Day trips from Quito
Ready to explore the top 10 day trips from Quito? Let’s get started!
1. Cotopaxi National Park, a must-visit near Quito
One of the top places to visit near Quito is Cotopaxi National Park. In fact, it’s one of the essential destinations to explore in Ecuador.
Inside the park lies Cotopaxi Volcano, renowned for its iconic, perfectly conical shape and being one of Ecuador’s symbols. It stands at an elevation of 5,897 meters above sea level and remains active, with its last eruption occurring in August 2015. The park also hosts two other volcanoes: Morurco (4,880 meters) and Rumiñahui (4,722 meters).
The first thing you should know is that you need a car to visit the park. You can rent one in Quito or, upon reaching the park’s entrance, hire a 4×4 with a driver. I know they are available at the south entrance, which I recommend going to since the road is paved. I’m not sure if it’s possible to hire this service at the north entrance.
You can also access the park using public transportation (although you’ll still need a car to explore the park). Public transport will take you to the highway, and from there, you’ll need to arrange transportation to the park’s entrance. Another option is to book an organized tour to Cotopaxi.
Tips for visiting Cotopaxi
Here are some details to help you plan your visit to Cotopaxi:
- The Cotopaxi National Park is open from 8:00 AM to 5:00 PM. No entry is allowed after 3:00 PM.
- If you wish to spend the night near Cotopaxi, I recommend Mateospaxi, where we stayed on several occasions and were delighted with the family’s hospitality.
- Entrance to Cotopaxi is free. You only need to register at the entrance, providing personal details like your name, age, nationality, and passport number.
- There are two entrances to Cotopaxi National Park: the north entrance and the south entrance. I recommend the south entrance as the road conditions are much better.
- Within the park, you can enjoy activities such as hiking, cycling, and camping in designated areas. You can also hike to the José Ribas Refuge, which requires a vehicle ride to the parking lot and a one-hour walk. The refuge is located at an altitude of 4,500 meters above sea level.
- Key attractions in Cotopaxi National Park include Cotopaxi itself, Rumiñahui, the José Ribas Refuge, and Limpiopungo Lagoon.
- If you’re an experienced mountaineer, you can attempt to summit Cotopaxi independently. However, it’s recommended to hire a guided excursion if you’re less experienced.
2. Papallacta, nature and hot springs near Quito
Papallacta is a small village located in the Napo province at an elevation of 3,250 meters above sea level. It’s situated approximately 67.5 kilometers from Quito, and the journey takes around an hour. The landscapes along the road to get here are truly stunning. I recommend making a stop at the Reina del Páramo viewpoint during the trip. On a clear day, you can catch a glimpse of the Antisana volcano, which stands at 5,704 meters above sea level.
The main draws of Papallacta are its hot springs, the picturesque lake, and the southern part of the Cayambe Coca National Park.
If you’re looking to unwind in the soothing hot springs, I highly recommend a visit to Papallacta Hot Springs. While it’s primarily a hotel, you can purchase a day pass that grants you access to the thermal pools featuring hydro-massages, therapeutic treatments, and a restaurant. The entrance fee is $23, and it covers access to the SPA area, a locker, a towel, and a swim cap.
Tips for visiting Papallacta
If you don’t have a car, the best option is to book this organized tour to Papallacta Hot Springs. The tour includes a visit to the Papallacta Lagoon viewpoint, a hike along the “La Isla” trail, and a relaxing session at Papallacta Hot Springs.
By the way, I should note that there’s no gas station in Papallacta. So, if you’re planning to drive there, make sure your tank is full. Otherwise, you’ll need to head to Baeza for refueling, just as we had to do. Although I’m glad that happened because the car journey to Baeza is truly delightful. The landscapes along the way are simply magical.
If you plan to stay overnight in Papallacta and are seeking affordable accommodation, I recommend our lodging, Sol de Piedra.
