Quito, Ecuador is one of South America’s great cities. There is so much to see and do in Quito, and with Quito’s relatively low cost of living, it’s also a great base for backpackers in South America. Backpacking in Quito may be quickly growing in popularity, but you’ll still feel like you’re ahead of the crowds as you explore this country that feels like a hidden gem of travel.
We’ve written this ultimate Quito backpacking guide with you in mind – we’re sharing everything we’ve learned living in Quito for 2+ years on a budget to help you enjoy this city as a backpacker even more. Keep reading this budget Quito travel guide for our ultimate money-saving tips, travel recommendations, and so much more.
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Quito is a backpacker’s dream city – inexpensive, interesting, centrally located for travel, and with plenty to see and do, it’s no wonder many backpackers spend much longer in Quito than they anticipated.
Here you’ll find countless natural and historical sites worth exploring. Jump ahead to our section on things to do in Quito for a better idea of some highlights, and check out our mega guide of things to do in Quito for an even more exhaustive list.
Consider spending several days in Quito at least as you backpack through Ecuador. Not only does it make a fantastic base for day trips through the country, but there is a ton to see and explore within Quito itself.
Is Quito Worth Visiting?
Quito is absolutely worth a visit, for backpackers or travelers on any budget. It’s one of the best cities in Ecuador for travelers – in my opinion, the very best.
Quito is a beautiful and fascinating city with plenty to see and do. No matter how long you have in Ecuador, I recommend spending two full days at the very least here.
It’s also quite affordable for a large city, a concern for travelers on a budget.
Plus, Quito’s central location makes for fantastic travel potential. In fact, for itineraries shorter than two weeks, I recommend basing yourself in Quito for the duration of your trip and taking several day trips or overnight trips.
Read More: Check out our Ecuador itineraries to help you plan your trip backpacking through Quito and Ecuador.
Is Ecuador Cheap for Backpackers?
Ecuador can be a cheap, budget travel destination perfect for backpackers. With the abundance of inexpensive public transportation, cheap and delicious meals, and an abundance of hostels, Ecuador is truly a backpacker’s paradise.
Of course, you’ll need to watch your budget – there are plenty of ways to spend your travel dollars here fast if you don’t. However, you shouldn’t feel too pinched or restricted on a backpacker’s budget here.
Safety in Quito
Is Backpacking in Ecuador Safe?
Yes, backpacking is safe in Ecuador. I lived and worked in Ecuador for 2+ years, moving in both highly touristed areas and areas that almost never see outside visitors, and I didn’t have a single incident or feel unsafe while there.
However, petty crime happens here, mostly pickpocketing. I don’t want to sugarcoat things, so I’ll be honest. I know of several travelers and volunteers in Ecuador that had their phones stolen, or bags grabbed when they weren’t looking.
It does happen, so it’s important to be aware of it.
In most cases, simply making yourself not the easiest target is what it takes to stay safe. If you follow some simple safety practices – which are helpful anywhere you travel, whether at home or abroad – you’ll likely be completely safe and have a perfectly uneventful trip.
Quito Travel Safety Tips
Keep your eyes and hands on your things
Don’t leave your phone on a table at a restaurant; don’t leave your backpack on the floor under a table or under a bus seat. Use a crossbody purse and keep it in front of you, with a hand over the zipper.
Use locks and s-biners to keep bags closed
You can use backpacks while out and about, but bring them in front of you when on public transport or in crowded areas. Keep zippers locked together with s-biners.
Walk with purpose
Look confident and like you know where you’re going and what you’re doing (even when you don’t). This can make a huge difference!
Keep flashy jewelry or technology out of sight.
Don’t be afraid to take out your phone or camera to snap a picture, just put it away once you’re done using it.
Things To Do in Quito
One great reason that I recommend Quito to backpackers is for all there is to see and do here. While I recommend that visitors spend at least two full days in Quito, the city is much better enjoyed with several days to spend here.
In Quito, you’ll find a great mix of historic attractions, natural wonders, and the amenities of a modern city that makes it a convenient base for travelers and digital nomads. While there is so much to do in Quito it wouldn’t all fit here, the following are some of Quito’s best attractions, so you’ll get a better idea of what to expect here.
