Finally we had made it into Ecuador which we quickly learned we would love. Quito is a beautiful city with many different areas to explore and activities to take part in. Our first day was spent in Quito’s old town, an area full of plazas, churches and statues, with historical architecture dating back to the early 16th century. This area has been declared a World Heritage Site by the United Nations, it really is beautiful and well worth a visit. The morning was spent having coffee in Plaza de la Independencia looking out at Carondelet Palace, the Metropolitan Cathedral and the Archbishop’s Palace.
We then made our way to ‘Loma El Panecillo’ an impressive statue of a winged Virgin Mary situated on top of a 200m hill that hosts brilliant views across Quito. The virgin is on top of a globe with her wings open, stepping on a snake. She faces north and shows her back on the south, which interestingly shows something about life in Quito as the poorer are in the South and the rich are in the north. Whether that is entirely down the statue or not remains to be seen but it is interesting to note the difference nevertheless.
Our next stop was the ‘Basílica’ an impressive Roman Catholic church, the largest neo-Gothic basilica in the Americas and one that hosts brilliant views aross the old town and surrounding mountains. Stu made the trip up to the top of the church with Niamh waiting at the bottom due to the deadly staircase and height. While at the bottom Niamh admired the carvings on the doors and images of native Ecuadorian animals – Iguanas and tortoises. Stu got some great panoramic views of the whole city when there was a gap between the flocks of tourists.
That evening we moved to the La Floresta/Guapulo area in the new town which was a lot less touristy and more local. We stayed at El Hostalito a great hostel with free breakfast and amazing staff. Nearby was the best supermarket by far on our travels with a huge vegetable section, so we cooked a vegetarian stir-fry for dinner. On the road opposite the hostel there was a street full of craft beer bars so we went for a few different beers as a change to the $1 cerveza we have been drinking. Interestingly there has been a massive boom in craft beers in Ecuador with the industry having grown 20 times over annually since 2011.
We rose early the next day so we could gradually make our way to Ciudad Mitad del Mundo, translating as Middle of the World City. From our hostel we took two public buses to arrive at one of the bigger bus terminals and from there got another public bus to the entrance of the monument. The monument is an impressive 30 metres high and was the original marker for the equator line mapped out by a French geodesic expedition team in 1736. This is actually 250 metres off the actual equator line, but pretty damn close if you ask us! In the section of the park there are many shops, a beer museum, chocolate museum, alpacas and lots of entertainment like traditional dances.
Next we walked the 250 metres out of the park and to the actual equator line which has been made into a museum. Here we paid $4 each for a tour explaining some Ecuadorian traditions and talking about the science behind the equator. We saw how water draining changes direction on either side of the line and how it is possible to balance an egg on a pin. The craziest part was when they showed us how strength changes on the line. Our guide got Stu to stand off the line and hold his hands in the air, the guide then tried to pull down both arms which proved difficult. Next Stu stood on the line holding his hands in the air again, however this time the guide could pull both arms down with only his pinkie finger. It was crazy!
Our third day in Quito was another great day with awesome views as we made our way up Pichincha volcano in the Teleferico cable car. This cable car takes you up to 4100m altitude where you can walk around enjoying panoramic views of Quito, or brave the huge trek further up the volcano to 4680m. We decided to skip the hike as the altitude was already hitting us where the cable car stops. There was a swing as you can see in the photos and the rest of the time we just enjoyed the views. That afternoon we walked around Parque La Carolina (165.5 acres) which hosts water-features, a pond and paddle boats, botanical garden, full sized running track, skate park and lots of green space. A day well spent and for not too much money.
For our final full day in Quito we went to the famous Otavalo markets, the largest outdoor markets in South America based 2 hours north of Quito. First we visited an indoor market to find a cheap rucksack and walked around the food section that was loud, smelly and impressive. There was a huge variety of fruit and vegetables, spices, cheese and meat with pigs heads, chickens legs and much more. Next we made our way to the outdoor artisan market a colourful explosion of textiles, jewellery and handcrafts. The main market day is Saturday, however we had to settle with a Tuesday as we weren’t in Quito for the weekend. Even on a weekday there is enough to keep you wondering around for a few hours, we can not imagine how big it must be on the main day, spreading from the square down the side streets. Here you get hassled by every vendor trying to get you to buy their products and it really is a great experience. Stu bought a colourful, apaca jumper and Niamh a bright warm hat ready for our trek around the Quilotoa loop. After a successful day in Otavalo we called it a day and made our way back to Quito for the evening before our journey the next day to Latacunga.