Hola, que tal? So you have arrived high up in the thin air of the crow’s nest in the Andes right at the centre of the globe. Whether you have arrived to Quito, Ecuador enjoying the spectacular views on a plane or on the sick inducing hairpin roads you can almost feel the air is thinner. I spent 2months living in Quito so hopefully my knowledge can help you out a little on your stay.
At 2800mtrs Quito is one of the highest cities in the world and is built in between spectacular peaks and volcanoes. Despite Quito being virtually on the equator, 3 snow capped peaks are visible from the city without any problems and sitting like Zeus in its chair looking down on the city is the volcano Pichincha which is still very active (and there is a teleferico to its sibling beside it!). In 1999 it erupted and sent a smoke cloud 18km into the air above the city and covered Quito in several inches of ash. Luckily no lava emerged which would have been catastrophic for the city.
Time to Do: To do everything in this post, except the Cotopaxi part, would take a minimum of 2 days but 3 would be more compfortable. If you intend to climb Cotopaxi this will take a weekend.
The level of English in Quito is not very good except in the tourist areas (La Mariscal) and even then it may not be that good. Life is much easier even if you have only a very basic grasp of the critical phrases such as ‘that is too expensive’ and ‘where is the nearest bar/bank machine’! See below for more translations. Ecuadorian Spanish is one of the best to learn as they speak clearly and it does not have so much of an accent compared to other countries. That makes Quito a great spot to learn if you have time which you can alternate with the trips outlined below!
Things to do in Quito – Old City (Centro Historico) (UNESCO World Heritage Site)
The largest old city in the America’s with oodles of churches, plazas, monasteries etc all in the centre of Quito. The city which was founded in this area in 1534 by the Spanish, after being deliberately burned by the Ecuadorians, and is now packed with locals and tourists alike as they try and get their jobs for the day done.
It is a great spot to walk around and admire the narrow streets, handicrafts, houses and enjoy the relaxing plazas when the altitude gets too much. Even if you are only browsing the historic buildings from the outside it’s a pleasant experience.
There is plenty to see and you could spend a week if you wanted to see everything but these are the main highlights and can be seen in a day
- Plaza Grande (Plaza de la Independencia) and Plaza de San Francisco: The centre pieces of the old town are nicely decorated and well kept and contain cafes to soak in the historic buildings and benches in the shade to get out of the strong midday sun. The Church of San Francisco oversees the latter plaza
- Iglesia de Compania de Jesus: The church is regarded as one of the most beautiful in Latin America so pay it a visit
- Calle La Ronda: This beautifully restored street is between the Trolley stop ‘Cumana’ on Avenue Pedro Vincent Maldonado and Avenue 24 de Mayo
- Museo de la Ciudad: Provides a good way to brush up on your history of Quito and Ecuador.
- El Virgin del Panecillo: This winged monument on the hill just south of the Old City gives a great view of the surrounding city whether you go during the night or day. If you go during the night take extra security precautions. It is a bit of a walk from Plaza Grande, approx 30min but a taxi is cheap and always an option. Depending on where you are staying, you could already have a great view of the city if on the edges on the mountains!
Things to do in Quito – La Mariscal
This is the tourist section of Quito and has everything from internet cafés, to salsa lessons, to learning Spanish, to climbing mountains to nightclubs. It is clean, has nice buildings and lots of accommodation. The only thing is that almost everything including the bars and restaurants are expensive and La Mariscal is not a fair representation of Quito as a whole. As you are a tourist it is the main place to organise trips, excursions, salsa or learning Spanish.
I even managed a bit of salsa myself there believe it or not. They gave us 5 free lessons with our Spanish lessons. I’m not sure I could have convinced myself to do it otherwise but it was very good fun as well as helping with my dance floor moves. I would highly recommend it even for the shyest of people. “Mas suave” was the abiding words I remember from my teacher!
- Climb Cotopaxi: This 5897mtr volcano is the second highest mountain in Ecuador and can be climbed over a weekend. It is about a 2hr drive outside Quito in Cotopaxi Volcano Park. This is a spectacular conical mountain that always has snow at the summit can be seen from Quito on a reasonably clear day. I must stress though that this is not an easy day hike even though you obviously start some way up the mountain. Quito is nearly at 3000mtrs and the refugio where you sleep is at 4800mtrs (higher than Mount Blanc) but it is still tough because of the altitude and the steepness of the slope. You do not need to be a mountaineer to do it but just in reasonable shape. In my case were 3 of us and although being in semi-reasonable shape had never climbed a mountain before and still managed it. Starting climbing at midnight to be at the summit for sunrise though takes its toll on anybody. A super experience though. I will also stress that make sure you spend at least a few days in Quito to acclimatise before attempting it as it is not possible regardless of fitness to go from sea level to nearly 6000mtrs in 2days. Fitness has no effect on altitude sickness and it can happen to anyone. There are several agencies in La Mariscal that will bring you to Cotopaxi and give you all your equipment (sleeping bags, boots, crampons, jackets, ice axe (yes you need one) etc). Prices are negotiable but expect to pay approx $400 including the guide, equipment, transport, food and accommodation.