Read More: 37 Best Things to Do in Quito
Mitad del Mundo
A favorite destination for travelers and one of the most-visited spots in Ecuador, Mitad del Mundo – Spanish for “Middle of the World” – is the location of the Equator. Just north of Quito, you can visit relatively easily by public transportation – it takes about 45 minutes to an hour from central Quito to get here.
At the Intiñan Museum, you’ll learn a lot about Ecuador, and get to do fun, campy “science experiments” that only work on the Equator. Plus, the monument to the Equator was built before GPS calculations and is actually a few meters off from the true Equator.
Group or private excursions to Mitad del Mundo are very popular – they cut down significantly on the time it takes to navigate public transportation to get here! These are some of the best to consider:
- Half-Day Mitad del Mundo Group Excursion
- Quito Historic Center and Mitad del Mundo Excursion
- Personalized Quito Tour, Including TeleferiQo and Mitad del Mundo
Quito Historic Center
The Quito Historic Center is well known for being the largest and most well-preserved historic center in Latin America. More than just a grouping of old buildings like you’ll find in other historic cities, it’s very much a living and breathing neighborhood today, so there is a lot to see and do.
I recommend visitors spend at least four hours exploring the many sites within the Historic Center, as there is plenty to see and do. Think colonial churches, contemporary art galleries, the presidential palace (you can take a free walking tour!), museums, and beautiful, winding streets. If you have longer – even better!
Read More: Ultimate Guide to the Quito Historic Center
The TelefériQo is a cable car that takes passengers soaring up above the city, halfway up the Pichincha Volcano that towers over the valley of Quito. The view from the cable car is stunning, and an incredible experience itself.
The true attraction is the view from the very top. Here you’ll find incredible 360-degree views of Quito, the surrounding valleys, and towering mountains. It’s breathtakingly beautiful.
Plus, the top of the cable car is also the start of the popular Rucu Pichincha Volcano hike, a moderately intense hike to one of the volcano’s three peaks that takes a few hours to complete.
What To Pack for Ecuador
Check out our Ultimate Ecuador Packing List to help you pack for your trip – we’re sharing exactly what to bring to Ecuador and what we never travel without.
Basilica del Voto Nacional
While technically a part of the Quito Historic Center, I also love to put a special emphasis on the Basilica del Voto Nacional for visitors to Quito – it’s truly that unmissable.
Apart from being a gorgeous and impressive church, Quito’s Basilica also has the most incredible view of the city.
Climb the church’s clock towers and central spire for three unique and incredible views over the city and over the rest of the church. The view from the spire is particularly impressive, as you’ll get an incredible view of the church’s clock towers perfectly framing El Panecillo hill.
La Mariscal is a favorite Quito backpacking destination – with the proliferation of bars, restaurants, hostels, and cafes, there is plenty to do here. You’ll also find several Spanish schools if you’re looking to take Spanish lessons while in Quito.
In the middle of the La Mariscal neighborhood is Plaza Foch – most of the bars and larger restaurants in the area radiating out from the plaza, so start your evening here.
If you’re on a strict budget, try to find more inexpensive, local options for food outside of the main Plaza Foch area – most of these central spots serving international food charge tourist prices.
Go Hiking / Mountain Climbing
There are plenty of fantastic destinations for hiking and mountain climbing in and around Quito, so if you’re interested in these kinds of adventures, you’re in the right place.
Climbing Rucu Pichincha – one of three peaks of the Pichincha Volcano – is probably the most popular climb closest to Quito. You’ll start your hike at the top of the TelefériQo, and it takes a few hours to complete.
Other popular trekking and climbing destinations near Quito include these:
- Pasochoa: A dormant volcano with a moderately difficult hike.
- Ilaló: A dormant volcano with a moderately difficult hike.
- Illinizas: Two twin dormant volcano peaks with a high-difficulty climb.
- Cotopaxi: An active snow-capped volcano with a high-difficulty climb, including winter gear, crampons, etc.
Read More: Quito to Cotopaxi Excursion and Hiking Guide
Where To Stay in Quito
Quito is filled with fantastic places to stay, especially for backpackers and budget travelers. You’ll find dorm room beds tend to cost between $10-15 USD, and private rooms start around $20 USD.
I recommend backpackers stay in the La Mariscal neighborhood of the city. It’s a great neighborhood filled with bars, clubs, and restaurants, so there is plenty to see and do here.
