Quito has become one of South America’s most popular tourist destinations, and for good reason! The city offers a perfect blend of colonial architecture, indigenous culture, and modern amenities. It is also a great staging ground for daytrips into a broad set of visitor sites. Located 9,350 feet (2,850 meters) above sea level, making it the second highest capital city in the world. It boasts many parks and plazas with breathtaking views, courtesy of the surrounding mountains and volcanoes of the Andes.

The Metropolitan District of Quito extends beyond the immediate area surrounding the capital of Ecuador, which happens to be the country’s second most populous city. The district encompasses a wide range of sites that includes picturesque towns and neighborhoods, offering a fair amount of unique things to do in Quito.

Plaza Grande

Daytrips from Quito

Quito occupies a privileged location, close to several unique places where visitors can take part in a wide array of activities.

The Middle of the World Monument

This is where you can famously stand on the Equator line. The Middle of the World Monument is one of Ecuador’s most popular tourist attractions. Located just on the northern outskirts of Quito, it marks where the equatorial line crosses through South America.

Various activities are available to visitors here. They include the Intiñán Museum and a planetarium! The monument is also surrounded by lush gardens and hiking trails, making it a perfect place to spend a day exploring Ecuador’s natural beauty. There is even a place nearby where you can enjoy a zipline activity.

Middle of the World Monument

Pululahua Geobotanical Reserve

If you’re looking for an off-the-beaten-path adventure, Pululahua Geobotanical Reserve is the perfect destination. This extinct volcano crater northwest of Quito has become a lush reserve, a haven for hiking enthusiasts, and a terrific spot for overnight camping. Sustainable tourism is essential to the reserve, and plenty of activities keep visitors busy. From hiking and bird watching to horseback riding and camping, there’s something for everyone.


Cotopaxi National Park

If you’re looking for an adventure, Cotopaxi National Park is the perfect destination. Home to the world’s tallest active volcano, Cotopaxi is a mecca for trekking and climbing enthusiasts. Sustainable tourism is also vital to this park’s ecosystems, and plenty of eco-friendly adventure options are available. So whether you’re looking to summit a volcano or explore a new culture, Cotopaxi National Park should be right near the top of your list.


Pasochoa Wildlife Reserve

A short drive from Quito lies the Pasochoa Wildlife Reserve, a mountainside paradise for any nature enthusiast. This spot is perfect for birdwatching and hiking. The reserve is home to over 100 different species of birds, including colorful hummingbirds and majestic eagles. But the nature sightings don’t stop there; the reserve is also home to Andean deer, wild rabbits, and foxes. With so much to see and do, the Pasochoa Wildlife Reserve is conveniently located and ideal for escaping the hustle and bustle of the city.

Papallacta Hot Springs

Papallacta’s marvelous hot springs are home to various spas and hotels that have become a staple of relaxation for many people in Quito. The natural thermal pools offer a relaxing atmosphere, and the views of the surrounding mountains are simply beautiful. There are swimming and soaking pools to choose from all over this small, hilly, and dreamy town, so you’ll be sure to find the perfect one! Whether you want to relax in the warm water or plunge into a refreshingly cold pool, there’s something for everyone. Papallacta is an ideal spot if you’re looking to unwind and relax. You won’t be disappointed!

Papallacta Hot Springs


Otavalo is a small city in northern Ecuador, famous for its market. The Otavalo Market is one of South America’s largest and most vibrant markets, and it is a popular destination for locals and tourists and a great place to find traditional Ecuadorian crafts. These include hand-woven textiles and wooden carvings. It is also an excellent place to purchase produce and other goods at lower prices than in Quito. The market is particularly lively on Saturdays when many people come from all over the region to shop and trade. Otavalo is a very satisfying place to experience traditional Ecuadorian culture and to find some unique souvenirs.

Otavalo Market

Mashpi Lodge

It is rather mindboggling that the lion’s share of the Mashpi Reserve is contained within Quito’s Metropolitan Area. To find such a pristine biodiversity hotspot so close to a capital city is nothing short of incredible. This is like having the Great Smoky Mountains National Park (the most biologically diverse U.S. National Park) located just a short distance from the metropolis of Chicago.

Adventurers and nature-lovers alike will find plenty to love at Mashpi Lodge. Visitors can explore the reserve’s many hiking trails, take in the amazing views from the lodge’s Sky Bike and Dragonfly Canopy Gondola, or even go on a night walk to explore the nocturnal activity along a shallow riverbed. The reserve is home to an incredible variety of wildlife, including jaguars, ocelots, monkeys, sloths, and around 500 species of birds. And, with its mix of cloud forest and rainforest habitats, there is always something exciting to see.

Can Mashpi be a day tour? Does it offer any of its activities to non-guests?

Mashpi is such an amazing destination, however, it is not designed to accommodate day tours. To guarantee visitors a full and worthwhile experience, activities are only available to overnight guests of the lodge.

Whether you’re looking for an exciting adventure or a relaxing nature retreat, Mashpi Lodge is a rainforest hotel like no other! We recommend you visit this unique lodge at the front end of your visit to Ecuador. There are a couple of reasons for this.

