When you visit Quito, there are plenty of places to enjoy just outside the city and are within a few hours bus journey and are perfect for day trips or weekend trips. Here are the best:
This world famous market north of Quito is bustling with energy and is a must if you are staying in Quito and fancy a few local items. Anything you can think of can be bought in this market town. The Otavalo market is very famous all over Latin America and especially among the tourists who visit Ecuador. The vibrant local colours in the packed stalls in Plaza de los Ponchos, old men with bowler hats selling nut necklaces, live music when taking your lunch, it is well worth the experience.
Be certain to haggle because you will be paying at least double if not treble the price if you don’t! Locals expect it so some good banter can be had when ‘negotiating’!
Condor Park (Parque Condor Otavalo): Just above and a few kilometres outside the town is the Condor Park which is a non-profit wildlife refuge where tens of rare birds of prey are kept with the intention of releasing them back to the wild. It is very sad to see such magnificent creatures in cages but great to see them up close on the other hand as it would be impossible otherwise. When you see a condor with a huge 3mtr (10ft) wingspan up close you can now appreciate them properly the next time you gaze at them kilometres above you Great views of the surrounding San Pablo Lake, the mountains and a condor’s eye view of Otavalo can be had from up here.
A taxi is the best way to get there. Approx $4, agree a price before you start. Approx 1hrs walk. Open from Tues-Sun 9:30am-17:00. Shows are held at 11:30am and 4:30pm depending on the weather. Admission $4
Need to Know
A day trip to Otavalo is easily possible with Saturday being the main market day but it is open every day of the week.
The bus ride is 2hrs ($2) from Terminal Carcelen in north Quito. In Otavalo make sure to only get off in the bus station and not the other stops in the town as the bus stops several times. The car park of a bus station in Otavalo is on Calle Atahualpa and Calle Ordones about 10min from the main Poncho Square. Buses for Quito leave every 15min.
This beautiful situated town south of Quito is snugly surrounded by luscious rainforest and the active 5,000mtrs (16,500ft) Tungurahua Volcano which is where the towns famous hot springs originate from. On your bus journey in you may have the beautifully dangerous sight of the volcano smoking behind the town which makes for a super photo. Just remember that Tungurahua volcano erupted into life in 1999 and 2012 and the government urged residence to vacate the town such was the imminent danger so there is a price to pay for free hot water! From relaxing in the thermal baths or eating raw sugar cane to relaxing cycling downhill to the adventure of hiking, rafting and bungee jumping, there is plenty to keep you entertained. This small town is one of the best in Ecuador for tourists so although some might not like this in your face approach, it makes it mighty easy to do any activities.
- There are public thermal baths, with different temperature pools, on the eastern side of the town centre at the Virgin Falls (Cascada de La Virgen) and are popular with both locals and tourists.
- Cycling; Bikes can be rented all over town for approx $5 for a day and the way to go is head toward Puyo (61km away) which is mainly downhill. The first 18km until you get to Rio Verde takes very little effort and is beautifully speckled with waterfalls in the valley to your right surrounded by jungle. There is a cable car that you pass on the way that gives you better views of the valley and waterfalls if you want it or if you need more adventure, bungee jumping can be done off a bridge also. There are several tunnels on the way but all except one has bike bypasses around on the outside. There are frequent buses that travel between Puyo and Banos so no hardship is needed for the return uphill journey and they will pick you up if you haven’t made it as far as Puyo. Alternatively you can hitchhike. Without even sticking out our thumb, a small goat van pulled in for us. Just being off the bikes was enough for him to chance making a few extra dollars. After the price was negotiated we hopped in and did our best goat impressions in the back in the open air all the way to Banos!
- Hiking: There are several hikes that can be done around Banos and the tourist office in the park is the best place for trail maps. The steep trek up to the statue of the Virgin Mary gives excellent views of the town.
- Rafting: Most tourist shops in the town centre offer rafting down the Pastaza River. The rapids range from II to IV and cost approx $30 for a half day tour with snacks.
Need to Know
From Quito the buses take approx 4hrs for $4 and leave frequently from the Quitumbe (also called Tumbe) bus station in the south of Quito. Transportes Baños has a bus that leave La Mariscal in the evening time around 8.30pm that would save a journey to Quitumbe. Tranportes Amazonas has 20 departures per day from Baños to Quito
If you like birds, orchids and mariposas (butterflies) then Mindo is heaven. This tiny tourist town 70km northwest of Quito is primarily built on tourism and eco-tourism. The cloud forest of the nationally protected Mindo Forest Reserve (Bosque Protector Mindo-Nambillo) is nearby and house over 400 species of birds. Mindo is not much to look at when you arrive but there are several places where you can just sit down on a bench and just watch hummingbirds hover, take food, hover some more, zip here, zoom there before disappearing. This completely trumps anything the town looks like. As well as the wonderful array of butterflies in the forest it is also possible to see them in a large indoor enclosure which makes photos and spotting them a whole lot easier. The colours are inspiring and the size of some, scary. The town/village is very small so everything is within a 5min walk and to arrange tours with the agencies on the main street.
It is possible to rent quad bikes and head up the tracks into the forest or relax by tubing on the river in a tractor tyre and swim in the river. (It is not the Laos style tubing here!).
And when the evening settles in there is always local bars to have a bun and a beer and karaoke bars to show people how good your singing is!
Need to Know
A bus to Mindo goes from the Terminal Ofelia Station (Terrestre Norte) in northern Quito twice in the mornings during the week and 3times during the weekend and once in the evenings with Flor deValle/Cayambe bus company (NOT the town Cayambe). The ‘Metrobus’ goes to this bus station. A direct taxi will cost approx $50 one way. The journey is approx 1.5hrs ($2). Buses can get full at the weekends to make sure to be early.
Map of Bus Stations
Practicalities – About Quito
- Ecuador uses the US Dollar €1 = $1.30
- Language - Spanish. Local languages spoken in the jungle. English is spoken in tourist shops and for tours but not widely spoken.
- Flights- Quito and Guayaquil (on the coast) are the main cities and can be flow to from most cities in South America and from some further abroad.
- Internal flights are common and frequent especially between Quito and Guayaquil with LAN Ecuador (www.lan.com) and are a reasonable price. Approx $100 for a 1hr flight. The only other destination to fly to is Cuenca, the rest must be taken by bus.
- Accommodation – $25 per night for an average double room
Population - 2.6million