Despite all this, most of my top hostel recommendations are actually in the Historic Center! However, they’re close to public transportation and easily accessible from the rest of the city.
With inexpensive public transport here, and even a generally low cost for taxis, you can’t go wrong with either of these neighborhoods.
Read More: Ultimate Guide to Where to Stay in Quito
The Secret Garden Hostel ($)
My number one hostel recommendation in Quito! The Secret Garden is a fantastic, relatively large hostel in the Historic Center of Quito with inexpensive but fantastic dorms and private room options.
You’ll find everything you could ever want in a hostel here, but the main selling point is the incredible rooftop terrace and bar – the view over the mountains and the entire city is truly jaw-dropping.
Community Hostel ($)
Another very popular hostel in Quito, Community Hostel is a great option to consider in addition to The Secret Garden. Located just a few blocks away from The Secret Garden in the Historic Center, Community Hostel is in the middle of the action.
It’s quite a social hostel and hosts a variety of community dinners, tours, and other activities. Dorms are spacious and impeccably clean.
Selina Quito ($ – $$)
Selina Quito is a great hostel option in the heart of La Mariscal neighborhood, with an abundance of dorm rooms and private rooms as well. There’s an onsite cafe and restaurant, plus tons of events to meet fellow travelers.
If you’re planning to work remotely as a digital nomad in Ecuador, this is a great place to consider staying for a while, as you’ll have access to their coworking space while here.
Where To Eat in Quito
Food in Ecuador can be quite inexpensive. However, you’ll find plenty of places selling international food and marketing to tourists, especially in the Historic Center and La Mariscal neighborhoods.
Just head a block or two away from these places and you’re likely to find some less expensive options. Stick to local restaurants and holes in the wall to truly find those Quito backpacking budget-friendly spots.
One major money-saving food tip in Ecuador is to eat a big meal at lunch. Not only is this is pretty common in Ecuador, but you can save a lot of money.
You’ll find many restaurants advertising “almuerzos,” which are set lunch plates that usually come with a soup, main dish, and juice. You may have a few options for main dishes, or just one. These are usually very inexpensive and will fill you up!
Markets in Quito
Markets can be a great place to explore local cuisines and also save a lot of money on your Quito backpacking budget. In most markets you’ll find a section of stalls selling prepared foods, usually offering set plates of popular dishes.
Popular market foods in Quito include these:
- Fritada: Braised pork, usually served with mashed potato balls (llapingachos) and salad.
- Hornado: Roasted whole pig, usually served with mashed potato balls (llapingachos) and salad.
- Secos: Stewed meat. You’ll usually find seco de chivo (goat) or seco de pollo (chicken).
Check out the Mercado Central in the Historic Center, or the Mercado Santa Clara a few blocks away from La Mariscal. These are great places both to explore the market but also to get delicious and inexpensive food.
Eating street food is another way to eat cheap in Ecuador. You’ll find lots of street food carts in parks, especially Parque La Carolina and Parque El Ejido in central Quito.
Popular street foods include grilled corn, grilled plantains with cheese, stewed figs served with cheese on bread, cevichocos (similar to ceviche, but with white beans instead of seafood), and fresh fruit.
Budget Restaurants in Quito
There are countless great, inexpensive restaurants in Quito – too many to count. However, these are just a few of my favorites worth trying on your Quito backpacking trip.
- Las Menestras de la Almagro: Giant plates of authentic Ecuadorian dishes in a cafeteria-style environment.
- El Árabe: There are a lot of shawarma places in La Mariscal, but this is the only one that matters. Plentiful, authentic, and inexpensive Mediterranean / Middle Eastern food. This is my personal favorite restaurant in Quito.
- Bai Tam: Delicious Vietnamese sandwiches and great juices in the center of La Mariscal neighborhood.
- Skull Donuts: The best donuts in Ecuador. Their apple fritters are to die for, and you absolutely have to try their tropical fruit flavors (like maracuyá – passionfruit)!
Money-Saving Tips for Quito
Learn Some Spanish
This is key to saving money – it truly is! Knowing just a few keywords in Spanish will help you navigate local transport, bargain in the markets, order in restaurants, ask locals for directions, and more. Spend some time learning a few key phrases and you’ll get so much more out of your Quito backpacking trip – and check out our guide to travel Spanish phrases for more tips to get you started.
