Getting from the Airport to Quito: I arrived at the Mariscal Sucre International Airport in Quito at 1 am and by that time there were no buses left to take you to downtown Quito (a guy working at the airport told me that the last one left at 10 pm). Keep in mind that the airport is about 40km away (a 40min drive) from Downtown Quito, therefore your only other choice is to take a taxi. The price for a taxi to Quito is set at $25 by some agreement between the taxi Union and the airport. I managed to share a ride with a lovely Canadian family to my hostel in Plaza Foch.
Hotels and hostels in Quito are concentrated in two main areas: Plaza Foch, the lively, hip part of the city where the nightlife is concentrated or the Historic Center, the oldest UNESCO heritage site in the world. A taxi between the two areas would cost $3-4, but if you think you will want to have a taste of Quito’s nightlife, I would definitely recommend staying in Plaza Foch.
What to do
The Historic Center (Plaza de La Independencia)
There are plenty of museums, basilicas and historical buildings to visit near to the main square. If you are feeling adventurous, you can hike the “El Panecillo” hill and get up close to the Virgin Marie statue. Only once you are on top, you realize how big this city actually is, stretching for about 60km from north to south. Further down, you can walk around “Calle La Ronda” a small cobblestone alleyway where you can try some delicious traditional food and buy local arts and crafts.
The Telefériqo (cable car)
First, you will need to take a taxi to get to the Teleferiqo. The trip to the summit will take you around 15mins. Once you reach the top, there a few trails you can hike or you can just relax and enjoy the view of Quito. If you would like to have an unobstructed view from the top, get there in the morning when here are very few clouds. Also, make sure to bring an extra layer before taking the teleferico as it will get chilly once you are up there.
We chose to take a tour offered by one of the many traveling agencies in Quito. Our tour guide picked us up at 7 am and we departed for Cotopaxi which is about 2 hours south. The bus took us into the Cotopaxi National Park and dropped us off at the base at about 13600ft (4200m).
As we were hiking up the volcano it started to snow and by the time we reached the refuge at about 16000ft, it was snowing quite heavily. After drinking a hot coca leaf tea at the refuge, we returned to our initial starting point at the base. Then we got on our mountain bikes and we started our descent down the volcano and through the national park.
Otavalo is a town about 2 hours north of Quito, which hosts the largest indigenous market in South America. Getting there requires a stop at Terminal Carcelén, which is about 25 mins by taxi or 1 hour by bus. There you can get on the buses to Otavalo which will take you 2 more hours, so if you are planning to visit the market, make sure to depart early in the morning so you can enjoy a full day in Otavalo.
During the week, the market is confined to the main plaza, but on Saturdays it will expand to the adjacent streets, which will be filled with vendors from around the region. Be prepared to find various colorful crafts, arts, and knits made from soft alpaca wool. Bargaining is part of the local culture.
No matter the day of the week, you will find Plaza Foch teeming with life, though Friday and Saturday nights are the busiest. A lot of nightclubs and bars will require you to pay a cover fee and almost all of them will require you to show them an ID to enter, so make sure to have one with you before you go out. The locals are very friendly towards foreigners and are not afraid to engage in conversations with you. There is a lot of nightclubs in the area, but unfortunately, most of them will close by 2-3 am.
Things to keep in mind
I flew into Quito from Panama City without any concern for the altitude difference between the two (almost 9350 feet). I found it the hard way that altitude sickness is a real thing, and will affect anyone regardless of physical health. So for the first two days, try to sleep early and do not engage in heavy physical activity.
The Bus system in Quito is cheap ($0.25 per ride) but be warned that they do stop a lot on the way. Taxis are the best way to get around Quito. Most taxis have a taximeter but they will almost never turn it on, so make sure you negotiate the price beforehand to avoid getting ripped off. A 15min drive. A 15min drive should cost you no more than $3-4.
Safety in Quito
Prior to our arrival in Quito, we had heard many horror stories about walking around in Quito (day or night). Nonetheless, I never felt unsafe or at risk at any point during my stay in Quito and I went out almost every night. You are going to notice “tourist” police walking around the streets of Plaza Foch, which I believe were security guards hired to give tourists an extra sense of security. But just like with any other big city, be aware of your surroundings, try to not walk alone at night and you will be just fine.