Nestled near the middle of Ecuador, Quito is an ideal jumping-off point for short trips to the surrounding provinces. Rather than spending a week in one place, explore some of Ecuador’s nearby cultural and natural attractions on the following day trips from Quito.
Note: When you’re planning your trip, consider staying in a central location. The boutique hotel in Quito, Casa Gangotena,is perfectly situated to explore Quito’s Old Town and access the main highways that would take you around and beyond the city.
Casa Gangotena can arrange day tours for you leaving directly from the hotel!
Half-day trips from Quito
Mitad del Mundo
Distance from Quito: 1 hour by car
What’s a visit to Ecuador without a visit to the actual equator?
Mitad del Mundo (Middle of the World) complex right on the Equator
Mitad del Mundo (the Middle of the World) is located just north of Quito and is best known for the enormous monument that sits (approximately) on the equator. The monument commemorates the French Geodesic Mission that came to study the equator in the 18th century and, at the time it was built, was thought to sit directly on the equatorial line. With the development of modern GPS technology, however, the equator was found to be about 240 meters (787 feet) north of the monument. Oops!
While you’re at the Mitad del Mundo complex, you can visit the Ethnographic Museum, showcasing the territories and traditions of Ecuador’s indigenous people. At the nearby Cacao Museum, you can learn some cool facts about Ecuadorian cacao and the chocolate-making process.
You can also visit the arguably more fun visitor complex called Inti Ñan, located on the road that leads west from the large roundabout. This more down-to-earth and quirky attraction does in fact lie right on the equatorial line and includes more hands-on experiments that illustrate the physics at work here in the middle of the world.
The area around Mitad del Mundo is known for its staple dish, the fritada, or fried pork meat with a side of potatoes, corn, and cheese, which you can try at any nearby restaurants. If you’re feeling more adventurous, you’ll also find many restaurants serving roasted guinea pig – a local delicacy!
Opening hours: Monday to Sunday, 9:00 a.m. – 6:00 p.m.
Pichincha at dusk, seen from the east.
Teleférico and the Pichincha Volcano
Distance from Old Town Quito – 20 minutes by car
Looking northwest from Quito’s Old Town, you’ll notice an imposing mountain that rises above the rest. You’re looking at the Pichincha Volcano whose two summits, Guagua Pichincha and Rucu Pichincha, reach 4,794 meters (15,728 feet) and 4,698 meters (15,413 feet), respectively.
The TelefériQo cable car was built in 2005 and is one of the highest aerial lifts in the world. The cable car takes you up to 4,000 meters (13,123 feet) above sea level. Up top, you’ll find an information center, a chapel, and a small complex with small restaurants offering coffee, lunch, and a spectacular view of Quito’s valley.
From here, you can follow one of the hiking paths and get a feel for the paramo (the high-altitude ecosystem above the treeline), which is characterized by shrubs and grasses. Numerous bird species can be spotted here, including the Ecuadorian hillstar hummingbird and raptors like the Caracara. As you wander around, you might see a few llamas with their handlers. If you ever wanted a selfie with a llama, now’s your chance!
For avid hikers, a well-marked trail will lead you to the summit of Rucu Pichincha in about four hours. The fog begins to roll in at around noon, so make sure to start early and take plenty of provisions, especially water. To cope with the altitude, a few sugary snacks might ward off the dizziness.
Opening hours: Tuesday – Thursday: 9:00 a.m. – 8:00 p.m. Friday – Monday 8:00 a.m. – 8:00 p.m
Distance from Casa Gangotena: 40 minutes by car
The easiest way to escape the buzz of the city is by visiting Parque Metropolitano, a 750-hectare (1,853-acre) park, popular among locals due to its numerous hiking and biking paths, viewpoints and public BBQ areas. On a clear day, expect to get a view of the Cayambe volcano from the appropriately named Mirador Cayambe, one of four look-out points found in the park.
Nearly the whole of Parque Metropolitano is densely forested, providing shade from the sun’s aggressive rays at 2,988 meters (9,803 feet) above sea level. Within the park, there are a few smaller areas and playgrounds designed specifically for children, and stalls closer to the main entrance offer traditional snacks such as chochos (Andean lupin beans), ice cream, and freshly squeezed juices. For a larger meal, walk down from the park’s main entrance to Calle Guanguiltagua where you’ll find a number of restaurants and snack bars.
When you visit Parque Metropolitano, remember to apply sunscreen and take plenty of water.
Opening hours: Open all day, every day. Note: Walking in the park after dark is not recommended.
Parque Arqueológico Rumipamba
Distance from Quito: 15 minutes by car
Within the valley of Quito, and only a short distance away from the historic center, lies an archeological site called the Rumipamba Archaeological Park. The ruins and artifacts at Rumipamba date back to a period estimated to range from 1500 BC to 1500 AD and belong to civilizations like the Quitu-Cara – the pre-Columbian founders of Quito. The name “rumipamba” is Kichwa for rocky plane or field, and it is believed that the Quitu-Cara settled here, above the lake which once spread over the valley below, where the present neighborhood of Iñaquito is located.