First, keep in mind that Quito is located high in the Andes. Altitude can therefore be a factor. One way to avoid any possible altitude sickness, is to arrive in Quito and head to a nearby, lower, and more comfortable altitude until your body acclimates. Mashpi Lodge is located at 3,117 feet (950 meters) above sea level. It is an ideal spot for getting your body accustomed to the elevation.

After spending two, three, or four high-quality and activity-filled days at Mashpi Lodge, you’ll be ready to explore even more of what Ecuador has to offer. Quito’s Old Town is the perfect next stop along your journey.

Mashpi Lodge

Activities within Quito

Adventure awaits around every corner in Quito. From exploring the colonial streets of Old Town to taking in the view from El Panecillo Hill, there are endless activities to keep visitors entertained. There are plenty of museums and art galleries to explore for those interested in a more cultural experience. And for those who prefer to travel off the beaten path, there are plenty of exciting options. Whether you’re looking for an adventure or a chance to relax and soak up the local flavors, Quito has something for everyone.

El Panecillo

El Panecillo is a hill located in the center of Quito with stunning views of the city both to the north and to the south. The hill is home to a large statue of the Virgin Mary, which was built in 1976. Though located close to the Old Town, it is best to hire a driver or local tour guide to take you to the top of this delightful hill from which you can enjoy amazing panoramic views of Quito. On a clear day, you can even see volcanic peaks in the distance. A visit to El Panecillo will also offer you a chance to learn a little about the city’s history and culture.

El Panecillo

La Ronda

La Ronda is a traditional colonial-style street located in Quito’s Historic Center—a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The street is lined with colorful houses, many of which have been converted into cafes and shops. La Ronda is a great place to grab a bite to eat or pick up some authentic souvenirs of Quito. It is also located within walking distance of several museums, including El Museo de la Ciudad (The City Museum), where you can learn about Quito’s rich history and the figures that shaped the city as we know it today.

La Ronda


Ecuadorian food features a delicious blend of indigenous and Spanish influences. Quito is the perfect place to try traditional dishes like ceviche, empanadas, and llapingachos. And, if you have a sweet tooth, there are plenty of amazing desserts, some of which you may not find anywhere else! Also, get ready to try some of the most amazing bread you’ll eve taste!

Quito is home to several bakeries featuring delicious pastries, desserts, and an assortment of panes typically sold as single servings, and which are very affordable. Quito is also a great place to try local fruits and vegetables. Many of Quito’s restaurants offer views of the city, making them the perfect spot to enjoy a meal while taking in the sights or doing a little people watching.

Restaurant Casa Gangotena food brunch

Where to Stay in Quito

Quito has become the perfect staging ground for forays into the nearby natural areas of the Ecuadorian Andes, and the adventure begins in the city’s immediate surroundings. It is also not at all uncommon to stay on the outskirts of town and visit the city proper as part of a day tour.

If, for instance, this is something that interests you, we recommend chatting with a destination expert about your different options. Depending on how much time you have, it may ultimately be better to visit a destination just outside of Quito, but within its Metropolitan District, such as the aforementioned Mashpi Lodge, and then focus on exploring Quito and other surrounding areas after a few days in the lush rainforest.

Of course, Quito has plenty of terrific accommodations available to visitors. For a more relaxed atmosphere, we recommend staying in Quito’s Old Towna UNESCO World Heritage Site—, which offers the added benefit of being relatively close to everything the city offers. It is a part of town with many gorgeous and curious colonial-style buildings, cobblestone streets and sidewalks, and unique shops, cafés, museums, and churches.

And the views are just spectacular, so definitely check out San Francisco Plaza, where you’ll find our sister hotel, the award-winning Casa Gangotena Boutique Hotel! Check out this blog to discover even more activities and expand your list of things to do in Quito. (Be sure to ask your destination expert about any available discounts there for guests of Mashpi Lodge.)

Hotel Casa Gangotena

With so much to see and do, Quito is an ideal destination for any vacation. And, when paired with an exciting rainforest lodge, like Mashpi, it is even more captivating and satisfying! A city that enables you to stay in its periphery or in its very center, while offering a generous array of exciting activities and nearby points of interest, is a destination worth exploring to its fullest.

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Just a plain, brown bird…
(House Wren: Troglodytes aedon)

By: Néstor Paladines

Plain, brown and with an effervescent call, the House Wren is a common backyard bird found across the Western Hemisphere. Listen for its rush-and-jumble song in summer as it zips through shrubs and low tree branches, snatching insects. House Wrens in Mashpi live around the Life Center garden and you can hear their energetic calls throughout the day, all as you enjoy the forest view from the deck.

Handling wild animals

 By: Juan Carlos Narváez

Mashpi is a reserve rich in biodiversity. Here, one can go for a walk and come across an impressive number of different species, from beautiful birds, gentle mammals to even the most fearsome of beasts. In this wonderful environment, our research team encounters an entire universe to study.

A week ago, we ran into some of the most menacing snakes that inhabit the reserve: the Chocoan Bushmaster (Lachesis acrochorda), Anchor Coral Snake (Microrus ancoralis) and the Ecuadorian Toad-Head (Bothrocophia campelii).




