Quito is one place in the world where you can eat more and weigh less! Surprised, I was too! Quito lies on the equator, where the effect of earth’s gravity is lesser than the poles, leading to reduced weight! Wohooo! Forget dieting, and plan a trip to Ecuador as soon as you can! And while you are there, check out what all you can do!
Quito was a quick stop for me on my way to Colombia, but I craved to see more of this beautiful city. I did a lot of research before coming here, which I am going to share with you. A cheap country to travel to (as opposed to Colombia, Brazil, Peru) you will fall in love with what Ecuador has to offer: beautiful beaches, the most popular Galapagos islands, native tribes to interact with, hot water springs, good food, churches, old Spanish architecture, Incan ruins and what not.
Coming back to the capital city, I was here in May’2015. The scorching heat was a deterrent, but there was a lo-ho-ot to do. And the distances were not short. I caught up with some friends here, so I took 3 days to cover all this, but you can discount that time for yourself.
Change of guard ceremony: If you are in Quito on a Monday, you cannot miss the change of guard ceremony at the Presidential Palace in Quito main square. It is quite a show, especially when the President of Ecuador steps out in the Palace balcony to address the citizens, the country flag is hoisted and the national anthem is sung. Hundreds of people come by to witness the event every week at 11 am, filling the air with a warm patriotic feeling. One look around and you will be able to feel the place abuzz with numerous cathedrals and coffee shops! How to reach: Presidencia de la República or the Presidential Palace is located on Plaza Grande (or the main plaza) in Quito. If your hostel is in downtown, you can just walk to the main plaza, and if not, then you should take a local bus for only 25 cents!
Pointed arches, steep sloping roofs and fancy carvings (see photo) are a distinct feature of neo-gothic architecture. (Remember the Palace of Westminster, England). St. Basilica Cathedral is neo-gothic (note the pointed archs and steep roofs in the picture below), and unique with its decorative patterns in the form of native Ecuadorean animals (ex. armadillos, iguana, and Galapagos tortoises). How to reach: It will only take you a couple of minutes to walk here from the Main Square. You can visit the cathedral for a dollar and climb to the top of the cathedral for 3$.
About 20 minutes bus ride from the Quito downtown is the Equator line. Did you know that you can rest a raw egg on a nail on the Equator line. Shocker!! Are you trying to lose weight : visit the equator and weigh up to a kg less. Oh! and my favorite was the water draining a sink – did you know water drains in a clockwise whirlpool in the northern hemisphere and anticlockwise whirlpool in the southern hemisphere. But at the equator, because there is no effect of the magnetic field from the poles, the water drains straight off, without any whirlpool! If you visit the Mitad del a Mundo, do not forget to visit the ACTUAL equator line 300 m away. How to reach: Take the metro bus to “OFELIA” bus terminal. From Ofelia, take the bus to ” Mitad del Mundo” which will let you off right across the street from the landmark! Don’t forget to ask the bus conductor to communicate to you, when you reach the destination.
How would you like to see a cathedral made of gold. It was closed the day I was in Quito, but I have heard that it is one of the most beautiful cathedrals in South America. How to reach: The cathedral is located right at the main square, so you don’t have to go too far from the presidential palace.
Affordable, fresh, exotic food at the Mercado central de Quito (Central market- right in the city downtown) – yum yum yum – fish, tasty juices, rice, chicken ~all for 1-3$. The “it” place to be if you are a foodie. There is a very local version of a “food court” on ever corner, where you can sit around to enjoy a quick bite. Oh! the mere mention of this place fills my olfactory sensors with the smell of spices, fresh juices, roses, fish and every thing mixed up together – wondering how that smells! Hmmm- if you are hungry, it smells like heaven. How to reach: 3 blocks east of Main Plaza (Presidential Palace) is the enclosed market place, Mercado Central.
Ecuador is famous for its coffee and what can be better to taste Ecuadorian coffee in its bohemian neighborhood, within walking distance of Quito downtown. The cobbled streets of La Ronda hosts some interesting music festivals that brings together people from all over the city.
Quito is the second highest capital city in the world (La Paz being the highest administrative capital city). To view the city from its highest point, take the teleferico from the west side of the city, close to the Pichicha Volcano (How to reach: take a cab to teleferico from main square for < 10$ – share it with other tourists). This is one of the highest gondolas in the world, rising up to 12000 ft ASL. So, this is the height at which some planes fly. And here I was going up to the same height in a gondola. The views are absolutely beautiful. You could alternatively hike up if you reach there early in the morning. There have been instances of robberies at the hiking trail. Be careful and try to hike up in a group. I think the last gondola leaves around 4:30-5.
Cotopaxi volcano is the second highest peak in Ecuador and btw, at the summit of this volcanic peak, you are closer to sun than from any other point on earth. Yep, closer than the peak of Mount Everest. How? This is because of the slight bulged (oblate ellipsoid) shape of earth along the equator. Hike up the peak for 40$, which includes transportation and guided trekking. You will have to leave really early in the morning to get there on time.
Ecuador is one of the cheapest places in South America to learn Spanish. You can get private tutors for as less as 10$/hr. You can enroll for a class from within your hostel. Suggestion: One of the good hostels in Quito is the Backpacker’s hostel. It is right in downtown, you can learn Spanish with a tour guide registered with the hostel, they organize a free walking tour of the city every Wednesday at 10.30 am and they have a lot of activities to facilitate interaction with fellow travelers.
Visit the Otovalo market a couple of hours away from Quito to buy some authentic souvenirs for your friends and family. You can find everything and anything under the sun. And you can shop for the next two generations for the cost of a burger. Ok, I exaggerated.. but you know what I mean.