on typical Ecuadorian dishes and get to know the city's nightlife.

Plaza Foch is an area of bars, discos, salsa bars and karaoke bars, which is usually included in nighttime gastronomic tours of Quito. If your visit coincides with the weekend, you can not miss this square and the surrounding streets.

It is about 3 km from Plaza Grande, which you can reach in half an hour by bus or 10 minutes by cab.

  • Location: Mariscal Foch and Reina Victoria, Quito.

Book a night tour

Day 3: Visit the Otavalo Market

Otovalo Market|©Thomas GONZALEZ
Otovalo Market|©Thomas GONZALEZ

On your third day in the city, you can take advantage of a day tour from Quito to get to know the surrounding area. One of the most popular options is the town of Otavalo, famous for its homonymous market, where I recommend you go first. Then you can go to the Peguche Waterfalls, which are located about 3 km from the city.

To get to Otavalo, you can take a bus from the Terminal Terrestre de Carcelén in Quito. The city is located about 90 km from Quito and can be reached by bus in about 2 hours. Another way to get to know this city is by hiring a tour, which will take you to other places of interest in the city. In addition, they usually include a visit to the Cotacachi Ecological Reserve where the Cuicocha Lagoon is located.

Otavalo Market

The Otavalo Market, also known as "Plaza de los Ponchos", is located two blocks from the Otavalo Terminal, in the Plaza Centenario. It is considered the largest indigenous market in Ecuador, and is mainly known for its weavings. But you will also find Panamanian hats, embroidered garments and a great variety of handicrafts made by the Kichwa people.

  • Location: Quiroga Sucre, Otavalo 100401, Ecuador.
  • Hours: Monday to Sunday from 8 am to 6 pm.

Book a tour to Otavalo, Cotacachi and Cuicocha

Peguche waterfall

From the market, and to make the most of the day, I recommend that you take a cab to the Peguche Waterfall, which will take about 10 minutes, as it would take longer by bus. To get to the waterfalls you must take a footbridge of about 800 meters long. Before entering the trail, you can visit a handicrafts market at the entrance.

These waterfalls have a deeper meaning for the inhabitants of Otavalo, since they usually perform sacred baths on the occasion of the solstice and equinox festivals of the Andean cosmovision, such as Inti Raymi and Pawkar Raymi, which celebrate the sun and the harvest.

  • Location: 6QQ6+9H7, Otavalo, Ecuador.
  • Hours: Monday to Sunday from 8 am to 6 pm.
  • Entrance fee: about 2 EUR per person.

Itinerary summary: 3 days in Quito

  • Day 1
  • Voto Nacional Church
  • Plaza Grande
  • Compañía de Jesús Church
  • Middle of the World Monument
  • La Ronda
  • Day 2
  • El Panecillo Hill
  • Quito Cable Car
  • La Mariscal Artisan Market or Volqano Park
  • Foch Square
  • Day 3
  • Otavalo Market
  • Peguche Waterfall

This has been my suggested itinerary to see the highlights of Quito in 3 days, a city with many interesting places to explore. If you stay more days in the city, there are many museums, churches and parks that you can visit, and you can also make several day trips from Quito, such as to the Santa Ana Baths or the Amazon, two must-see places.