After a fairly seamless yet lengthy day of travel we have finally made it to Quito, a city that will literally take your breath away. Okay, too early for cliches? There is nothing better when you arrive to a large new city at midnight than being picked up by a friendly face and Diolo was that for us ($20 from the new airport - old airport is closed- to Mariscal). What a warm welcome to Quito and with Josh's rumbling stomach, he even let us stop for food!
We decided to stay in the neighbourhood of Mariscal which is a very trendy area with a lot of shops and cafes. We might have preferred el Centro (old town) with its beautiful buildings and quirky artsy streets but we found the prices more economical in Mariscal ($40 Airbnb suite). Our suite was in a beautiful converted home that has been in Beatriz's family since it was built and it gave us the perfect opportunity to explore Quito.
Although we arrived weary and hungry at midnight our mood quickly improved upon meeting the dynamic Beatriz who was eager to help us plan an itinerary and to have us meet Hope and Jason who currently live in Vancouver. Staying with Beatriz we learned quickly that nothing makes her happier than bringing people together. We debated about accompanying our fellow Canadians on a trip to Otovalo the next day (noteworthy market on Saturdays) but as morning came and the altitude hit us, we decided to have a more tranquilo day.
Josh and I have spent some time in colonial cities in Mexico and have always had a fondness for town squares or plazas and found our passion renewed in Ecuador. We started there and did a bit of an independent walking tour to some of the top sites although we later discovered that there is a free tour starting at 10:30am Mon-Fri (see under attractions on TripAdvisor) and I think this would have been enjoyable. Seeing so much history makes you crave knowledge and I felt that we were lacking in specific information about each site.
Sights we recommend in el Centro:
1) Iglesia de la Compania de Jesus was spectacular with its gold altars and beautiful columns. It was built by the Jesuits in the 1600s and is considered one of the best examples of baroque architecture in South America and the most beautiful church in the country by many. It is the most expensive church at $4 a person.
* not allowed photos
2) The Centro Cultural Metropolitana was a highlight to wander through and see the various exhibits featuring sculptures, paintings, and interactive art displays.
It's rich in history itself from a pre-Hispanic site of a palace to murder scene of revolutionaries and is a beautifully restored building. After seeing the pouring rain outside we hunkered down for a cafe americano at Diosoplay and enjoyed the people watching in the small plaza.
3) Plaza Grande - I loved the experience of overlooking the square with everyone bustling around accomplishing one thing or another with the dramatic scenery of colonial churches and presidential buildings all around. Most taxi drivers will drop you off here and it's the perfect place to start your tour.
4) Plaza de San Francisco is a nice sight to see with its cobbled stones and backdrop of the Iglesia de San Francisco and monastery which we did not endevour to see but have heard good reviews.
5) Calle la Ronda is an amazing street full of quirky artistic shops and cafes.
Music resonates from street performers and the eateries all joining to create a pleasant cacophony of music and excitement. We would have loved to spend more time here and would highly recommend spending an evening having dinner or drinks. Security is no problem as there are many police officers around.
6) La Basilica was literally breath taking.
The cost was $2 per person to go inside the church and another $2 to climb the tower. Seeing the inside was interesting with fantastic stainless glass windows however those travellers who have been inside many churches may not want to go inside.
Climbing the tower was my absolute favourite attraction in Quito as I love scenic views. If you have a fear of heights this may not be a good option as the ladder climb up was very steep (worse going down!).
Seeing the endless rows of colourful and characteristically Latin American homes with the back drop of the Virgen de Quito and the mountains was incredibly picturesque (see first photo).
We returned to Mariscal in the early evening and with more energy than we expected we headed to Plaza Foch which is a somewhat westernized tacky tourist square with many bars and restaurants. We actually had a lot of fun despite our reservations and we found the perfect hole in the wall place that offered 2 mojitos for $5. Despite being only a five minute walk away we taxied home due to the risk of muggings on any of the off streets near Plaza Foch. I'm not sure if this is exaggerated but for $1 taxi, there is no sense in taking the risk.
The next day we woke up earlier with a lot of ideas and plans failing to realize that Sunday in Quito is fairly mellow and many things are shut down (it is also a "dry day" so if alcohol is important to you, buy some at the supermarket the day before). Word to the wise: if Sunday is one of your days in Quito research which museums are open. For example we missed out on two top attractions, La Capilla del Hombre and Museo Guyasamin as a result of poor planning but we may see them if we return to Quito at the end of our trip.
We headed off to the Teleferico which is a fairly new attraction that takes you up a gondola for ten minutes so that you can access amazing sights of the sprawling city.
Unfortunately we were not lucky and our views were mostly obstructed by thick fog and we were unprepared for how cold it would be. Although we were chilled we did a small hike up and felt the effects of the altitude as we huffed and puffed.
I think this attraction would be amazing on a clear day and if you were prepared for the altitude and had proper hiking gear you can hike about 3 hours up to see the crater of Pichincha. It is only recommended to do this if you have already spent at least 2 days acclimating in Quito. Honestly, I would skip this attraction if its a cold and rainy day. I'm not saying we didn't enjoy the ride up but it is expensive for Ecuador ($8 per person) and we were unable to find a reasonable taxi back.
After realizing that the museums we wanted to see were closed we spent the rest of the day touring around el Centro and saw some of the sights listed previously. We arrived back to Mariscal early to meet Hope and Jason for dinner and we braved a quirky restaurant in Plaza Foch which was a disappointment to all of us. Despite the poor meal, it's like Hope said, "it's great to meet B.C friends in Ecuador!" The world can seem so small sometimes when traveling!
Off to Papallacta in the morning for some indulgence and relaxation!
A note about taxis:
Taxi rides should be on the meter during the day but are rarely at night. We simply negotiated the price before taking off instead of arguing about the meter. Taxi crime is rare but it does exist where you can be driven to another location and mugged. To prevent this, have your guesthouse or restaurant call a taxi or go to a legitimate taxi stand. If you have a cell phone it would be easy to call for a reputable company. Alternatively, if you need to hail a taxi on the street look for a taxi seguro ("safe taxi") sign on the vehicle near the driver's door and other things like the telltale security cameras and meter at the front. To be honest we mostly hailed taxis on the street and everyone was great. We ended up in a seemingly non regulated taxi once and although chances are that everything would be fine I was extra vigilant to watch where we were going and I hid some valuables on my person just in case.