There seems to be three main attractions in Ecuador: The Galapagos, the Amazon, and the city of Quito. Of the three, we only visited Quito. In many respects, Quito is like a large U.S. city. Whereas the city of Cusco has lots of old buildings and stone streets. The cultural parts of Quito are in more distinct areas. If you plan to see Quito, I would recommend you plan at least two full days.
Located in Quito Old Town, this square is scenic and provides views of the Palacio de Gobierno (the President’s home), a cathedral, and impressive government buildings.
Palacio de Gobierno
We learned that you previously could take a free tour on the spot, any day but Monday. However, our hotel concierge called and found out that weekday tours are now just for travel groups and school tours. Tours for the general public are only on weekends and must be made 48 hours in advance. There’s an email address listed here.
This is a historical street in Quito Old Town. Make sure not to go on Monday, as many shops are closed.
Basilica del Voto Nacional ($2)
This cathedral is massive and provides a different style than the cathedrals in Cusco. Because it is less ornate, you probably will only spend around 45 minutes here. While it seemed to be unavailable at the time due to work on the cathedral, there may be an opportunity to go on the roof. Be sure to look for that.
The Equator/Mitad del Mundo/Museo Intinan
Note that Ecuador is Spanish for equator, so saying to someone “Donde esta el Ecuador”, might produce some blank stares. Locals seem to refer to it as Mitad del Mundo which roughly translates to the “Middle of the World”.
Before going, make sure you lather on the sunscreen and bring it with you to reapply. I’d also take sunglasses and wear some sort of hat. Both equator museums don’t offer a ton of shade. The Earth is wider at the Equator, and Quito is the highest point on the Equator. So this is about as close to the sun as you can get while still on Planet Earth!
Note that there are two equator museums:
Mitad del Mundo ($5)
This was originally thought to be the Equator as it was marked by scientists in the 1700s. Later GPS showed it to be incorrect, but there was already a large monument and museum. Still the original spot is impressively close to the real equator considering the time period when they did this.
It’s still neat to see the monument. Note that you take an elevator to the top where you have a nice vantage point. From there, you take the stairs down as each floor is a museum area. A lot of it is interactive science exhibits relating to the equator, gravity, and magnetism. Other floors are devoted to local culture.
Museo Intinan ($4)
From there, we HIGHLY recommend going to Museo Intinan. First, you will need to exit Mitad del Mundo (it’s fenced in). As you exit turn to the left and walk down the left side of the street (the sidewalk gets narrow at times).
After walking a few minutes you should see this sign:
Then, walk down the road and then follow the path next to this sign:
You can also put this into Maps: Museo del Sitio Intinan
Note that Mitad del Mundo does not advertise that it’s not the actual equator, and employees may act clueless if you ask about the location of the actual one.
At this museum you’ll be put in a tour group and learn some about Ecuadorian tribes. Then you’ll get a science lesson about the equator along with four hands on experiments. The experiments are really cool and will blow your mind!
Cotopaxi National Volcano
This beautiful volcano is located outside of Quito, and numerous agencies offer day trips there. Note that the elevation does get quite high. We didn’t go personally, but it seems to be a popular tourist destination.
Lodging & Accommodations
We stayed in the JW Marriott. It’s a very nice hotel, and thus a bit pricey. We stayed there on points. The have a large pool with warm and cold sides. They also have a concierge that can help you with planning local trips.
A bus system goes all over Quito and is a very affordable means of travel. The downside is that buses are often crammed full and the system can be confusing. With some frustrating setbacks, we were able to use it to get around the city and to the Equator.
Some bus stops are streetside and some are elevated enclosed stops in the median.
The buses that stop at streetside bus stops generally have adequate seating. You usually pay $0.25 upon entering the bus, and you can ride it for it entire route without paying more.
For the buses that stop at middle-of-the-street bus stops you pay $0.25 to enter the station. As long as you only get off in other enclosed stations, you don’t have to pay again.
There are different bus lines but sometimes the color of the bus does not correspond with what the line is called. For example, a bus on the green line might be “blue”. Note that multiple buses (sometimes 3-4 in a row) will all come by the same bus stop. While it may seem like they are running the same route they are actually all different. When looking at the front of the bus note a small placard in the lower left corner of the windshield. It lists the first and last stops on its route which should correspond the first and last stations listed on Google Maps.
While bus attendants can make change, it’s easiest if you have change or small bills on you.