Ecuador is a captivating country with a diverse landscape that offers endless opportunities for exploration. One of its major attractions is the vibrant capital city of Quito, nestled high in the Andes Mountains. While there is plenty to see and do within Quito itself, venturing out on day trips from the city allows you to uncover even more of Ecuador’s natural beauty and cultural heritage.
Whether you’re an adventure enthusiast, nature lover, or history buff, there are day trip options from Quito that cater to all interests. From standing at the middle of the world to exploring cloud forests and volcanic landscapes, these excursions will leave you with unforgettable memories.
In this article, we will explore the six best day trips from Quito that showcase the best of Ecuador’s charm and diversity. Get ready to embark on a journey filled with awe-inspiring landscapes, fascinating history, and encounters with endemic wildlife.
But before we dive into the details, it’s important to note that transportation options for these day trips vary. You can choose to join a guided tour, hire a private driver, or use public transportation. It’s always a good idea to plan and prepare your itinerary in advance to ensure a smooth and enjoyable experience.
So, without further ado, let’s begin our exploration of the incredible day trips awaiting you just a short distance from Quito!
Mitad del Mundo (Middle of the World)
Just a short drive north of Quito lies the iconic attraction known as Mitad del Mundo, or “Middle of the World.” This site marks the equatorial line, where you can straddle the northern and southern hemispheres with one foot in each. It’s a fascinating experience to be in two hemispheres at once!
At Mitad del Mundo, you’ll find the famous Equator Monument, a large monument that symbolizes the equatorial line. There are also several interactive museums that delve into the science and cultural significance of the equator. Explore the Ethnographic Museum to learn about the diverse indigenous cultures of Ecuador, or visit the Intiñan Museum for more hands-on exhibits and demonstrations.
Aside from these educational attractions, you can also enjoy cultural performances, try traditional Ecuadorian cuisine, and shop for local crafts and souvenirs at the artisan market. Be sure to take a moment to appreciate the stunning views of the surrounding countryside and snap some photos to commemorate your visit.
If you have more time, consider visiting the nearby Pululahua Geobotanical Reserve, an active volcano known for its unique ecosystem and breathtaking landscapes. You can hike or horseback ride through the lush crater and soak in the tranquility and natural beauty of this hidden gem.
To reach Mitad del Mundo from Quito, you can take a taxi or public bus to the site, or join a guided tour that includes transportation. It’s a must-visit destination for anyone fascinated by geography, history, or simply eager to stand on the dividing line between two worlds.
So be sure to include Mitad del Mundo in your itinerary and discover the magic of straddling the equator!
Rising high above the city, TelefériQo offers a breathtaking ride up the Pichincha Volcano, providing panoramic views of Quito and its surrounding valleys.
The journey begins at the base station, located just a short drive from Quito’s city center. From there, you’ll board a cable car that will whisk you up to the Cruz Loma viewpoint, situated at an elevation of over 4,000 meters (13,000 feet) above sea level. As you ascend, you’ll be treated to stunning views of the cityscape, lush mountainsides, and even the snow-capped peaks of the Andes on clear days.
Once you reach the top, step out onto the observation deck and take in the awe-inspiring vistas that stretch as far as the eye can see. On a clear day, you’ll be able to spot Quito’s historic center, nestled among the surrounding hills, and perhaps even catch a glimpse of the Cotopaxi volcano in the distance.
Aside from the breathtaking views, TelefériQo also offers various recreational activities for visitors to enjoy. You can go hiking along the well-marked trails, rent a bike to explore the volcanic landscape, or even try your hand at paragliding for a thrilling adventure in the skies.
For those interested in learning more about the flora and fauna of the region, there is also a small natural history museum near the summit. Here, you can discover the unique ecosystems found in the Andes and gain a deeper understanding of the natural wonders that surround Quito.