3. Otavalo and its artisan market, the most famous in South America
Located 92 kilometers from Quito, you’ll find Otavalo, one of Ecuador’s towns with a rich indigenous culture. In fact, Otavalo is known as the “intercultural capital of Ecuador” due to its wealth of culture and history. There are plenty of things to do in Otavalo.
One of the highlights of this charming Ecuadorian town is the Otavalo indigenous artisan market. You can visit this market every day at Plaza de los Ponchos. Here, you’ll find a wide array of locally crafted products. We bought two beautiful blankets that we’ll always hold dear.
However, history and culture aren’t the only things to do in Otavalo. Nature is another strong point of this place. Don’t miss the Peguche Waterfall, Cuicocha Lagoon, Mojanda Lakes, and San Pablo Lake, which is located next to the Imbabura volcano. The waterfall and the latter lake are situated in Otavalo.
Cuicocha Lagoon is located 17 km from Otavalo, boasting beautiful scenery and offering a circular trekking route. On the other hand, Mojanda Lakes are situated 22 km from Otavalo, with some dirt road sections. Here, too, you can enjoy hiking.
Tips for visiting Otavalo
If you don’t have your own transportation, you can book a guided tour to Otavalo and Cotacachi markets. These tours often include a visit to a viewpoint for stunning views of Lake San Pablo and the Imbabura volcano. Another option is to take a bus to Otavalo.
If you plan to spend the night in Otavalo, I recommend our hotel, Hostal Curiñán. It’s located a bit away from the town center and is on higher ground, so it’s a good choice if you have a car (the hotel offers parking). The rooms are traditionally decorated, have hot water, include breakfast, and offer excellent service.
4. Mindo, nestled between the mountains and the coast of Ecuador
Mindo, a small town located 97 km from the Ecuadorian capital, is another popular day trip from Quito. It takes almost a couple of hours to get there, and it’s a destination visited by both local and foreign tourists who are looking to enjoy nature and engage in adventure activities.
Some of the typical activities to do in Mindo include hiking through the cloud forest, ziplining, birdwatching (with over 500 bird species), swimming in waterfalls, and visiting orchid gardens.
You can explore Mindo on your own or book an organized day trip from Quito. The excursion typically includes a visit to the town of Mindo, a ride on the Mindo tarabita (a type of cable car), a hiking adventure to waterfalls, and some free time to explore the area.
If you plan to spend more than a day in Mindo, you should book a hotel in advance. Hotels and hostels are popular choices for staying in this area.
5. Pasochoa Wildlife Refuge, one of the best day trips from Quito
Another fascinating destination near Quito is the Pasochoa Wildlife Refuge. The Pasochoa volcano, standing at 4,199 meters above sea level, is an extinct caldera. Within the park’s 500 hectares, you’ll discover forests with over 60 species of native trees.
There are hiking trails for trekking adventures, and it’s even possible to summit Pasochoa, although you’ll need to hire a guide for that. Camping is also an option within the park, in designated camping areas.
The visiting hours are from 8:00 AM to 5:00 PM, and they do not permit entry after 3:00 PM.
There are six hiking trails to explore within the Pasochoa Wildlife Refuge:
- Del colibrí. 900 meters.
- Amiga naturaleza. 1 kilometer, medium difficulty.
- Bosque para Todos. 2 kilometers, medium difficulty.
- Mayguayacu. 3,5 kilometers, medium difficulty.
- Palma de Cera. 8 kilometers, advanced difficulty.
- Las Pantzas. This trail leads to the summit of Pasochoa, is of advanced difficulty, and requires a guide.
6. Day trip to Ciudad Mitad del Mundo (Middle of the World City)
Even though it’s not a day trip from Quito per se, as it’s located on the outskirts of the city, the Middle of the World is situated 30 km from the historic center of Quito, so we can consider it as another getaway.
The charm of this place is that it lies on the equator, right on latitude 0, which means you’ll be standing between the two hemispheres. Here’s a little secret… it’s not exactly in the middle of the world! GPS coordinates actually place it 240 meters south of the equator. Close, but not quite!
