Ahhh Quito, Ecuador. Unlike most travelers who come to Quito, we weren’t simply passing through on our way to the Galapagos. (We’re saving that for another trip.) Quito is a destination in it’s own right – huge and old and special for it’s history and character.
After a somewhat harrowing cab ride into town from the airport (this seems to be a common theme of our trip) we arrived at an AirBNB in the Old Town part of Quito, a UNESCO World Heritage site. Here comes the small details: First, our view of Old Town was incredible.
Second, the building, like the town, was very old. As part of being so old, didn’t have windows or doors that sealed very well. This isn’t a problem from a weather point of view – despite being at roughly 10,000 feet, Quito also lies about 25km south of the equator, so the temperate year round is fairly steady at 65F/19C year round. It was, however, a problem from a light and sound point of view. Quito – at least, the Old Town – gets up very early. The sun rises at 6:15AM but even before that there are lots of dogs barking, roosters crowing, car alarms unchecked, and church bells ringing. (Old Town has 40 churches). We were both up by 7AM every day.
This schedule, while somewhat disorienting for late sleepers like us, turned out to be alright. We were able to do and see more in the mornings and get to bed early, as the district we’re in wasn’t exactly renowned for it’s safety at night. That said, I think it will be a while before either Maja or I become morning people.
Further, being up on a hill meant that every trip out of the house meant a real hike to return home. Although we had some time to acclimate to the high altitude in Bogotá, we were still winded the first few days every time we returned from anywhere.
Speaking of going out, here’s some highlights of the stuff we did in Quito, in no particular order.
After trying unsuccessfully to sleep in, we grabbed a quick, delicious coffee from a cute cafe down the hill from us and decided to check out the city from above, like we did in Bogotá. Quito has something it calls a “TelefériQo”, a gondola which takes you up to the Cruz Loma lookout, next to the Pichincha Volcano. While the ride itself had lots of good views, being at the top was pretty majestic. It was about 3,000 feet above Quito, meaning it was roughly 13,000 feet above sea level. If you’re thinking “This must cause altitude sickness,” you are correct. Luckily it wasn’t so bad for us, though Maja had a headache that was quickly dispatched by some Coca Tea. If you’re thinking “That sounds like it has cocaine in it,” you are also correct. (It’s been over a week and she’s still occasionally saying “we gotta get some more of that coca tea…”)
It was a fun experience! Apparently we lucked out because the clouds were soaring just above our heads but luckily not so low as to block our view of the city. It was a really surreal feeling, knowing that you’re standing on ground which is higher than when you’re normally allowed to take off your seatbelt on a plane.
In the center of Old Town lies the Plaza Grande, which we walked through many times. It features the President’s house on one side, the oldest hotel in Quito on the other, the Archbishop’s Palace, and some other stuff that was less important. Most important, however, was the monument in the center, to the Heroes of August 10, 1809, the fine people who made Ecuadorian independence happen.
Something fun I didn’t know: Ecuador was the first South American colony to gain independence from Spain, and as such earned the nickname “The Light of South America”.
Walking Tour of Old Town / Calle de la Ronda
We took a great free walking tour of old town that took us to a bunch of cool spots we wouldn’t have otherwise seen, like Calle de la Ronda, the “bohemian” area of Old Town with lots of cute shops and restaurants, and the central market, full of super colorful fruits and locals and smells and flavors. Highly recommended.
Iglesia de la Compañia de Jesus
There were lots of churches and super old buildings in Quito, but this one really takes the cake. Inside (“No fotos, señor!”) everything is covered in GOLD. I mean, look at this place. I know those bible stories don’t all stick, but I think we can all remember when Jesus said “Build me a church made of solid gold! Gold is best!” (It was in Deuteronomy, natch).
Anyway, this place took 160 years to build, which means all of the people who started building it died before it finished. BAD ASS.
Parque La Carolina
We took a day to explore the north part of town – the modern, normal part of Quito. It was modern and normal. There was a huge mall (“Quicentro”) with lots of ridiculously overpriced cell phones. (Well, maybe not for Quito, but compared to the USA – YEP).
The best part was walking through Parque La Corolina, a big park in the center of business district. This park had everything. A Dinosaur exhibit, a dirt bike track, weird statues, cool snack vendors, you name it. After so many days of hanging out in the old town, it was nice to reconnect with regular, modern life.
We took a day in Quito to do nothing really. We sat around and read books and caught up on internet stories and we tried to order pizza but that didn’t work so we went out and got a little dinner somewhere unremarkable. Overall it was a great day.
Jesús del Gran Poder
Although we didn’t specifically plan it, we were lucky enough to be in Quito on Good Friday. This is lucky because Quito has the second largest Good Friday March, or “Jesús del Gran Poder” in the world (Seville holds the largest). The march features “Cucuruchos”, people dressed in purple garb and coned headwear, often carrying crosses or other uncomfortable jesus-related paraphernalia, sometimes without shirts, whipping themselves. It’s all very weird, but it’s also very traditional. It was quito a sight to behold.
Overall, our time in Quito was well-enjoyed. After staying 5 days, we were happy to get out and move on to the next destination – Lima, Peru!