TelefériQo is easily accessible from Quito, and you have the option to either take a taxi or use public transportation to reach the base station. It’s an excellent day trip option for nature lovers and adventure seekers who want to escape the hustle and bustle of the city and soak in the beauty of the Ecuadorian highlands.
So make sure to include a visit to TelefériQo in your itinerary for an unforgettable experience and some of the most breathtaking views of Quito and its surrounding landscapes.
Cotopaxi National Park
For outdoor enthusiasts and nature lovers, a visit to Cotopaxi National Park is a must. This expansive park is home to the imposing Cotopaxi volcano, one of Ecuador’s most iconic landmarks and the highest active volcano in the world.
Located about two hours south of Quito, Cotopaxi National Park enthralls visitors with its stunning landscapes and diverse flora and fauna. The park encompasses an area of over 33,000 hectares (81,500 acres), making it a haven for outdoor activities and exploration.
One of the main highlights of a visit to Cotopaxi National Park is the opportunity to hike up to the Cotopaxi volcano. While reaching the summit requires mountaineering skills and experience, there are various hiking trails that offer breathtaking views of the volcano and its surrounding beauty. The most popular trek is the Cotopaxi Refugio Jose Rivas hike, which takes you up to the refuge at 4,800 meters (15,750 feet) and offers panoramic vistas of the volcanic landscape.
Aside from hiking, the park offers opportunities for mountain biking, horseback riding, and birdwatching. You may spot Andean condors soaring in the sky or encounter herds of wild horses roaming freely in the highlands. The park is also home to other wildlife, such as foxes, rabbits, and deer, adding to the enchantment of the natural surroundings.
Within the park, you’ll find the Cotopaxi Visitor Center, which provides valuable information about the volcano’s geology, flora, and fauna. It’s a great place to learn more about the park’s conservation efforts and the importance of preserving this fragile ecosystem.
To reach Cotopaxi National Park, you can join a guided tour from Quito or hire a private driver. It’s advisable to check the weather conditions before visiting, as visibility may be limited on cloudy days. Remember to bring warm layers, as temperatures can drop significantly at higher elevations.
So put on your hiking boots and prepare to be awestruck by the majestic beauty of Cotopaxi National Park, an outdoor paradise that showcases the raw power and captivating allure of Ecuador’s natural wonders.
Mindo Cloud Forest
Nestled in the lush foothills of the Andes Mountains, just a few hours northwest of Quito, lies the enchanting Mindo Cloud Forest. This biodiverse paradise is a haven for nature enthusiasts and birdwatchers, offering a plethora of flora and fauna to discover.
Mindo is renowned for its cloud forest ecosystem, characterized by its misty atmosphere and abundant vegetation. The region boasts an incredible variety of plant species, including orchids, bromeliads, and towering trees covered in moss and epiphytes.
One of the main attractions in Mindo is birdwatching. With over 500 species of birds calling the cloud forest home, it’s a paradise for bird enthusiasts. You might spot colorful hummingbirds, toucans, tanagers, and even the elusive Andean cock-of-the-rock. Don’t forget to bring your binoculars and a camera to capture these feathered beauties in their natural habitat.
In addition to birdwatching, there are numerous activities to enjoy in Mindo. Explore the lush hiking trails that weave through the forest, leading you to breathtaking waterfalls, natural swimming holes, and captivating viewpoints. For a thrilling adventure, you can try ziplining through the canopy or take a peaceful ride on the Tarabita, a cable car that offers stunning aerial views of the forest.
The town of Mindo itself is charming, with its quaint cafes, eco-lodges, and chocolate factories. Don’t miss the chance to indulge in some delicious locally-made chocolate, a specialty of the region.
To get to Mindo from Quito, you can take a bus from the Ofelia terminal or join a guided tour that includes transportation. The journey itself is picturesque, with winding roads that take you through picturesque valleys and cloud-capped mountains.
Whether you’re seeking tranquility in nature or an adrenaline-pumping adventure, Mindo Cloud Forest has something for everyone. Immerse yourself in the magic of this ecological treasure and discover the wonders of Ecuador’s biodiversity.
