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

Quito, the capital of Ecuador, is recognised as the city with the best preserved historic centre in South America. There are many attractions to see 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, making it a unique tourist destination. Here is a 3-day itinerary of the city's highlights, so you can plan your next visit.

There are many things to see and do in Quito over 3 days, such as taking a tour of its historic centre, seeing the city from its panoramic viewpoints and climbing to 4,000 metres above sea level in 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 Centre 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 centre and see the city's main buildings. You can start at the Voto Nacional Church, and then walk about 8 streets to Plaza Grande, the city's central square. 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 take 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 it's not too late, you can walk along the traditional La Ronda street, and try the delicious local dishes.

Church of the Voto Nacional

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 metres 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.
  • Opening hours: Monday to Friday from 9am to 5pm, and weekends from 9am to 6pm.
  • Entrance fee: around 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 centre of the square you can see the Monumento a la Independencia, which was built to pay homage to the heroes of Ecuador's independence in 1809. Another option, if you don't want to walk, is to do the tour by bicycle, whether they are public or part of a guided tour.

Around the square there are several historic buildings that you can visit, if they are of interest to you:

  • 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 traditional costumes.
  • The 16th-century Archbishop's Palace is one of the oldest buildings. It also has cafes and restaurants where you can have lunch or brunch.
  • Location: Av. Venezuela between Chile and Espejo. Historic Centre of Quito.

Book a bike tour

Compañía de Jesús Church

From the Plaza Grande you can walk about 200 metres to the Iglesia Compañía de Jesús, one of Quito's most remarkable churches, as its interior is covered in fine 23-carat gold leaf. The walls were finely carved by artists of the Quito School.

  • Location: García Moreno N10-43, Quito.
  • Opening hours: Monday to Thursday from 9.30am to 6.30pm, Fridays from 9.30am to 5.30pm, Saturdays and holidays from 9.30am to 4pm and Sundays from 12.30pm to 4pm.
  • Entrance fee: about 5 EUR per person. It costs about 3 EUR extra to go up to the domes.

Middle of the World Monument and Complex

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

The Mitad del Mundo bus, which runs along Avenida Mariscal Sucre, will take you to the complex. Another option is to hire a tour in Quito, which will surely add other interesting activities to the tour.

At the Mitad del Mundo Complex you can carry out 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 the true equator line is said to pass.

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

La Ronda

On your way back from the Mitad del Mundo, and to get a taste of Quito's nightlife, head to La Ronda street, a bohemian-spirited alleyway with craft shops, cultural centres, literary cafés, restaurants and a chapel with a curious legend, the Capilla del Robo (Chapel of the Robber).

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

  • Location: QFGP+87W, Venezuela, Quito 170130, Ecuador.
  • Opening hours: Bars, restaurants and nightclubs are open daily from 3pm to midnight. Shops are open from 10 am to 6 pm.

Book a legends tour

Optional: San Francisco Church, museums and Itchimbía Park

If you've got time to spare in Quito's historic centre, or you're not interested in seeing 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 16th and 18th centuries.
  • Itchimbía Park: it is a green space of about 54 hectares where there is also a viewpoint and the cultural centre known as the Crystal Palace. It is about 3 km from the Plaza Grande.
  • Museo Casa Guayasamín: it is the house where the renowned Ecuadorian artist Oswaldo Guayasamín used to live, which today exhibits his works, as well as his private collection of pre-Columbian and colonial art. It is 7 km from the Plaza Grande and is one of Quito's best museums.

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're more acclimatised to the altitude, you can climb a little higher to enjoy incredible views of the city and the surrounding mountains and volcanoes. In the morning you can go to El Panecillo Hill, where the statue of the Virgin of the same name 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 are walking, you will get there in about 30 minutes, or in about 40 minutes if you go by bus. From El Panecillo to the base of the cable car it takes about an hour by bus, or 20 minutes by taxi or car. Then you can either 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 centre 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, a 30-metre high aluminium statue, and a small museum.

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

  • Location: Fulgencio Araujo, y, Quito 170527.
  • Hours: Open all day. The museum is open Monday to Friday from 9am to 6pm, and closes one hour earlier on weekends.
  • Admission: free. Admission 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 the Cruz Loma, which is about 4,000 metres 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, apart from taking photos, are hiking, cycling 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 that 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 Handicraft Market

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

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

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

Lorena's Traveller Tip

Another option, especially if you're going 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 metres from the Mercado Artesanal La Mariscal, you'll find Plaza Foch, one of the liveliest squares in the city. It's a great place to dine on typical Ecuadorian dishes and get a taste of the city's nightlife.

Plaza Foch is an area of bars, discos, salsa bars and karaoke bars, which is often included in night-time food tours of Quito. If your visit coincides with the weekend, you can't miss this square and the surrounding streets.

It is about 3 km from Plaza Grande, which can be reached in half an hour by bus or 10 minutes by taxi.

  • 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 a day trip from Quito to explore the surrounding area. One of the most popular options is the town of Otavalo, famous for its market of the same name, 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 town is about 90 km from Quito and can be reached by bus in about 2 hours. Another way to get to know this city is to hire a tour, which will take you to other places of interest in the city. 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.
  • Opening hours: Monday to Sunday from 8 am to 6 pm.

Book an excursion to Otavalo, Cotacachi and Cuicocha

The Peguche waterfall

From the market, and to make the most of the day, I recommend that you take a taxi to the Peguche waterfall, which will take you about 10 minutes, as it would take longer by bus. To get to the waterfalls you have to take a footbridge of about 800 metres 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, as they are used to 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 harvests.

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

Itinerary summary: 3 days in Quito

  • Day 1
  • Voto Nacional Church
  • Plaza Grande
  • Compañía de Jesús Church
  • Monument of the Middle of the World
  • 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 longer, there are plenty of museums, churches and parks to explore, and you can also take several day trips from Quito, such as to the Santa Ana Baths or the Amazon, both of which are not to be missed.