Quito is the capital of Ecuador and the highest elevated capital city in the world. The city is also one of the first World Cultural Heritage Sites declared by UNESCO in 1978. I have been to many UNESCO sites, so it was special to visit Quito. I am an approved Explorer Quotient Trainer for the Canadian Tourism Commission (CTC), and it’s good to be able to compare and contrast how cities manage their sites.
The first best practice for touring Ecuador is to be prepared for weather fluctuations. The temperature can be cold, then the clouds move and it’s hot and then it starts all over again. Your skin burns very quickly and I advise travelers to wear lots of sunscreen due to the high elevation in addition to the sun. Dress for all types of weather and invest in a telescopic umbrella for both sun and rain.
My first day as a new tourist began in the Mariscal area waiting for the hop on/hop off bus. Across the street from the pickup point was a park with lots of vendors, but I waited and waited and held off from shopping. There is lots of traffic in Quito, so do not expect the busses to arrive on time. There are two main tour operators; one is the double decker bus and the other a tram car. I chose the double decker. It was more affordable and I liked the comfortable seats and the city view from the upper deck. The tour starts at Carolina Park but you can embark at any stop and pay the driver. The two main stops for me were Old Town and Mirador de Panecillo. If you have limited time, these are the two stops I recommend to explore.
Old Town is filled with museums and churches, the Presidential Palace and the Plaza Santo Domingo. Grab a snack and take in the ambiance at the plaza with its musicians, performers, or an impromptu parade.
Mirador de Pancillo or Virgin of the Americas is a 45-metre-tall stone Madonna monument. She stands on a globe and a snake and uniquely dons angel wings in comparison to other wingless Madonna statues. The view from the monument of Quito is outstanding. While I was there, Indigenous peoples were celebrating a solstice. They passed around a very smelly root which they shared with onlookers. For your convenience, also on this site are bathrooms, craft stands and food vendors. The homemade orange juice was excellent.
If you are interested in dining out, an end stop of the bus tour could be the Plaza Foch. The restaurants in this area cater to tourists. However, as it is a touristy area, you should never walk alone past 6 pm. Taxis are inexpensive in Quito and it is better to be safe, even if you only have to walk a short distance. (Two ladies in our group experienced a mugging attempt two blocks from our hotel.)
Local cuisine is a must try for Quito. We dined at the restaurant, Anchiote. The food and the local beer were great. Another night we ate a more touristy restaurant as some in the group wanted to try the country’s national delicacy, the guinea pig or cuy. I did not order it but tasted a morsel from a friend’s plate. To me, it tasted like rancid fish. May be we had a bad batch. On the plus side, the musicians at the restaurant were very talented and added to the South American dining experience.
Many people visiting Quito are in transit to and from the Galapagos Islands. I met two other Canadians on a tour to the Middle of the Earth. It is good to get out of the city center and see the outskirts. Our first stop was Pululahua Geobotanical Reserve. The look off was a vista of farms surrounded by the mountains which were formed when the volcano imploded. Pululahua means “cloud of water” or fog. This low hanging fog is also captured for a water supply. At the reserve is row of souvenir shops. The prices were good here and the sellers were not pushy. I bought earrings and a matching necklace and cross over purses. In the parking lot, ladies walked around selling what looked like pink ice cream. I had to research it on line as the substance didn’t melt in the heat. It is called Espumillas, a popular Ecuadorian street food, the word espumilla means foam. It is made out of fruit pulp, typically guava or guayaba, egg whites and sugar. I missed my chance to try it, but I will if I ever return.
The next stop was the Intinan Museum. Here is where you will find the real equator line and middle of the earth. I really liked the complex and found the tour guides knowledgeable in communicating the Ecuadorian culture. Our tour started with the Solar Cylinder or “Acoratene” where we learned about how the sun and earth interacted and time zones. We then toured indigenous huts and got a lesson on the significance and the reasoning behind tribes shrinking heads. Then, at the magnetic line we had demonstrations of water flowing clockwise on one side of the equator, counter clockwise on the other and straight down when the basin was place on the equator line. After the demonstration we watched an Indigenous dancer. If you are travelling outside a tour group, I strongly suggest you spend more time here rather than the Middle of the Earth. I really enjoyed the museum and it was the highlight of my trip.
Our final stop was the Middle of the Earth. The best display is the Monument. Take the elevator to the top and view the countryside. Afterwards, the stairs lead you to various displays of Ecuador culture at each level leading to the bottom. There are many restaurants and souvenir shops as well at this stop.
The next day the weather was not on my side. A short walk from our hotel, I found the Mindelae Museum. It is an Ethno-historical Ecuadorian Crafts Museum. Each room had a display on the traditional crafts from the Andes and the Amazon. The majority of the displays are in Spanish, but it was very informative and great way to spend your time waiting for the weather to clear.
One final thing to do in Quito is to take the cable car ride. We hired a taxi that drove us to the site and walked up hill to the entrance. Take warning, that if you have walking and breathing issues, this is not the attraction for you. It is a hike from where you park the car to the entrance. For $8 US, the cable car took us the summit of Cruz Loma. At the top we saw the 14 peaks of the Andes, known as Volcanoes Avenue. The summit is great for hiking. We visited a small chapel and I said a little prayer. The cable car is also a must do when visiting Quito and a great way to end your trip.