Quito, the city on the equator in the country named for the equator. So imagine our surprise when we arrived and found it to be chilly and overcast! It turns out, Quito is at the foot of a volcano and around 9,000 feet in the air. Summer here is short, and the rest of the year has lots of rain. Not quite what we were expecting!
Most hostels in Quito are in the old part of the city or Mariscal, an upscale neighborhood with lots of clubs, discotechs, and fine restaurants surrounding Plaza Foch. We chose Mariscal because we knew the most about the area, but hostels in the old part of the city will be cheaper most likely. Quito is long and narrow, with almost two million inhabitants in the city alone, let alone suburbs. We arrived in Quitumbe, the southern bus terminal, and traveled about 40 minutes by taxi (12 USD in the afternoon) to Mariscal, which is near the center of the city. Our first evening was spent wandering Plaza Foch, looking for food. It is a little pricey in the plaza, but the food is great.
The next morning we chilled at the hostel, which was 10 USD per person a night, then went to the Teleferico. Although the teleferico is also in the center of the city lengthwise, it is on the opposite side of Mariscal, at the base of the volcano, and with all the winding, one-way streets took about 20 minutes to get to by taxi, or around 5.50 USD. The teleferico is a cable car that rides about 20 minutes to an observation point about halfway up the volcano. On a good day, you can see clear across the valley and even past a few hills in the north to other cities. There are horse trails, hiking trails, and a small chapel and café at the top. Twenty minutes in a cable car one-way is actually a long time, but it was safe and usually highly populated on the weekends by tourists and locals alike. Keep in mind that at the top you are about 10,000 feet above sea level, so it is common to by out of breath. We didn’t stay too long because it was significantly colder and windier there than the city, which was good because my altitude sickness usually kicks in at about 10,000 feet.
Our second full day in Quito was spent going up to Otavalo. We had debated on whether to spend a night there, but the hostel owners said there wasn’t much up there and it was only worth a day trip. I would probably agree with that. It is a good two-hour ride up to Otavalo from Quitio’s northern bus terminal, which was a 30-minute city bus ride from Mariscal. Tickets were cheap, only 2.50 USD per person one-way. Although the large market is held on Saturday and Sunday, there is usually a good turnout on Wednesdays, which is when we went. Most vendors in the plaza sell woven blankets or clothing as well as leather workings. I went looking for a dress to buy, but we ended up buying a leather hat for Jordan. He had his eye on one for a while, and since we were going to go to the Amazon shortly, we thought it was a good purchase. It can be difficult to bargain with the vendors, and one person said not to expect them to go down more than three dollars. The hat salesman started at 28 dollars, I started at 15 dollars, and we settled on 19 USD. I think that’s a good a deal as anyone can expect.
By the time we got back to Quito, it was nightfall and we shamelessly went to the movie theater to watch Tomorrowland. Sometimes you just need something relatively familiar. And because it was subtitled in Spanish, it can be good language practice.
Our last day in Quito, June 4th, Sarah Ann spent sick. Jordan and I went on the free walking tour of the old city. It begins at 10:20 am at Community Hostel every morning and lasts close to three hours. I would guess we walk three to four kilometers. We decided to use public transportation in getting there, the streamlined city bus, and got separated from each other for about ten minutes because the doors closed too soon. However, this has happened to us before, so there was no panicking, and we found each other about 10 minutes later and resumed our trip.
The walking tour was pretty good. We walked past the oldest churches in the city, saw the old central bank, and got to try Ecuadorian candy. Above is the Gothic cathedral of Quito. Besides the tall towers, it stands out because none of the other old buildings are in Gothic style–usually people either love it or hate it.
Jordan stands in the main plaza of the old part of the city, with the Quito cathedral behind him. This square was the site of the first independence movement in 1812. To the right is the presidential palace, where the current president does not live because it is hard to secure entrances/exits to. Quito built upon the ruins of an Incan city, and the name “Quito” comes from one of the indigenous tribes in the area.
We ended our time in Quito that day by hopping on an overnight bus to Lago Agrio (from Quitumbe, the southern bus terminal) for 12 USD apiece, where we would begin our four-day Amazon trip!