A visit to Otavalo is a journey into the heart of Ecuador’s indigenous culture. Located just a couple of hours north of Quito, this charming town is famous for its bustling indigenous market and rich cultural heritage.
The Otavalo Market is a vibrant and colorful affair, offering a wide array of handicrafts, textiles, ceramics, and traditional clothing. You can wander through the stalls, haggle for unique souvenirs, and witness local artisans showcasing their craftsmanship. Be sure to pick up some intricately woven textiles or handmade jewelry as a memento of your visit.
In addition to the market, Otavalo is surrounded by picturesque landscapes and indigenous villages. Take a boat ride on the stunning Cuicocha Lake, nestled within a volcanic crater, and admire the sprawling views of the Andean countryside. Explore the nearby villages of Peguche and Cotacachi to witness traditional weaving techniques and visit workshops where skilled artisans create beautiful textiles.
No trip to Otavalo is complete without a visit to the Plaza de Ponchos, the heart of the town’s indigenous market. You’ll find everything from vibrant ponchos and intricate tapestries to hand-carved wooden crafts and hats made of toquilla straw. The market is a true sensory experience, with lively music, delicious food stalls, and the colorful attire of the local indigenous people adding to the ambiance.
While Otavalo may be best known for its market, it has much more to offer. Discover the historical architecture of the town, visit the famous Iglesia de San Francisco, and explore the Museum of Otavalo to learn about the indigenous history and culture of the region.
To get to Otavalo from Quito, you can take a bus from the Carcelen Terminal or hire a private driver. The journey itself is scenic, passing through picturesque landscapes and small Andean villages.
Immerse yourself in the vibrant culture and rich traditions of Otavalo, where ancient customs blend harmoniously with modern-day life. It’s a destination that offers a glimpse into the diverse and captivating indigenous heritage of Ecuador.
The Quilotoa Loop is a breathtaking and adventurous route that takes you through some of Ecuador’s most stunning highland landscapes. This self-guided trek encompasses a circular trail and offers mesmerizing views, indigenous culture, and the opportunity to witness the mind-boggling beauty of the Quilotoa crater.
The trek begins in the small village of Sigchos or the town of Latacunga, both easily accessible from Quito. From there, you embark on a multi-day journey that takes you through rolling hills, traditional Andean communities, and picturesque farmland.
The highlight of the Quilotoa Loop is undoubtedly the Quilotoa crater lake. As you approach the rim, you’ll be met with an awe-inspiring sight—a vibrant turquoise lake nested within a volcanic caldera. The crater was formed by a massive eruption centuries ago, and its beauty has attracted visitors from around the world.
You can hike down to the crater’s edge to get a closer look at the emerald waters or simply admire the view from above. The surrounding area offers opportunities for horseback riding or kayaking on the lake, allowing you to fully immerse yourself in the natural splendor of the region.
Along the Quilotoa Loop, you’ll encounter indigenous communities where the local Kichwa people still maintain their traditional way of life. Take the time to interact with the friendly locals, learn about their customs, and maybe even join in a traditional dance or taste local delicacies. The warm hospitality of the people will make your journey even more memorable.
Throughout the trek, you’ll pass through charming Andean villages like Chugchilán and Isinliví, where you can find cozy accommodations, tasty homemade meals, and a chance to rest and recharge amid the tranquility of the mountains.
The Quilotoa Loop can be completed in various durations, ranging from three to seven days, depending on your pace and the number of side trips you choose to take. It’s recommended to have some hiking experience, as the trail can be challenging and at high altitudes.
To embark on the Quilotoa Loop, it’s advisable to hire a guide or join a tour, as the trail may not be well-marked in some sections. However, if you’re an experienced and well-prepared hiker, you can also tackle the route independently.
Prepare yourself to be captivated by the rugged beauty of the Quilotoa Loop, a trek that combines adventure, nature, and cultural immersion into one unforgettable experience.