Highlands | La SierraWhere to visit Ecuador from Quito

Altough Quito has activities for several days, there are also places worth visiting just outside Quito at a relative short distance, in different directions towards the country side and surroundings of the capital city. Where Quito can be an excellent base for day tours or over night tours close to Quito.

Ecuador´s Mainland is more than just another place to visit besides the Galapagos Islands, it goes far beyond, since Ecuadors mainland has it all.  Few countries on earth are so diverse and unique as Ecuador, and if perhaps this is your first time in Ecuador, you must be wondering where to visit Ecuador besides the wonderful Galapagos Islands (part of Ecuador as well).

Please let me guide you through some of the many activities, things to see, do and experience, especially when it comes to outdoor activities. Therefore, if your starting base point to explore Ecuadors mainland is Quito, let me tell you it is the ideal base from where you can start exploring, some must see tourist attractions:

Mindo and its cloud forest

Lets startr with a wonder town, which is part of the unique cloud forest,a ttracting birders, scientists, nature enthusiasts, expats, artists locals, non locals and visitors from here and there. All whom are inspired and attracted by nature, a lush green cloud forest and its abundance and diversity of animals, plants trees and birds, so many that, for four consecutive years Mindo has been the winner on bird count. Mindo cloud forest, is like no other place on earth, this place is the bird hotspot in the universe.

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The calm heartbeat of Mindo casts a spell on those who have ventured to his town and its tourist attractions. With its peaceful environment, full of cafes, local restaurants, pizza places, vegetarian, Mexican and fusion food or crepes,  small bars and discoes, street vendors, artists, kids playing at the parks, stray dogs and last, the locals, for whom tourism is the number one income since they work in one of the many activities tourism brings. This is probably what makes this wonder town so attractive, although it is such a small town, it is always alive. Mindo, can be a model to follow when it comes to sustainable tourism. The only problem is that you might want to come back to Mindo more than once!

When visiting Mindo cloud forest on a tour, it´s a good idea to start with the hike to the waterfalls and Tarabita (cable car) ride. Then, if you like adrenaline try the Zipline from 2 to 10 lines, to then continue to town for a delicious lunch followed  by  the butterfly farm, humming bird garden,  all of them are highly recommended  as well as the chocolate tour and sampling that will delight your palate.

If you stay overnight you cannot miss the frog concert or insect night tours!

Note: Normally on a day tour you are able to accomplish 3 to 4 activities depending on your pace and yes! The night tours are for people staying over-night due to the time it starts!

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Otavalo Market

Also a must-see tourist attraction in Ecuador, being this market one of the biggest indigenous markets in South America, it is essential not to miss this trip to the Otavalo craft market, since there is not many open markets that compare to it. This indigenous community, the “Otavaleños”, are perhaps the ones that has managed to  best preserved its Inca roots in Ecuador.

otavalo market, otavalo from quito

This open market is full of colorful textiles and kiosks which are set up daily, here you can find yourself bedazzled and overwhelmed with such a variety, prices at the market are reasonable so feel free to shop, but if bargaining is your style you can give it a try. After buying alpaca sweaters, ponchos, beanies, gloves, socks or hand-embroidered tablecloths, hats, paintings or rugs, continue to the “Peguche waterfall” which is at scarce fifteen minute ride from town, once in Peguche go for a 10-minute walk to be able to reach the waterfall. If you would like to see the Animal Market as part of the tour, you need to request it and, you will need to start early morning (by 6am) with the Otavalo tour leaving from Quito.

Cotopaxi Volcano and National Park

Leave some time to visit and explore the Cotopaxi National park and its massive volcano with the same name, keep your eyes open because, you never know when a wild animal might pop up and you don’t want to miss this opportunity to see it.