These snakes play a vital role in the ecosystem. They hunt small forest vertebrates and help maintain a balance between populations. We were able to capture them temporarily to study their behavior and build on the photographic record we have of the species. Afterwards, we released them.


Forest calls that make us sit up…

By: Anderson Orozco

In the cloud forest, every sound serves a purpose. Some animals emit a particular sound when there is a predator nearby, while other animals sing to woo their partners. A couple of days ago, while walking back from the Hummingbird Garden, an alarming noise stopped us in our tracks. It was made by two Moss-Backed Tanagers (Banqsia edwarsi).

When these birds feel threatened due to the presence of a predator, they emit a piercing alert call.


Upon closer observation, we noticed that there was another species producing a shrill sound among the Tanagers. It was an Andean pygmy owl (Glaucidium jardinii), a species of diurnal owl that feeds on insects and small birds. While owls are generally known as birds with special adaptations to hunt in the dark, these little owls are proof that there are also diurnal hunters among owl species.





Mutualism at its best
Zeledon’s Antbird (Hafferia zeledoni)

By: Néstor Paladines

Ants are known for their tendency to take on anything that stands in their path.

When millions of army ants swarm through the forest, they consume every insect, spider and lizard they come across. Naturally, any animal that hears the ants coming (and they’re very loud) runs the other way.

To capitalize on this, flocks of antbirds will track the army ants as they travel through the forest, prey on insects and other small animals trying to escape, and feed on whatever is left after the ants come through.

Antbirds and army ants enjoy a mutualistic relationship: antbirds benefit from the army ants, but the army ants neither benefit nor are harmed by the ant birds.


An Anteater Pays a Visit to the Laboratory

By: Anderson Medina

One afternoon while I was reading in the laboratory, I suddenly saw some movement outside the window. I got a bit closer to see what it was, and to my utter surprise, I was suddenly face-to-face with a beautiful anteater (Tamandua mexicana), just two metres away from the laboratory! In the heat of the moment, I was so excited that the only thing I could think of doing was to take out my phone to try to capture how it would react.

When it saw that I was getting closer, it tried to move away – maybe it thought that I was a predator that was going to hurt it. But, of course, I would never be capable of harming such an exquisite little animal!

The anteater is a species that can be as active in the day as it is at night. It feeds on termites or, as its name would suggest, on ants. It has claws that are well-developed that allow it to penetrate ant and termite nests, capturing the insects that are inside with its long and viscous tongue.

These animals are in danger of extinction due to their lack of defences. What’s more, they walk clumsily, leaving a trampled path through the forest. There are people who take advantage of how slow they are, capturing them to put them in zoos or to keep as pets, taking them far away from their natural habitats.


The Colours of Ecuador’s Cloud Forest

By: Juan Carlos Narváez and Wilfrido Basantes

Like the most romantic of watercolours and the most vibrant of oils, Mashpi, the Ecuador cloud forest reserve, is awash with colour: every leaf a different shade of green, each feather of every bird a new hue, the frogs, the snakes, and the butterflies bringing flashes of light and brilliance.

The rainbow pallet found here is the result of pigments and structural colours. Pigments are materials that absorb and selectivity reflect light, and the distinct colours are determined according to their level of depth. Structural colours, on the other hand, are produced by the interference of light reflected along the surface of fine structures, so that the light reflected by certain angles adds to or saturates them, creating the different colours.

For this reason, the ability to appreciate structural colours depends on the angle from which they are seen. A clear example of this in the Ecuadorian cloud forest are the wings of hummingbirds, where miniscule structures within the feathers reflect the different colours of these amazing birds.

A hummingbird in the Ecuador cloud forest

However, in a single blink of the eye, their colours can seem to change, to diminish, and even to turn black.

A hummingbird feeds in the Ecuador cloud forest

That is the fundamental difference with pigments that, in spite of the angle or the light conditions under which they are seen, their colours stay the same, even at night.

The colours of Ecuador’s cloud forest have inspired creativity in artists of all kinds. Here, we ask them how many greens they counted on a visit to Mashpi.

“I saw three million, but my daughter, whose sight is better, counted more.” Alberto Montt

“I wasn’t counting but the vast green you see all around is just magnificent, it has such a calming and connecting effect on you.” Carla Torres

“I didn’t even think about counting them, it would be an infinite challenge.” Susana Oviedo 

A beautifully coloured frog in the Ecuador cloud forest

The Spiny Devil

By: Juan Carlos Narváez

During our night walks, we sometimes come across this scary-faced creature, its feet covered in spikes. This is the longhorn grasshopper (Tettigoniidae). Believe it or not, it is innocuous, its sharp jaws used to cut the leaves that it feeds on (rather than anything more malicious). Its strong feet allow it to leap.

A scary-looking grasshopper found in the Ecuador cloud forest

Throughout the day, this little critter stays hidden among branches and under leaves, perfectly camouflaged. To communicate with others, it has special organs with which it can make loud sounds. A defining characteristic of this kind of grasshopper is that its antennae are twice as long as its whole body.