The Rumipamba ruins are still being excavated today and the park takes a rather hands-on, participatory approach to excavation. Groups of school children are often seen at the site, learning about the history behind the objects that are being uncovered. As a visitor, you may find small remnants of pottery along the path.
As you explore the park, you’ll see circular, thatched houses and adobe homes that once belonged to the Quitu-Cara. You’ll also see mossy tunnels built out of tree roots which were made by the Yumbos, another civilization that once lived in the area. For more on the Yumbo people, check out our next Day Trip below.
The Rumipamba Archaeological Park is open from Wednesday through Sunday, from 9:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m. and the guided tour takes about 90 minutes to complete. We suggest having your hotel concierge call the park beforehand to double-check opening hours and whether English interpretation is available when you want to visit.
Opening hours: Wednesday to Sunday, 9:00 a.m. – 4:00 p.m., ask hotel to double check opening hours.
Tulipe Site Museum
Distance from Quito: 2 hours by car
The Tulipe Site Museum is an archaeological site and museum that gives you a glimpse into the daily life, history and traditions of the Yumbo civilization. The Yumbo were a nomadic tribe that lived in the area between around 800 – 1660 AD, up until the majority were killed by a volcanic eruption. Those that survived, fled.
The ruins at Tulipe are thought to be sacred water temples that were once used by shamans for their purification rituals pertaining to the sun and moon. The pools may have also been used as mirrors to observe the night sky and its constellations. Unfortunately, the pools have since dried out due to volcanic alterations in the area.
Tulipe is located two hours outside of Quito in the cloud forest that spreads out along the western flank of the Andes. The vegetation here is incredibly lush and you can learn more about the native, medicinal plants and trees on a short walk through the museum’s garden. If the cool, cloud forest air entices you to extend your visit, consider staying at Mashpi Lodge, an award-winning and exclusive ecolodge that just two hours northwest from the museum.
Opening hours: Wednesday to Sunday, 9:00 a.m. – 5:30 p.m., ask hotel to double check opening hours.
Full-day trips from Quito
Train Ride to Cotopaxi
Distance from Quito: 15 minutes to the Central Train Station by car
Tren Ecuador gives visitors the chance to explore the country aboard heritage tourist trains. There are over eight available routes that take you across Ecuador’s Northern, Central and Southern Andes, as well as one route that takes you all the way to the Pacific Coast. The train tracks are in excellent condition and the main train station in Quito is located only 15 minutes from Casa Gangotena by car.
As one of your day trips from Quito, we recommend taking the Train of the Volcanoes, or Tren de los Volcanes, which takes you from southern Quito to El Boliche, Machachi, and then back to Quito. This route winds through a network of valleys, past a number of dormant volcanoes like Pichincha, Atacazo, Pasochoa and Rumiñahui and brings you that much closer to the splendor and enormity of the Cotopaxi Volcano. The sweeping views of Ecuador’s lush landscapes alone are well worth the $39 train ticket.
And there is so much more to see! As part of the Train of the Volcanoes route, you’ll stop at Tambillo and Machachi, two small towns where you can get a taste of some local dishes, appreciate the chagras’ (Ecuadorian cowboys’) traditional dance and song, and buy souvenirs.
Opening hours: Monday to Friday from 08:30 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. | Saturday, Sunday & Holidays from 08:30 a.m. to 12:00 p.m.
Papallacta Thermal Baths
Distance from Quito: 1 hour 40 minutes by car
A Quiteño favorite, Papallacta is a small, high-altitude (3,250 meters / 10,663 feet) village located between the Andes and Amazon, best known for its healing and incredibly relaxing hot springs.
Visit any of the numerous spas and pools that have opened over the years to offer local and foreign tourists alike the chance to unwind in the thermal water that springs from the surrounding mountains. The water is known for its rich minerals which are said to be beneficial to the skin and internal organs.
The Termas de Papallacta is the most popular baths, located at the top of the hill above the village. You can either visit their upscale spa to access exclusive pools, massage, facial and aromatherapy services, or you can opt for the regular pools at the Balneario. At both locations, you’ll find pools of varying temperatures, including a pool filled with frigid water from the adjacent mountain stream. A dip in this pool is sure to get your blood pumping!
If you’re planning to go on a full-day trip from Quito, we suggest leaving early to experience the cool, mountain mist, and spectacular views of Volcano Antisana. Once the late-morning sun appears, the baths start to feel a little too hot and sunburn becomes a risk. After an hour or two in the baths, you can enjoy local delicacies such as smoked freshwater trout or a warm locro de papa (thick potato soup). If you’re feeling energetic, there are also a number of hiking paths in the area that take you along the nearby mountains.
When planning your trip, keep in mind that the baths tend to get crowded on weekends! Monday to Wednesday is the best time to visit Papallacta for some well-deserved rest and relaxation.
Opening hours: Opening hours will vary depending on which baths you choose.
Las Termas de Papallacta Spa is open Sunday to Thursday: 09:00 a.m. – 8:00 p.m. Friday, Saturday & Holidays: 9:00 am – 9:00 pm. The Balneario is open every day from 6:00 a.m. – 10:30 p.m.