First visit the Limpiopungo lagoon, and hike around it observing and learning about some endemic medicinal plants,  try to spot: bunnies, Andean wolves, Andean condor, coots, teals, white tail deers, caracaras, owls among others. This lagoon is located at a unique area of this national park, at the  flats completely covered with a dwarf forest carpet, characteristic of a “Paramo”(moorland) ecosystem.  This extensive flat area is difficult to see in the highlands where there are mountains after mountains and nothing is flat.

cotopaxi volcano national park

Now that you are having the chance to visit one of the highest, active volcanoes in the world with its summit at 19347 ft (5897m) , on the Cotopaxi day trip, you will go all the way up to 14763ft. (4500m) on an off-road vehicle, from this point on you can give it a try and start to hike to the refuge, which in distance it is only 1200ft but it will take you from 1 to 2 hours depending on your pace and physical condition. The refuge is located at an elevation of 15958ft. It can be a demanding hike so the day before, don’t forget to drink lots of water and if possible coca leaf tea, carbohydrates and take some hard candies if your goal is to get to the Jose Rivas Refuge.

Quilotoa Lagoon

It’s an enchanted lake, well hidden in the heart of the Andes, which is relatively the farthest Ecuador tourist attraction for a day tour from Quito, and definitely worth taking the day to visit this turquoise toned lake or hike around its rim,  is considered one of the most beautiful lakes on the planet according to Conde nast traveler magazine.

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Start your adventure early morning so you can make the most of the day, the trip will not be boring at all, since you will have the chance to cross the avenue of the volcanoes, with the chance to see mountains and volcanoes side to side as, the Cotopaxi, the Ilinizas north and south, Corazon, Pasochoa, Rumiñahui and more if weather helps.  If possible try taking the Quilotoa tour on thursday in order for you to get to see the open market of fruits vegetables grains and animals at the “Saquisilí” town. Then after this market you will continue west towards Zumbahua, the doorway to the ecological reserve  called Ilinizas. On the way, as you start going higher in elevation there will be astonishing views of the Ecuadorian Andes, crops all over the mountains, sheep heards, local Tigua crafts along the road, and some interesting landscapes, locals with their traditional customs, after Zumbahua, make sure to stop at the Toachi canyon for some interesting pictures.

Considering making a splurge by combining the Cotopaxi and Quilotoa tours in one day?

This is definitely a doable option, you will only need to go for an early start and a late finish, and I would recommend you to doin this on a summer day from June to September.

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Baños de Agua Santa

Baños or without the tilde on top of the n can be spelled as Banos, a spectacular setting for adventure sports, hikes, look out points, pictures or just relaxing, is located underneath the Tungurahua volcano and surrounded by green and steep mountains  and deep canyons, the cozy and friendly  town of Baños, where adventure is yet to come, mainly because the adventure sports  is what Banos is known for! Definitely the right place for those adventure seekers some available options are, canyoning, white water rafting, ziplining, waterfall jumping, mountain biking, trail running, Tibetan bridge, among others, and, on the other hand Baños can very well be, a place to rest and relax since there is a wide offer of places where you can get a massage, wellness centers and spas.

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So to start with the baños tour, take a look at the waterfalls, along the waterfall trail, leaving from Baños, start from the Agoyan dam and waterfall, then continue to the Brides vail, to the biggest and famous Pailón del Diablo or Devil´s cauldron, on the way down, the  waterfalls  are located along the  Pastaza river, here you have the option to fly over this river by ziplines or get on the tarabita cable car ride.

Once at the entrance to the Pailon del Diablo waterfall, you have a nice 25 min hike to get to it, from the waterfall, after taking amazing pictures, take the small passage that will lead you to go underneath the waterfall, it is very neat. For those of you who are more active you can rent a bike which is also a popular way to see the waterfalls and do the same activities as with the transportation starting from the city of Baños.

Next, visit “La casa del Arbol” where the swing at the end of the world is located and take that picture for social media, that everybody would love to have. I wont recommend going by bike to the Swing at the end of the world since it’s a high incline road and very narrow wich can be super risky for bikers.

Papallacta

Located in the Ecuadorian Andean Páramo (moorland), in a unique natural environment. Papallacta is a small rural parish belonging to the province of Napo, where travelers looking for relaxation, make a fair long stop at this wonderful place. Imagine for a moment immersing your weary muscles in a steamy volcanic water, and then, diving into a super cold mountain water pool (immersing into the cold water is optional), where its minerals such as sulfur salts, bicarbonates, iron, magnesium, among others, are activated making this waters into a fantastic alternative and treatment for health problems such as rheumatism, sciatica spine, pain produced by stress or bad postures, the treatment consists of heat and cold, each pool has different temperatures and, for this reason it is called the Swimming Pool circuit. In addition to this, you can receive a relaxing massage at the spa.

