Quito, Ecuador – Gateway To The Galapagos Islands

How To Get There

While one can certainly reach Quito by land, most tourists visiting it will fly to its international airport – airport code UIO.  It receives direct, non-stop flights not only from cities in several neighboring countries, such as Lima, Peru and Bogota, Colombia, but also from North American hubs, such as Miami, Houston, Atlanta and Toronto.  And from Europe, cities such as Madrid and Amsterdam also offer direct flights to Ecuador’s capital.

Flights to the Galapagos depart from Quito, usually stopping in Guayaquil to pick-up more passengers, before continuing to the Islands. Then, after an adventure in the Galapagos, flights return to Quito or Guayaquil, to connect with the international flights home (usually overnight) or onwards elsewhere in South America.

Hotels in Quito

Upon arrival passengers are usually driven approximately 1.5 hours to a hotel in the city center.  But if the flight arrives late or they’re not seeing the city, they can take advantage of the convenient airport hotel, just around the corner – a short shuttle ride away.  The hotels in this fantastic UNESCO World Heritage City – UNESCO’s first – range from hostels, to comfortable 3*, tourist-class hotels, to first-class or 4* options, and finally, local and international luxury, 5* properties.

As with most major capital cities, the styles range from local, Ecuador, older or colonial, to more modern or boutique.  Quality and service vary, of course, but if staying in at least tourist-superior (3*+) or first-class (4*) accommodation, it’s usually on par with that found in North America and Europe. For a more rural or local experience, you can stay at haciendas outside the city, as part of your visits to the countryside and markets, such as around Cayambe and Otavalo.

Quito, Ecuador - Gateway To The Galapagos Islands Ideal South America

Weather & Climate

Although altitude related issues are less likely to be experienced here than in Cuzco, Peru, Quito is still at a significantly high enough elevation to affect some – 9,350 feet above sea level (2,850 masl).  Take it easy that first day and night.  And even though it’s on the equator – that’s how the country gets its name – it’s not “tropical”.  Sure, the equatorial sun is quite strong, especially being up in the mountains.  But temperatures are fairly moderate, hovering mostly in the 58-72 F (14-22 C) range throughout the year, sometimes dropping to 47 F (8 C) at night.  Its sunniest days are from June to September, which also co-incides with lower rainfall.  Officially the wet season if from October to May, which is “summer” in Ecuador.

But keep in mind, even though the seasons are “reversed” in South America, they don’t really compare to what is typically experienced in Northern climates, such as in Europe or North America.  It’s more about dry versus wet (season), rather than summer, spring, winter and fall.  So dress in layers, including a light rain jacket and/or umbrella … and don’t forget a hat, sunglasses and sunblock!  The weather in Quito and its surroundings can turn on a dime, potentially changing several times a day within these ranges.

Quito, Ecuador - Gateway To The Galapagos Islands Ideal South America

Quito & Surroundings – Otavalo, Cotopaxi & Papallacta

The classic Quito city tour includes not only a visit to its historical center, but also to the world-famous middle of the world monument.  There is still debate as to where exactly the actual equatorial line is, with some people saying it’s located in another area entirely, some miles away.  But viewed as a symbolic experience, why not just embrace it and snap a photo here?!  There is also an interesting museum, inside the main structure – Inti Nan – with cultural exhibits representing the country’s natural, geographic and ethnic diversity.  If they have some free time in the city, art fans should stop by the Guayasamin museum, dedicated to Ecuador’s most famous painter.


The markets at Otavalo, about two hours drive outside of Quito, are some of best known indigenous markets across the continent.  Here you can bargain for locally produced goods, with the colorful textiles and clothing being the most famous.  Although many tourists come for a day visit – on a tour from Quito, considering spending a bit more time in this part of the Andes and stay in one of the nearby haciendas overnight.

Quito, Ecuador - Gateway To The Galapagos Islands Ideal South America


They don’t call Ecuador the land of the volcanoes for nothing.  The Galapagos Islands are practically all volcanic, with frequent but thankfully mild eruptions.  It’s still active out there!  And even with its great geographic diversity, mainland Ecuador is quite volcanic as well.  The “spine” of the country boasts the Avenue of Volcanoes, including Chimborazo, which at one time was thought to be the highest mountain in the world – due to its equatorial location (greatest distance from center of earth).   And then there’s Cotopaxi.

Often referred to as Ecuador’s highest active volcano, Cotopaxi is conveniently located just an hour or so outside Quito and is typically visible from parts of the capital, on clear days.  Despite the effects of global warming, you can still find it snow-capped during colder, rainier months. And yes, it’s still truly active, having erupted most recently in August 2015.  A tour of the surrounding National Park is the way to go, offering you not only a closer view of the peak, but also excellent walking among interesting flora and fauna.  Consider having lunch at the Tambopaxi lodge, for fabulous views of Cotopaxi.  Or stopping by the Limpiopungo lagoon – on clear days you can see an eye-popping reflection of the peak.

Quito, Ecuador - Gateway To The Galapagos Islands Ideal South America


Just over a hour outside of Quito and even closer to the airport, the thermal hot springs at Papallacta offer a healthy, relaxing and welcome relief from cool mountain nights.  Volcanoes are part of this mix as well, supplying the locales and complexes with natural mineral rich hot mountain waters.  The main hotel complex there is fabulous and in addition to its very special, reasonably priced spa area, boasts many excellent walking and hiking trails.  Local nature guides can join you, to enchance your understanding of the flora and fauna – and show you the best places to walk – but they are usually Spanish speaking only.  Might be worth hiring a professional, English-speaking guide for the day!

Depending on your particular itinerary, visiting here can be a fabulous way to either start your trip – if you’re flying down from the cold North America Winter – or end it – decompress, before returning home.  But keep in mind it is at a quite high altitude – 10,830 feet (3,330 meters) above sea level.  For this reason, if you want to experience it before flying to the Galapagos, it would be better to spend a day or two at least in lower altitude Quito.

Quito, Ecuador - Gateway To The Galapagos Islands Ideal South America

Panama Hats

Did you realize the classic “Panama” Hat actually originated in Ecuador?  And within Ecuador, many say they originated in the South of the country, around Cuenca.  They became famous to world during the building of the Panama Canal, hence the moniker.  US President Theodore Roosevelt brought further attention to them, as he is often seen wearing one, along side Canal workers, during photos ops.  Ernest Hemingway also liked the hats, often photographed wearing them on one of his many fishing trips or visits to Cuba.  Although the local people from the Otavalo area have their own type of hats, you can find a wide variety of the real, authentic Ecuadorian Panama Hats while shopping at Otavalo, as well as in shops in Quito.  Best get a local recommendation on where to go, so you don’t overpay and arrive back home with a knock-off.

Quito, Ecuador - Gateway To The Galapagos Islands Ideal South America

Top Quito Restaurants

Unsurprisingly, the country’s capital has its best restaurants.  Here a few recommendations:

  • URKO Cocina Locale
  • La Gloria
  • El Theatrum
  • Zazu
  • Casa Gangotena
  • Pims
  • Ventanal