- Mountain biking: Mountain biking can be done as part of a day or weekend trip (and up to 8days) from Quito and usually it is to Cotopaxi Volcano Park but can be done in several places. In the Cotopaxi tour with the mountain rising elegantly above a plain it is perfect to get dropped off in the car park at approx 4500mtrs on the side of the mountain and then take off down the dirt tracks back to the bottom. http://www.bikingdutchman.com/
Things to do in Quito – Teleferico
This is the second highest cable car in the world and ascends to 4000mts to Pichincha Volcano to give spectacular views of the city and the surrounding towering peaks. Hikes are possible to the 3 volcanic vents including Guagua Pichincha Volcano which is the active one,
The best way to get there is to take a taxi as the start is already up the mountain and on the edge of the city. All taxi drivers know the Teleferico.
Open Mon-Fri 9:00-18:00, Sat-Sun 9:00-20:00. Admission $9
Things to do in Quito – Mitad Del Mundo (Middle of the World)
About a 40minute meandering bus ride outside Quito is the equator and where the first measurements were taken to prove the world actually is round. The French in their wisdom built a huge monument on the site to mark the equator. The only problem is that it is in the wrong spot about 200mtrs from the actual equator! I accept they didn’t have GPS back then but apparently the native Indians had always said it was in the now correct location. This manufactured little town has museums, shops, café’s etc. The admission is $3
As well as seeing the monument and museum therein, one thing you must do is go to the actual equator as there is a very cool but weird looking Museo Sitio del Intinan. There are several experiments taken either side and on the equator that you really wouldn’t believe if they told you. Such as balancing an egg on a nail. Not easy 1mtr away from the equator but fairly easy on the equatorial line. Water draining down a sink etc etc. The entrance is 200mtrs away from the main entrance of Mitad del Mundo and the tour is 45min long and $2. Well worth it.
Pululahua Volcanic Crater is only 15min away from the Mitad Del Mundo and also well worth going to see. You will notice that the area around Mitad Del Mundo is very dry and desert like but only a few kilometres away is a huge crater (caused by a collapsed volcano and not a meteor like I thought!) that is teaming with life and farming activity. It has its own micro climate that allows enough moisture (mainly from fog/mist) for a whole world of wildlife in the cloudforest it holds. There are walks to do along by the crater rim as it is quite a way to the farmland and lava dome in the middle of the crater. There are no proper facilities at the crater and the easiest way to get there is by taxi from Mitad Del Mundo. Most guides will bring you past a blocked entrance on the rim which has a hole in the fence. There is a path already laid out and it provides great alternate views from the mirador. The price is as good as your haggling skills! Approx $6 return for the taxi.
Need to Know
To get there, a ‘Mitad del Mundo’ blue bus leaves Ofelia Bus Station (see map below) for $0,40 or alternatively you can catch it at ’18 de Septiembre’ and ‘Av America’.
Things to do in Quito – Map of Quito
|Plaza de la Independencia|
Plaza de la Independencia, Chile, Quito Canton, Pichincha, Ecuador
|Plaza and Church of San Franciso|
Plaza de San Francisco, Cuenca, Quito Canton, Pichincha, Ecuador
|Iglesia de Compania de Jesus|
Quito Canton, Pichincha, Ecuador
|Calle la Ronda|
Av. Pedro Vicentemaldonado, Quito Canton, Pichincha, Ecuador
|Museo de la Ciudad|
Museo de la Ciudad, Loja, Quito Canton, Pichincha, Ecuador
|El Virgen del Panecillo|
Quito Canton, Pichincha Centro Histórico, Ecuador
La Mariscal Craft Market, Quito Canton, Ecuador
Teleferiqo, Quito Canton, Pichincha, Ecuador
|Bus Terminal Ofelia|
Terminal de La Ofelia, Quito Canton, Pichincha, Ecuador
|Bus Terminal Carcelen|
Carcelen, Quito Canton, Pichincha, Ecuador
|Bus Terminal Quitumbe|
Quitumbe, Terminal Terrestre Quitumbe, Avenue Condor Nan, Quito Canton, Pichincha, Ecuador
Practicalities – About Quito
- Ecuador uses the US Dollar €1 = $1.30
- Language – Spanish. Local languages spoken in the jungle. English is spoken in tourist shops and for tours but not widely spoken.
- Flights- Quito and Guayaquil (on the coast) are the main cities and can be flow to from most cities in South America and from some further abroad.
- Internal flights are common and frequent especially between Quito and Guayaquil with LAN Ecuador (www.lan.com) and are a reasonable price. Approx $100 for a 1hr flight. The only other destination to fly to is Cuenca, the rest must be taken by bus.
- Accommodation – $25 per night for an average double room
- Population - 2.6million
Some Need to Know Spanish Translations
- Hello/goodbye/thank you/please: Hola/chao/gracias/por favor
- That is very expensive (when haggling!) : Esto es muy caro!
- Where is a good restaurant to eat?: Donde hay un buen restaurante para comer?
- Where is the bus station?: Donde esta la estacion de autobuses?
- Do you have one room for two people?: Tiene una habitacion para dos personas?