Quito is the capital of Ecuador so it comes as no surprise that the city is a popular tourist location.
There are so many different attractions to see here but the area is also a great starting ground for nearby exploration.
Quito’s prime location allows for day trips in all directions.
Located high amongst the Andes, the city is surrounded by mountains so there is an adventure waiting around every corner.
Pack a bag and head out to one of these magnificent places for a once-in-a-lifetime experience!
Table of Contents
- 1. Cotopaxi National Park
- 2. Antisana Ecological Reserve
- 3. Llanganates National Park
- 4. Cotacachi Cayapas Reserve
- 5. Yahuarcocha Lake
- 6. Ibarra
- 7. Los Naranjos Community (Santo Domingo de Los Colorados)
- 8. Cayambe volcano
- 9. Pedro Moncayo
- 10. Puerto Quito
- 11. Rumiñahui
- 12. San Miguel de los Bancos
- 13. Pedro Vicente Maldonado
- 14. Pululahua Volcano Crater
- 15. Otavalo Market
1. Cotopaxi National Park
Although this breathtaking park is only about 20 miles from the city of Quito, it is a hard location to get to if you do not have your own car.
There are travel agencies that can take you into the park for a guided tour. However, the experience is much more enjoyable by car as you have more time to take in the stunning views.
The most popular trails include hiking to the glacier, trekking up a mountain to visit the small hostel tucked in its side (Refugio), and wildlife watching along Laguna Limpiopungo.
Keep an eye out for wild horses and hummingbirds along your travels!
Weather in the park can change drastically so make sure you plan accordingly and bring a variety of layers.
With that being said, don’t let cloudy weather discourage you from making a trip. If you can’t see the mountains behind the clouds when you arrive, there’s a very good chance it will clear up within a couple of hours.
There are a few places to eat within the park, including a full-service restaurant at Tambopaxi Lodge. This is also the only lodge on park grounds.
2. Antisana Ecological Reserve
Established in 1993, this protected land is home to an abundance of rare and endangered animals as well as the magnificent Antisana Volcano.
Past volcanic activity and glacial freezing make for very unique geological features you won’t find anywhere else.
Travel amongst the many rivers, streams, and lagoons but make sure to stop at the hot springs in Tambo.
Visit Almohadillas Moorlands and feel yourself get instantly warmer as the plants that grow here generate their own heat causing a “bio-thermal dome”.
The best way to get here is by the Paso o Ruta del Condor trail which can be difficult so it is advised that you take this trek with an experienced guide. Guides can be found right in the Tambo community.
La Mica Lagoon is a great stop to admire the vast wildlife population and to see the interesting build of the dam that holds it all together.
Some hikes that let you explore La Mica include Patourco, Gallaretas, and Micaloma. These hikes vary in distance and difficulty, so there is something for everyone.
3. Llanganates National Park
The park is nearly 550,000 acres, many of which have never been explored by mankind.
With so much untouched nature it is no surprise the extensively diverse wildlife population that can be found here.
One thing that makes this park different from the rest is that it is made up of two parts that are completely opposite of each other.
The Western zone of the park has a desert landscape surrounded by mountains and valleys. Here you will see many mammals of the camelid variety.
The eastern zone is thriving with life as it is engulfed with lush greenery and bustling bodies of water.
The thick brush here makes the area only accessible by foot and new species are being found all the time.
There are trails available for all experience levels. Anteojos is the shortest of the bunch and takes you to the beautiful Aminas gazebo.
Patojapina is a little under a mile and takes you around Rodeoconcha lagoon to observe the many wild birds.
If you are up for a challenge, grab an experienced guide and head to Ikundu Urdu for a 13-mile trek through the rainforest.
4. Cotacachi Cayapas Reserve
Another biodiverse and environmentally rich area can be found at the Cotacachi Cayapas Reserve.
The vast grasslands, rocky foothills, rivers lined with ancient trees, lowland rainforest, and Cotacachi volcano make this reserve the perfect place to explore a variety of different landscapes and climates.
When venturing up to the higher points along the mountains it is important to wear layers as it can get very cold. However, if you plan to stay low amongst the rainforest, the humid air will keep you warm but rain boots are recommended.
Gorky Campuzano is located in the higher area and has many trails that branch off for different experiences around the Cuicocha lagoon.
Playa de Oro is located in the lower area and has many guided tours hosted by the community. However, if you want to explore on your own be sure to check out the Carco Vicente loop trail.
5. Yahuarcocha Lake
The lake gets its name, which means bloody lake in English, from the massacre that occurred here amongst tribes long ago.
But aside from the lake’s gruesome history, this location is nothing short of beautiful.
The lake is a popular location for all kinds of recreational activities.
You will see many people walking, jogging, and biking around the lake and there are bike rentals available if you want to join in on the fun.
There is also access to boat rentals at the pier if you want to get out on the water and enjoy the 360 views of the breathtaking landscape.
After you have worked up an appetite, head over to one of the many restaurants along the shore for some delicious authentic meals.
Walk amongst the cobblestone streets as you admire the old colonial-style buildings that give this city its nickname as the “White City”.
Hop on the bus from Quito nice and early and have breakfast at Olor a Café. Here you can sit in a bookshelf-lined coffee shop, drink a flavorful cup of coffee, and stare out the window at the colorful park.
Stop by Centro Cultural El Cuartel museum to learn the history of the military barracks that once stood here and the overall importance of Ibarra to the country.
There are so many different places to explore in Ibarra but even just walking around the old town is extremely rewarding.
Dinner at La Botica allows you to enjoy a meal as you sit on the balcony and take in the beautiful views of the city. Don’t forget to have a slice of their famous cheesecake for dessert!
7. Los Naranjos Community (Santo Domingo de Los Colorados)
The community hosts overnight stays and day trips that make guests feel completely immersed in the culture.