Distance from Quito: 1 hour by car to the entrance
Pululahua is a magnificent volcanic crater or caldera, that formed 2,500 years ago when the volcano collapsed. Located just north of Quito, a trip to Pululahua can be easily combined with a stop at Mitad del Mundo.
Although not nearly as impressive as the Quilotoa Crater (located a three-hour drive southwest of the capital), Pululahua is much closer to Quito and offers numerous outdoor activities, like hiking, horseback riding, and birdwatching. Due to its unique ecosystem, Pululahua was named a Geobotanical Reserve in 1966.
There are two ways to get to Pululahua: You can either get a ride to the Café Mirador, a small café with a breathtaking view of the crater from its rim, and hike down into the crater itself. Alternatively, you can get a ride that takes you directly into the crater.
There’s a small population that lives inside the crater that depends predominantly on agriculture for subsistence. There are also a few hostels and restaurants where you can grab a bite to eat. While hiking the crater’s trails, birdwatchers should keep their eyes out for the Rusty-breasted Antpitta and the rare White-tailed Shrike-Tyrant, as well as other wildlife, like foxes, deer, and rabbits. According to locals, even pumas prowl the crater.
Pululahua offers a dazzling escape from Quito and can easily be visited over the course of a day. If you have the time, make sure to add this one to your bucket list!
Opening hours: Every day, 8:00 a.m. – 5:00 p.m.
Pasochoa Forest Reserve
Distance from Quito: 1 hour 40 minutes by car
After the Pichincha Volcano, Pasochoa is the nearest volcano that you can summit close to Quito. Located only 40 km (25 miles) away from the city, a visit to Pasochoa is ideal for hikers and nature lovers and is an excellent climb for mountaineers preparing to summit higher peaks (dare we say, Cotopaxi?).
Pasochoa Volcano, now dormant, is 4,200 meters (13,780 feet) high and hosts one of the last high-altitude inter-Andean cloud forests around Quito. This unique ecosystem, home to over 100 bird species and 50 native tree species, provides an interesting window into what Quito’s original forests might have once looked like.
Pasochoa is also one of the best places to spot the Andean Condor – Ecuador’s national bird and one of the largest birds in the world. Exceptionally striking in flight, the Andean Condor takes full advantage of the thermals above the volcano. Keep your eyes open to see if you can spot one of these spectacular birds soaring overhead.
A hike to the summit and back takes around three to five hours. The journey will take you through stunning paramo grasslands and humid mountain forests. Depending on how high you want to climb, we suggest taking provisions and starting early in the day. Get in touch with us for further information!
Opening hours: Every day, 8:00 a.m. – 5:00 p.m.
Cotopaxi National Park
Distance from Quito: 3 hours 25 minutes
Cotopaxi National Park, one of Ecuador’s main highlights, is only a short drive away and the perfect destination for a full-day trip from Quito.
Among the world’s highest volcanoes, Cotopaxi Volcano reaches 5,897 meters (19,347 feet) and is Ecuador’s second-highest summit after the Chimborazo Volcano. On a clear morning, the conic, snow-capped Cotopaxi Volcano is truly a sight to behold.
Cotopaxi is an active volcano and came back to life between 2015-2016, leading to a temporary park closure for safety reasons. Once experts determined that volcanic activity had diminished, it was reopened in 2017 for visitors. Park officials carefully monitor the situation and a warning system is in place to ensure that both visitors and the local population are safe.
While the main incentive for visiting Cotopaxi National Park is seeing the volcano itself, summiting the volcano may be the ultimate outdoor activity you’ll do during your entire Ecuador adventure.
Hundreds of visitors attempt to summit Cotopaxi on a monthly basis, but only half of them succeed. The climb takes around six hours and is non-technical, though you’ll need to pass a glacier skills class before attempting the climb. If you’re seriously considering the climb, we suggest attempting one of Ecuador’s smaller peaks first and, when you’re ready, you’ll need to hire a guide. Inquire at your hotel or one of the numerous tour operators in Quito for more information.
For those of you with no interest in gasping for breath at 5,000 meters (16,404 feet) on an active volcano, there are a number of easier outdoor activities to enjoy in Cotopaxi National Park, like horseback riding, hiking, and birdwatching. If the volcano beckons you closer, you can drive to a parking lot and continue on foot up to the refuge. At this elevation, altitude sickness is a risk. Be sure to walk slowly and have a sugary snack at hand in case you begin to get dizzy.
Opening hours: Monday to Sunday, 8:00 a.m. – 8:00 p.m., though hours may vary between the different entrances to the park. Ask your hotel to double-check or go with a touring agency.
Most tourists that travel to Ecuador will typically only stop in Quito to give themselves a bit of time before heading off to other destinations like the Amazon or the Galapagos Islands. If only they knew just how much there was to see in and around this incredible city!
Take advantage and add a few extra nights to your Ecuador journey at a conveniently-located hotel and venture out to one of these nearby destinations to experience the city’s surroundings in a less conventional way. And if you have even more time to spare, well, keep an eye out for our upcoming post on 2-day trips from Quito!