After eight days galavanting around on the Galapagos getting sunburned and mildly injured, we flew back to Quito, Ecuador. The capital of Ecuador, Quito is the second highest capital city in the world, sitting at 9350 feet (or 2850 meters for any metric system peeps). The city is sprawling, leaching through the valley and up the slopes of the Pichincha, a stratovolcano that is part of the Andes Mountains. There are many active volcanos littered throughout Ecuador. The volcano theme continues… Quito is the closest a capital city has ever been constructed to a volcano. Seems… smart? Another volcano near Quito, that we actually did hike up, will take out the southern portion of Quito when (not if) it erupts. That mountain, Cotopaxi, is an active one, reaching 19,347 feet in elevation at its peak. Cotopaxi is one of the highest active volcanos in the world, and has been expected to erupt since 2018.
Quito is a bustling, large city with some vastly different architecture depending on which section of town you’re in. We spent one night in the Old Town, which is the least altered historic center in the Americas, and it was therefore deemed the first UNESCO World Heritage Site. It’s covered in gorgeous cathedrals, basilicas and churches with the population rooted in Catholicism.
A majority of our nights were spent in the more modern area of town, near the northern end of the very elongated metropolis. Our AirBnB was located just across the street from Parque La Carolina, in a newly renovated building with a fantastic rooftop deck. And it only cost a measly $21 per night. We benefitted from having a large apartment with a living area and kitchen. The building also boasted a rooftop deck with a BBQ grill, sauna and gym.
If you aren’t one to mess with AirBnBs, I can recommend Hotel Ibis. This brand new construction may have guest rooms that are on the smaller side, but they are insanely nice. Your reservation comes complete with a continental breakfast that puts all other hotel continental breakfasts to shame. Freshly made pastries, eggs that are not only hot but did not originate in a milk carton, every sort of coffee/cappuccino/tea/latte/espresso imaginable, fresh fruit, etc. You get the idea. Staying here will put you back $50 a night, which comes in well under what you’ll pay at less reputable hotels.
I do not recommend Hotel San Francisco de Quito, our first hotel in the historic district. The weird, plant infested lobby should have been the first clue. It’s old, overpriced and just plain shitty. One of our rooms was appointed with some ghastly hand-me-down furniture, to include a rock hard mattress and a single nightstand. The second room, which we ended up giving up for Hotel Ibis, was a lofted set up with a set of rickety spiraling stairs leading up to the bed. It was a middle-of-the-night-potty-run away from a broken neck. Kim, however, was elated to relieve us of the room when we departed for Hotel Ibis. I’m pretty certain it had less to do with the “luxury” accommodations and more to do with escaping the neurosis of her roommate.
Quito & Otavalo Markets
Otavalo is a two hour bus ride north of Quito, and features one of the largest and best outdoor markets on the planet. Plaza de los Ponchos is teeming with tables and vendors selling any manner of goods. From woven blankets, scarves, ponchos, kids clothes and hats to handmade jewelry to artwork and pottery to handbags and wallets, there’s something for everyone. They will chase you in order to secure a sale, so don’t be afraid to barter. Most only speak Spanish, so be prepared to learn some basics of the language, like “cuanto dinero?” (how much money) as well as knowing numbers. The best days to visit are Wednesday and Saturday, since all the meat and produce vendors join in on the fun. Even though we not only visited on a rainy day, but also not a Wednesday or Saturday, it was still a great market. The fact that we purchased armloads worth of goods was evidence of that.
Quito has a similar local market, but it is far smaller, more cramped, and doesn’t have the same quality of goods for sale. It’s comprised of straight stalls to wander down while you peer into the tiny closets people are selling shit out of.
The Hubs and I are fans of using our legs, and we tend to walk cities for miles and miles when most people would opt to take a cab or some other form of public transportation. We assumed Quito would be no different, but quickly learned that just wasn’t the case. While we did walk for miles and miles, there were still MANY MORE miles to go in every direction. And don’t forget the elevation. If you’re like us, and don’t mind putting some miles on your shoes, walk as much as you can. You’ll see a lot more, and Quito is relatively safe (more on that in a minute).
As I mentioned before, take the time to jet up to Otavalo. Spend the $3.00 each way to take the bus (el autobus) – simply order an Uber (they do operate in Quito and are less duplicitous than taxi drivers) to Terminal Terrestre Carcelén, Quito’s northern bus terminal. Secure a ticket (un boleto) to Otavalo and hop on board. Relax and take in the breathtaking views enroute. The market is only a few blocks from the bus station in Otavalo. The return trip is much the same, except just pay the driver and hop aboard any waiting bus bound for Quito. Bussing around the city is quite easy, and there are bus stops everywhere.
Aside from sauntering through town, we quickly discovered Uber was the second best way to move about. While this does require Wifi, all of our drivers were prompt, polite and economically priced. A twenty-five minute ride cost a whopping $2.00. Additionally, we ordered one in advance the night before we flew back to the States, and it worked marvelously and was less expensive than a taxi. Quito’s airport is an hour drive from the actual city, so plan accordingly. Taxis are also an option, but many of them decide their own prices based on how easily they think they can swindle you.
Quito Crime Trends
Uncle Google provided some delightful insights into crime in Quito since we knew we’d be spending some time there on our own. Generally plagued by petty crime, Quito is safe to walk during the day. The articles became less clear after the sun goes down. While there, we learned certain parts of the city are not safe to walk at night (namely the southern parts and the historic district). Criminals generally work in pairs, distracting their victims before disarming them of their bags. This is apparently accomplished by throwing anything from feces to water on unsuspecting pedestrians. A nice gentleman runs in to assist the ailing victim, offering assistance by holding the patsy’s bag while they get cleaned up. The noble gent then casually traipses away with the valuables. Moral of the Story: Don’t be a duped victim – hold onto your pack.
We only flew to Guayaquil and never left the plane, but allegedly the city has violent crime rates akin to that of Chicago, so watch your back there.
That’s most of my Quito intel. We didn’t do a lot of eating out at fancy restaurants, nor did we do a drastic amount of sight seeing in Quito itself. We were mainly laser focused on hiking the nearby volcanos. Up next… Quilotoa Crater Lake.