Quito surprised us! We did not expect the capital city of Ecuador to be so packed full of beautiful and unique cathedrals, impressive colonial architecture surrounding the many squares as well as a museum that actually interested us. Our low expectations (mostly due to stories from other travellers) were happily proved wrong.
We decided to stay in the Old Town due to the amount of information regarding safety concerns in the New Town and most specifically, the La Mariscal neighbourhood – most popular for it’s nightlife and party scene. It was a great neighbourhood to wander with it’s narrow streets, cobbled sidewalks and multitude of sites to see.
On our first day in the city we visited the Casa del Alabado, which is a very interactive and interesting museum. It’s captivating displays focus on Ecuador’s pre-Colombian cultures and their beliefs about life and death, the spirit world and the roles of the shaman. The $4 admission fee includes an audio guide that builds on the English signs. The tour takes you through many well organized rooms displaying everything from tools and weapons to sculptures. One thing we found most intriguing was the huge focus on fertility and reverence of women the ancient cultures had. Somewhere along the way we seem to have lost this connection with the earth and the creation of life. While we highly recommend this tour, it’s worth noting that this collection was mostly obtained from private owners. Much of the items on display have been restored for aesthetics rather than with archaeological intent in mind.
When in Quito, you should definitely visit some of the religious sites, as they have some of the most beautiful cathedrals in the Americas. The one that impressed us most was La Compañia de Jesús. Construction began in 1605 and took 160 years to finish. The details on the outside are multiplied a thousand times on the inside where just about every inch of the main chamber is gold-plated. Dozens of enormous murals hang from the walls and pillars and each meticulously sculpted altar seems to be more elaborate than the last (unfortunately photography inside is not allowed). Grab a seat on one of the many benches and spend as much time as you want admiring the million details that went into the exquisite domed-ceiling. Other sites we enjoyed were the Monasterio de San Francisco, Quito’s largest and oldest colonial building and the Gothic-looking Basilica del Voto Nacional.
While we had a great time exploring the Old Town, there was another site that had to be checked off the list while we were around Quito… going to the equator. Mitad del Mundo, or “Middle of the World” is about 20km outside town and is the place where Charles-Marie de la Condamine made the original measurements in 1736 to prove that this was the equatorial line. It can take a while to get there on city buses but we found it worth the trip. If the thought of being at the equator doesn’t blow your skirt up than this might be one to skip, but if you love the energies of this world, the fact that you weigh about 1kg less at the equator and the photo opportunities, then don’t miss this tourist attraction. Spoiler alert: the equator is actually about 5km wide so even if you don’t visit Mitad del Mundo you can definitely still say you’ve been there.
The one downfall to Quito as a whole is the pollution, mainly from bus exhaust. There are hundreds if not thousands of buses driving around all hours of the day and they are constantly spewing gross chemical clouds into pedestrians faces. Unfortunately, you cannot escape this reality no matter where you are in the city but pollution aside, Quito should not be skipped. Whether you come for a quick look or stay a while, there’s something in this bustling city for everyone.
Quito Traveller Information
Getting To/From and Around: It’s the capital city so pretty much everywhere in the country will have a bus heading here on a regular basis. Getting around can be a bit trickier, we were able to figure out the bus system without getting too lost which means it’s quite straight-forward. However, the buses are not super safe and you should usually take taxi’s. We thought we had escaped the hazards of Quito until on our last bus out of town our phone was pick-pocketed. Was saving a couple of dollars taking the bus instead of a taxi worth it? Probably not. Stay safe friends!
Accommodation and Eating: Again, it’s the capital city so there are places to stay and eat everywhere! Find a hostel or hotel in a neighborhood you’re comfortable with and ask them about food recommendations if you’re craving something specific. We stayed at Hostel Belmonte – on Jose de Antepara near Plaza San Blas – which was only $7/person/night. The owners are very friendly and helpful, there is a shared kitchen, small book exchange and half-decent wifi (although we are learning a good internet connection can be hard to come by in Ecuador). The rooms are on the small side, but with such close proximity to the Old Town and the low price we definitely recommend it.