The capital city of Ecuador is the second highest city in the Andes behind La Paz in Bolivia, at an altitude height of 9,350 feet (2,850 metres) above sea level. It’s not only the second highest city in the world, but also the first city in the world to be named a UNESCO World heritage site.
Quito is the first South American city I’ve visited, having never travelled to this part of the world before. My first impressions of the city on my first day was how beautiful it was, especially being surrounded by the Andes. I also found the local Ecuadorians very relaxed and friendly. Here’s what I got up to while in Quito along with some tips and advice to consider.
When I think of Quito, the word that comes to mind is architecture! I can see why Quito’s centro historico (the old town) is Unesco listed. In the main square, the buildings very much reflect colonial Spain. It’s a great place to just sit and watch local Ecuadorians relaxing in the square, while street vendors walk about selling various things like ice cream, scarves, and corn snacks.
I’ve seen quite a few churches and cathedrals around the world, but Iglesia de La Compania de Jesus and Inglesia de San Francisco are the most impressive, lavish and opulent I’ve ever seen! I wandered into Inglesia de San Francisco in the middle of a church service and sat to marvel at the Moorish designed architecture. It’s the first church to be built in Quito, with construction beginning in 1535 and lasting for 100 years. But the most lavish in design was Inglesia de La Compania. You’re not supposed to take any photos, but I managed to sneak in a few! It costs 4 USD to enter Inglesia de La Compania.
For $5 USD, you can take a taxi from near Centro Historicos to Teleferico, a gondola that takes you up the east side of Pichincha Volcano to the look out point Cruz Loma. The final altitude height once you reach the top is 4050 metres.
The cost of the cable car for an adult is $8.50USD, which seats six people, and takes approximately eight minutes.
The views of Quito and the Andes from the gondola are amazing, and on a clear day, you can see the snow covered volcano of Cotopaxi.
There are several trails leading away from the kiosk, which give you stunning views of Quito and the surrounding Andes. If I was less jet lagged and more acclimatised to the altitude, I would have hiked some of the trails leading towards the dramatic mountain ranges.
You can also choose to hike back down to the start of the gondola on a clearly marked path visible on the journey up. My outdoor adventurous spirit really wanted to do this, but my body was still in protest with jet lag and the effects of the altitude.
Make sure you wrap up warm and wear several layers. It was really cold and windy. Also make sure the taxi driver drops you off at the gondola and not at the amusement park. The short walk up the steep road is so much harder at altitude. It’s also worth paying the extra $2.50USD so the taxi drives you past the entrance gates. I definitely wouldn’t have wanted to walk up that part of the steep road as well!
Those of my friends who know me well, know much much I love food and eating, so sampling the local Ecuadorian cuisine was a must. But, given the only meat I eat is seafood and free range or organic chicken, finding something appropriate was challenging.
One evening I set out into town to grab a quick bite to eat. Instead, I discovered the cutest plaza, east off the main square, and discovered a traditional Ecuadorian, trip advisor recommended restaurant called Hasta la Vuelta. It was here I sampled Locro de Papa, an Ecuatorian potato soup with soft cheese, milk and slices of avocado. I also sampled a Humita, sweet corn tamal steamed in a mascara leaf. Both were delicious! My dining ventures have also included sweet roasted corn snacks, churros filled with hot chocolate and caramel sauce, and the fresh fruit drinks called Jugo.
The first indication of the effects of altitude was when I walked up a steep road to view the Basilica. I consider myself to have above average fitness, but I was so out of breath by the time I reached the top, I can only attribute it to less oxygen in the atmosphere as a result of being 2,850 metres (9,350 feet) above sea level.
When my taxi dropped me off at Teleferiqo, I had to walk further up the road. And although the incline wasn’t steep in my normal experience, at altitude, I felt like my heart was about to explode out of my chest! (see image below),
The two other things I experienced were burst blood vessels in my nose, and a constant thirst. The advice regarding altitude acclimatisation is to drink loads of water and to take it easy in the first few days.
In spite of enrolling into a Spanish for Travelling class prior to this adventure, (see related blog post), I still wish I knew more Spanish! The only other foreign language I know very well is Dutch, which means every time I ever go to speak in a language other than english, Dutch words and phrases come to mind first. However, I must have learned something in Spanish class as I’ ve engaged in some interesting conversations with various taxi drivers here in Quito. On one occasion, I managed to tell him where I live, my job, where I went to school and university, plus lied about my age, (8 years younger than what I am), pretended I was married for five years,(easier then trying to explain widowed!), described my “husband” who was tall and thin, and that I had no children! I definitely recommend you know some basic Spanish before you travel to South America. It has certainly enriched my experience in spite of knowing the very basics.
If time and altitude adjustment had permitted, I would loved to have taken a day trip to Cotopaxi volcano for some hiking and mountain bike riding, and to stand on the equator. I’ve had a great time here in Quito. Off to the Amazon next. Stay tuned!