Download Google Translate as well – they add super helpful new features all the time, like their image reader, which can help you translate menus.
Quito has an abundance of cheap, quality public transportation that will help you get to places across the city and the country. This is one of the reasons that Quito backpacking is so affordable – you can get anywhere relatively easily.
Check out the Moovit app and download it before your trip – this app is a game changer when it comes to figuring out the bus and train system that crisscrosses Quito.
You’ll add your start and end points and find multiple methods to get there.
There are three main train / trolley lines that have dedicated lanes of traffic and move through the city most quickly – the Trolebus, Metrobus, and Ecovia.
These three main lines run north and south through the city. In addition to these lines, you’ll find buses that crisscross the entire city.
Despite the Moovit app giving the appearance of an orderly system, bus stops aren’t always marked clearly, sometimes buses won’t stop (wave them down when you see your bus coming!), and sometimes they run off schedule.
Always ask locals if you have any questions – you’ll find they’re generally eager to help!
Taxis in Quito are also abundant, and Uber is common. Both are relatively affordable, so even if you don’t plan on using public transport you’ll still have some great options.
Save Money on Food
Food can be one of the most variable expenses for budget travelers, and in Ecuador, you can easily blow your budget on food. Quito has so many modern and delicious cafes and restaurants that serve international food that it can be so tempting to splurge.
However, if you stick to eating in markets or in local hole-in-the-wall places serving almuerzos or other simple dishes, you’ll get a lot more for your money.
For around $3-5 USD, you’ll find delicious multi-course set menus for lunch, while a single plate could easily cost double that at a nicer restaurant.
In addition, you’ll want to try to buy local products from markets or supermarkets, as imports can be expensive. To save money on fresh foods like fruit and vegetables, shop first at a market before heading to a supermarket.
Skip The Galapagos – Or Book Last Minute
If you’re backpacking in Quito, you might be hoping to head to the Galapagos as part of your South America backpacking route. Generally, even when cutting corners as much as possible, Galapagos trips are just too expensive to do on a backpacker’s budget.
However, if your itinerary is flexible, you can sometimes find budget trips to the Galapagos by booking at the last minute with tour companies in Quito!
There are several near Plaza Foch in La Mariscal, and often you’ll find deep discounts on multi-day Galapagos cruises and excursions leaving the next day, or within the next few days.
Day Trips from Quito
Quito is located in the center of Ecuador and high in the Andes Mountains. This location makes Quito one of the best locations for day trips and overnight trips in all of Ecuador – a highlight for a Quito backpacking trip.
You can easily reach other destinations in the Andes, as well as the Cloud Forest to the west, and the Amazon Rainforest to the east.
Plus, with Ecuador’s fantastic system of buses, transportation is usually inexpensive and easy.
Read More: Ultimate Guide to Day Trips from Quito
Here are some of the most popular day trips or overnight trips from Quito:
- Mindo: In Ecuador’s cloud forest, Mindo is home to some great adventure sports like ziplining and canyoning.
- Otavalo: Home to the largest indigenous artisan market in South America, Otavalo is a fascinating trip- try to visit on a Saturday, which is the biggest market day.
- Cotopaxi: An active, snow-capped volcano an hour and a half south of Quito, Cotopaxi is a popular climbing challenge. However, a visit to the beautiful national park is still a fantastic trip, even if you don’t plan on summiting.
- Quilotoa: One of Ecuador’s most beautiful sites, this volcanic crater lake is unmissable. It’s also the start of one of South America’s most well-known treks, called the Quilotoa Loop.
- Tena: This is the budget traveler’s gateway to the Amazon Rainforest.
- Pasochoa: This dormant volcano is a popular hike about an hour and a half south of Quito.
Carley Rojas Avila is a bilingual New York-based travel writer, editor, content marketer, and the founder of the digital travel publications Explorers Away and Home to Havana. Carley is an expert on all things Latin America, the Caribbean, and Cuba, having lived and worked in four different countries in the region. Her writing has appeared on the Associated Press wires and in Travel + Leisure, Yahoo, MSN, Euronews, The Weather Channel, and more. When she's not writing about her travels, find her front row at a Bad Bunny concert, befriending street cats, and taste-testing every pizza in Havana.