We loved our time in Quito so much that we stayed for longer than a month. But sometimes living in even the best of cities makes you long for green space and with our final days drawing to a close on our time in Quito, we decided to discover the surrounding area.
We came across a plethora of things to do just one or two hours outside of Quito and it was difficult deciding what to pick. We finally decided on five day trips and all of them certainly had their own unique highlights.
One of the strangest elements to the day trips is that you venture into completely different climates depending on where you go. A two hour drive can take you to the cloud forest where it’s hot and humid, but driving two hours in the opposite direction will take you to the mountain where it’s freezing cold.
5 day trips from Quito
Eating and adventuring in Mindo
Soaring over the cloud forest with only a wire protecting you from crashing onto the treetops below sounds scary. But it’s strangely liberating to zoom over the Mindo cloud forest on a zipline. I can’t imagine a more beautiful place to experience ziplining for the first time as Dave and I did.
You can see toucans in the trees and there’s mist all around you as you soar. It’s magical and possibly the closest you’ll ever come to flying for real.
On our way to the ziplining centre we stopped off at a butterfly sanctuary and saw butterflies as big as dinner plates flying around. We also saw hummingbirds of all different colours and sizes feeding, and had a tour of the plants in the centre.
Following the ziplining, we were given the chance to go tubing. I pictured flowing gently down the river with a drink in hand. It was anything but. Similar to white water rafting, except we were in a tube, we crashed down rapids squealing in delight.
To finish off the day, we were taken to the Mindo Chocolate Museum where we were given a chocolate tour unlike any I’ve ever had. First we were given a tour of the garden where we saw where some of the cacao pods are grown. We were taken to the outhouse where the seeds and separated from the pods and dried.
Next we were shown the equipment used to create the chocolate and got to see it being made and beautifully handwrapped.
Then came the best bit – we got to taste the chocolate by creating our own unique combinations with condiments such as chilli and ginger.
What you need to know: Our day trip cost US$40 per person for lunch and transport and was booked through a tourist agency in La Mariscal in Quito. We paid US$20 each on top of that for the ziplining, which consisted of 10 ziplines and took two hours. It cost US$5 per person to visit the butterfly sanctury and US$6 each for the chocolate museum tour. Tubing was US$6 per person.
Hiking Cotapaxi volcano
Visiting Cotapaxi is probably the most popular day trip from Quito and it’s easy to believe when you suddenly see the volcano come into view. It’s majestic and when the clouds clear and you begin hiking it in the crisp high-altitude air you can really get a sense of its beauty.
The hike, although short, is quite exhausting thanks to the high altitude and sheer steepness of it. The ground is unsteady, consisting of sand and rocks, and quite slippery at times.
Despite its challenges, once you get to the glacier you’ll realise that it’s all worthwhile. From the dirt of the volcano rises bright blue ice and it’s a wonder to see.
You can hike to the very top of the volcano to peer into its crater but this will take longer than a day and shouldn’t be undertaken without a guide as the ground isn’t stable and it can be very dangerous.
Coming back down the path along the dirt road that leads from the base of the volcano and into the valley, we had a chance to mountain bike. Dave did it and I didn’t. The overall consensus from the group was that it wasn’t much fun because the road was full of potholes and it was freezing cold.
What you need to know: Our day trip cost US$40 per person for lunch and transport and was booked through a tourist agency in La Mariscal in Quito. We stopped on the way there at a local artist market to purchase handmade gloves and hats to keep us warm. If you don’t want to pay for new winter wear, make sure you bring your own warm gear. It’s significantly colder here than it is in Quito.
Visiting the middle of the world
A bus ride from Quito takes you to the equator, otherwise known as ‘the middle of the world’. It’s a little bit of a tourist trap but it’s fun to visit all the same.
There are two museums on the site – the ‘real’ one, called The Intinan Museum and the ‘fake’ one, Ciudad Mitad del Mundo. The former is dubbed the real museum because it’s located on the actual equator line, whereas the other museum is a few hundred metres off.
The Ciudad Mitad del Mundo is more of a theme park, with a ginormous monument in the centre of the park. You can eat in the food hall area of the site, buy t-shirts from the dozens of touristy stalls, and even watch 3D shows in the IMAX-type theatre.
The Intinan Museum, which Dave and I preferred, is less touristy and you’re guided around the site on a tour. During this tour, you get to undertake interesting experiments that can only be conducted on the equator line. You’re also told a lot about the local tribes people of the area, and even learn about the animals of the Amazon.
What you need to know: You can catch an 80 cent bus to the equator line from Quito. The buses are blue and have Ciudad Mitad del Mundo written on them. The journey takes around 45 minutes each way. The Ciudad Mitad del Mundo costs US$3 to enter and the Intinan Museum is US$4 per person.
Trekking down to Quilotoa lake
As you walk to the edge of the caldera, you can’t see anything but a hill. But then you arrive at the peak and the view into the lake will startle you. The bright blue of the water against the green of the fields surrounding the caldera is breath-takingly beautiful. You’ve arrived at Quilotoa.
We spent a couple of hours hiking down to the lake along a cross-back trail. You can hire mules for US$10 each way if you can’t be bothered making it on foot.
It’s worth the hike though. At the bottom you can see the crystal clear water up close and hire a kayak for a few dollars to go out onto the lake. You can even spend the night at the rustic hostel there for US$6.
The last eruption from this volcano was around 800 years ago and the lake in the caldera was formed by the collapse of the volcano after its eruption.
It really is a wonder of nature and worth the visit.
Beforehand, our tour stopped off in Otavalo, a town famous for its animal market. It was a horrible experience for me. Pigs were squealing as they were pulled on to trucks and cows were tied to wooden posts looking miserable. Some animals were even struggling in large hessin sacks. They were still alive and people were carrying them around in bags!
This part of the tour certainly wasn’t my favourite part.
What you need to know: Our day trip cost US$40 per person for lunch and transport and was booked through a tourist agency in La Mariscal in Quito. We had to pay an extra US$2 per person to visit Quilotoa lake, and the money goes to the community, according to our guide.
Take in the scenery of Cotacachi Reserve
National parks are scattered around Ecuador and the President recently decided they should be free for everyone, which is great.
The Cotacachi Reserve is beautiful and one of the largest national parks in the country, at more than 3,000km². The landscape is diverse – part of the park is rainforest and tropical, while other areas are more Andean and have temperatures of around 15°C.
These climate differences are mainly because of the altitude levels within the park, as some points reach 4,800m.
We visited Cuicocha Lake which is in a volcanic crater that’s 200m deep. Parts of the volcanic domes rise up in the middle of the lake and it’s quite a sight to see. There’s also a visitor’s centre here, complete with a small display that explains the flora and fauna that live in the park.
On our way back from Cotacachi we went to the Peguche waterfall. After walking along a small trail that takes you through woodlands, you reach the waterfall and are able to cross over the flowing river below via a bridge.
What you need to know: Friends we made through Airbnb took us on this day trip, but we were told by the travel agent in Quito that they organise similar tours. Entry to both Cuicocha Lake and the Peguche waterfall is free.