Papallacta day trip, pallacta from quito, hot springs

At the surroundings, you can make long or short walks you will have the experience of disconnecting from the city and its everyday stress, recharge with peace and good energy, in short, it is a place to enjoy every minute since you arrive. The hot springs that feed Papallacta pools arise from deep geological layers where fissures reach the surface with all their healthy potential. At the water source the temperature is between 60 and 70 ° C, afterward, it is mixed with Mountain water, before reaching the pools, where water temperature varies from 36 to 38 ° C.

In this relaxing and beautiful place, you cannot ask for more, one feels in heaven. Beauty, peace, health and harmony are the best words to describe this place where you can meet with yourself and would like this moment to never end.

I would suggest taking Pallacta day trip, on the last day, when the only thing you feel like doing is to relax, for example, go for a relaxing hot stone massage, a bamboo stick massage, a soothing chocolate wrap, a facial and more! The pools are odorless, crystalline, pure, relaxing and full of healing attributes.

Quito Old Town

Quito old town,  when visiting Quito old town you will understand why Quito became the first capital city to be named  by the UNESCO a world heritage site, filled with colonial monuments,  architecture treasures and, magnificent churches where religious art  and its different styles have somehow blended together to build this magical religious monuments. A unique blend of European, Indigenous and Arabic cultures, decorating Quito old town and allowing us to be delighted by its beauty.

Quito historic district tour, ecuatouring

Quito is located high in the Andes mountains at over 9000 feet from sea level Quito is officially the closest  capital to the sun. Walking around old town Quito makes you feel a Colonial charm where you will encounter some narrow streets that remain with cobble stone, full of local restaurants and shops, where many of the streets have a fair enough good incline and can leave you out of breath, it is crazy how being in Quito´s altitude makes you feel like you are out of shape.

As for a Quito day tour can mainly do a self-guided walking tour, depending on which side you are starting from.  Starting from the north side, Start by visiting the Basilica and its towers reach the highest lookout point at the Condor tower.

Continue to the Plaza Grande (main Square) and visit its surrounding buildings, Archbishop Palace (Palacio Arzobispal) Presidential Place ( Palacio de Carondelet) and the Metropolitan Cathedral, Continue to La Campania de Jesus, known as the golden church, its inside beauty is truly a masterpiece, even if you are not a very religious person, I am sure you will enjoy all the labor hours needed for it to became a masterpiece.

Continue to the San Francisco Church and monastery, at this place the original wooden sculpture of winged mother Mary (Virgen alada de Quito) is kept and placed in the center of the main altar piece. Here you can visit the museum right next to it, from where you will have access to the coir.  Then continue your walk to the bohemian La Ronda Street, a street where traditional sweets, old games, traditional foods and drinks are trying to be revived and rescued from being lost and absorbed by the trendy modern foods and drinks.

Quito old town has much more to see and visit in term of religious monuments, architecture , than we have just mentioned but this is an small itinerary for a  Quito Tour to be done in one day with its main must see places. To entirely visit the old part of Quito and its tourist attractions you will need between three to five days.

Middle of the world

And then, it is well known that Quito lies on the center of the world and that it is crossed by the equator line so where is this line??

Middle of the world and Equator line is located on the last neighborhood to the north of the capital city, Quito. Although the line crosses other countries as well as other parts of Ecuador, the museum and monument are located to the north of Quito where this place can be visited, and learn about experiments to demonstrate you are located in the center of the world, try to balance an egg, or try to balance yourself, also take memorable pictures of this place with the cero degrees , cero hours and cero minutes signs! And last, a close by attraction is the inhabited crater called Pululahua where people actually live on the craters caldera. Also an nice and interesting place to visit and see from a look out! In terms of food, if you would like to try the guinea pig (cuy) you can ask your guide to stop at a place where you can try it, since this delicacy can be found at the Middle of the world area.

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