Included in the tour of the tribal community is a free meal to try the popular cuisine of their people.
You also get a brief language class to learn a bit and help feel in tune with the community.
Before you leave, you have the option for a free spiritual cleansing that is provided by their shaman, Alejandro Aguabil.
All of which costs a whopping $12.50!
8. Cayambe volcano
This snow-covered volcano stands nearly 19,000 ft above sea level!
Located in Cayambe Coca National Park, this volcano makes the list at number 3 for being the highest volcano in all of Ecuador.
Although it is technically considered an active volcano, there has not been an eruption since the late 1700s.
A day trip is possible if you don’t mind checking out this volcano from afar but if time allows we advise you to plan a couple of days for a one-of-a-kind trek to the top!
It is important to note that this hike is not for the faint of heart so only experienced climbers should accept the challenge.
Cascada San Rafael is a just as beautiful alternative for hikers with less experience (and time).
There are two trails here that take you around the cascading ravine for breathtaking views with the Cayambe Volcano out in the distance.
9. Pedro Moncayo
Established in 1911, this canton was named after famous politician Pedro Moncayo.
Visit Pirámides arqueológicas y museo de sitio Cochasquí to see the ruins of one of the largest pre-Inca empires in northern Equador.
Enjoy some of the local cuisines. Popular to this area is La Colada de Cuy, which is made of a special kind of flour and is usually topped with potatoes, eggs, cheese, mote, and roasted guinea pig.
There are a bunch of festivals that occur year-round so there is a good chance that you will have the opportunity to celebrate with the natives.
10. Puerto Quito
Also known as “Paradise of Biodiversity”, this canton is home to over 300 different species making this the perfect location to observe wildlife.
Its northwestern location makes it one of the rainiest places to visit in the country so dress appropriately.
Common species that can be found here include foxes, spectacled bears, dwarf deer, pumas, and much more.
There are tons of one-of-a-kind experiences to be had here. Many of which revolve around waterfalls and rivers that help promote the diverse environment.
Go for a swim at Cascada del Silencio and look around the waterfall for a glimpse into the massive cave that lies behind it.
Walk along the beach at Green Waterfalls during the wintertime to see steam rising around the white sand beaches.
There are also fruit farms in the area that provide lessons on how the natives make traditional chocolate.
This canton is a historic place to visit as it is home to many museums, churches, and monuments.
Visit The Prócer Mausoleum don Juan de Salinas to get some insight into the history of the natives’ ancestry.
Admire the architecture of Mother Church with its high ceiling and columns similar to Greek style.
Drop by the Monument to Maiz that was sculpted by the famous artist, Gonzalo Endara Crow, in 1989.
The most popular dish in this area is Hornado Bittersweet. It consists of pork, potato tortillas, mate, avocado, and corn.
Visit at the beginning of September to partake in Fiestas del Maiz which is a festival where you enjoy a parade, fireworks, and village bands.
12. San Miguel de los Bancos
This canton’s foggy climate gives it its name as “the cloud forest”.
The weather here is perfect to grow crops, plants and support livestock. The town’s economic growth revolves around these aspects.
With so much land dedicated to their livestock, they are known for their dairy products so be sure to try some cheese while you are here!
There are a few orchid gardens to walk through and see the abundance of flowers that thrive in this area. Tours are available for those interested in learning more about these beautiful flowers.
For something different, visit Mariposarios where you can learn about the reproduction of butterflies before entering a stunning butterfly garden.
The Concert of Frogs is a nighttime event where you get to listen and learn about the many frogs that live here as well as see micro-bacteria that produce their own light!
Throughout your day keep an eye out for hummingbirds, the key pollinators that make the cloud forest what it is today.
13. Pedro Vicente Maldonado
For a day of water sports and wildlife watching, Pedro Vicente Maldonado is the place to be.
Various birds can be seen flying around including hummingbirds, parrots, and woodpeckers.
With so many waterfalls and rivers to choose from it can be hard to decide where to start.
A fan favorite is Río Pachijal. This river is surrounded by diverse wildlife and allows for rafting and sport fishing.
Float along the water as you take in the sounds of the environment and watch the many species in their natural habitat.
For something more laid back visit the Naranjal River. Here you can relax in small pools of water and spend time with the Naranjito community.
Along the many bodies of water, otters tend to play so keep your eyes peeled for these cute little creatures!
After you work up an appetite, head over to one of the local restaurants for dinner. The most popular dish here is the fried tilapia.
14. Pululahua Volcano Crater
This inactive volcano’s last eruption was over 2,500 years ago causing a massive crater that is now home to a small village.
The volcano is nearly 10,000 ft tall and is said to give off powerful energy. Many come here in hopes to find a spiritual awakening.
Walk amongst the farms that now inhabit the land or rent a horse to give your feet a break.
The hike on foot is a bit of a challenge. It is only about 2 miles round trip but the steep incline and lose rocks can make the trip feel daunting.
If you decide to take the route by horse, it is important to negotiate. Just about every price in Ecuador is open to negotiations so just keep that in mind before doling out cash right away.
15. Otavalo Market
Known as the largest outdoor market in all of Latin America, this is a great place to take a break from your adventures and buy some keepsakes to take home with you.
The market occurs every Saturday and it does tend to get busy so get there early to beat the crowds.
Choose from a variety of handmade items like leather bags, ponchos, boots, riding chaps and so much more.
Prices are not set and stone so make sure to freshen up your negotiating skills for a better deal!
A day of shopping would not be complete without stopping at the Shenandoah Pie Shop in the Plaza de Ponchos for lunch.
If your shopping extravaganza has come to an end and you still have time to kill, head over to Parque Condor where you can explore the rescue center dedicated to injured birds of prey in the Andes.