If you plan to go, you can purchase your entrance ticket in advance or book this day trip to the Middle of the World. It includes transportation from your Quito hotel and a guide.
If you don’t plan to visit Baños de Agua Santa during the rest of your trip to Ecuador, it’s worth making the journey from Quito, even though it’s quite a long drive, as it’s about a 3-hour journey from the Ecuadorian capital. Therefore, if you’re planning to travel around the country, I recommend including Baños in your Ecuador itinerary, as it offers many attractions, and it’s better to stay for several days.
Baños de Agua Santa is a small town located at 1,820 meters above sea level, surrounded by mountains, volcanoes, and waterfalls. My favorite things to do in Baños are the Pailón del Diablo waterfall, the Manto de la Novia waterfall, La Casa del Árbol, and the Tungurahua volcano. Baños also offers many adventure activities such as rafting, Tibetan bridges, and ziplines.
This day trip to Baños de Agua Santa includes transportation from your hotel in Quito, transport within Baños, a guide, admission to a tarabita (a type of cable car), other entrance fees, and a snack. The tour visits Pailón del Diablo, Manto de la Novia, the Agoyán waterfall, La Casa del Árbol, and the town of Baños de Agua Santa itself.
Another more budget-friendly choice is to take a bus to Baños and then book a tour of the waterfalls route. If you have your own vehicle, you can explore it on your own.
8. Yanacocha Reserve
The Yanacocha Biological Reserve is an excellent destination if you love nature and birds. It is located on the western slope of the Pichincha volcano. Here, you can engage in birdwatching, especially of species that typically inhabit the Andean region, including hummingbirds.
There are four different trails to explore in the reserve, which covers a total area of 964,000 hectares and ranges in altitude from 2,800 to 4,000 meters above sea level. If you’re interested in visiting the Yanacocha Reserve, you can go on your own or book an organized tour.
9. Laguna de Quilotoa, one of the most beautiful day trips from Quito
Just like with Baños, if you’re planning to explore Ecuador, I recommend including Quilotoa in your itinerary and exploring it at a more leisurely pace. However, if for some reason you won’t be traveling around the country but have several days in Quito, I suggest taking a day trip to this incredible lake, as it offers one of the most breathtaking landscapes in Ecuador. Keep in mind that it’s a 3-hour drive from the capital, but the stunning views make it well worth the journey.
Laguna Quilotoa is a 13 km wide water-filled caldera. You can enjoy the incredible view of the lagoon from one of the viewpoints, and you also have the option to hike around the crater or descend to the lake. Keep in mind that both activities are time-consuming, and especially the hike requires a lot of energy. If you descend to the lake, you can rent a kayak. The entrance fee is 2$ per person.
If you only have one day, I recommend booking a day trip to Quilotoa from Quito. This way, you won’t have to worry about organizing the transportation. The tour includes transportation, a guide, and the entrance to Quilotoa as well as access to one of the viewpoints.
If you’re planning to stay near Quilotoa overnight, I recommend our accommodation, Hostal Cloud Forest. The room was great, with hot water and a heater. The price includes breakfast and dinner.
10. Antisana Volcano, one of the best places to visit near Quito
We conclude this list of day trips from Quito with Antisana Volcano, which stands at 5,704 meters above sea level. To visit this incredible place, it is highly recommended to go to Micacocha Lagoon. From here, you can enjoy a beautiful postcard-like view with Antisana as the main attraction. I wish I had the opportunity to visit this part of Ecuador, but at least we could see it from Papallacta.
Map of the best day trips from Quito
In the following map, I have marked all the places located in the vicinity of the Ecuadorian capital that I recommend you visit. Any of these makes for a perfect day trip from Quito.
Don’t miss my Ecuador travel guide to get all the information about the country.
I hope this article about the 10 best day trips from Quito has been helpful in planning your trip to the capital of Ecuador. If you have any more questions or would like to share your travel experiences, feel free to leave a comment or send me an email. Until next time!”