I thought I learned a lesson a long while back during our first week on the road, in Medellin. I learned to take what other people say with a grain of salt; to not take what people write in reviews regarding cities, tourist attractions, restaurants, etc. as law. Everyone has different perceptions and experiences which mold their opinions that could be completely different than mine.
It’s interesting how the lessons you learn while you travel show their stupid lesson faces time and time again; but in different disguises. You keep that advice for your future self in your back pocket, but when a situation presents itself, somehow, it’s completely different and you forget everything you previously thought you learned! So I think to myself, did I really learn anything at all?!
The reason for this rant about lessons and learning them is because I listened too closely to what other people said about Quito, Ecuador prior to arriving here. I kept reading things like “It’s not safe” and “I never felt secure anywhere in Quito” and all of that same general nonsense I read regarding the downtown area of Medellin. Therefore, I wasn’t really that excited about spending time here and just saw it as a means to an end of booking the Galapagos, seeing a few things, and getting out! I didn’t do any research on what there is to do or see here prior to arriving. Well, Quito, in my mind you’ve proved all those review writers wrong because I’ve actually really taken a liking to you. I haven’t felt unsafe either of the two times I’ve been here (for about 5 days each).
Quito is busy, the smog is bad, the traffic is horrendous, but it still has a lot going for it in my mind. The weather is warm and the same all year round, there are many parks and interesting things to see in Quito, being that it was the first UNESCO world heritage site, one word: ALMUERZO (multi course lunch for usually $2 or $3), and there are a lot of easy day trips to take from Quito. After being in Chile and the Argentina side of Patagonia for 2 months, it felt refreshing in a way to be in Quito because it feels a lot more like Latin America and a lot less like home.
After arriving in Quito, I quickly realized that we really didn’t have to be afraid, (like other people had written) but be diligent like any big city in the world. People stare at us from time to time but I’ve never felt worried in anyway. We don’t stay out really late at night, and if we were to, we’d take a taxi and we are careful with our possessions when walking around and that’s about it!
Here are some of my favorite things about Quito, sights that we’ve seen, and why I think it is a totally visitable place.
Parque El Ejido: This park is located just south of the Mariscal area and was one of the first things I saw in Quito. On the weekends and during the day, it is packed with art vendors, street food, kids running around, and people enjoying time outside. It is an excellent place to wander or simply grab a Salpicon (like I usually do) and people watch.
Parque Itchimbia: This place is a must see in Quito. Only a 15 minute walk from the Old Town, this park sits a top a huge hill. Therefore, it has some of the best views of the city and valley of Quito, in my opinion. There is also a little restaurant up there that is seriously overpriced but perfect to relax, have a coffee, and take in the views. The big red Quito sign is also up here.
Old Town: If you haven’t noticed already, Dan and I are suckers for free walking tours. Anytime we get to a new city, we check to see if they have one. And most of them do! We love them because we learn some history, what exactly the pretty buildings are that we are staring at, and some spots that we maybe wouldn’t have found on our own. The Free Walking Tour through Community Hostel takes you through many parts of the UNESCO Old Town, La Ronda, and some other interesting places.
If you aren’t one for a walking tour, the Old Town is very easy to wander around, find the sites, and take in all of the colonial architecture. Colorful La Ronda is very close by as well.
El Mercado Central is in the Old Town and is one of the most organized, cleanest markets I’ve seen thus far in South America.
Plaza de Armas.
On Mondays at 11 a.m. at the Presidential Palace, there is a large ceremony for the changing of the guard. We were lucky enough to have been there for this huge spectacle! The president of Ecuador is in that sea of people somewhere.
Plaza outside of San Francisco Church.
One of the most stunning churches I’ve ever seen on the inside.
Confitería el Gato Candy Shop. She was not amused with how long it was taking me to place my order.
La Ronda. A beautiful Bohemian neighborhood that has no shortage of bars, restaurants, and cafes.
El Panecillo can be seen from many parts of Quito and especially the Old Town. We were told by our local guide that it is dangerous to walk up the path due to thieves but much safer to take a taxi.
Almuerzos: Or also known as “Menu del Día” or “Menu” in other countries in Latin America, we have found our perfect match in Ecuador. Lunch is considered the most important meal of the day here and for that reason, there is no shortage of places to find a cheap almuerzo for $2 or $3 dollars. Most that we have tried come with a fresh juice, soup or salad, main dish, and a small desert. Our absolute favorite is called Manantial which is in a beautiful plaza and always has a veggie option. The food is always freshly cooked and the menu changes everyday. I think Dan and I have gone there at least 5 times in the 10 days we’ve spent in Quito.
Find this plaza and this building and you’ll find Manantial.
Mariscal: This is the neighborhood we have stayed in both times in Quito at the Traveler’s Inn. It is a very lively neighborhood with a great bar scene (apparently there’s ladies nights throughout the area on Wednesdays!) It’s also a great place to be in order to book any tours in Ecuador or surrounding Quito. For those reasons, it feels more touristy and expensive than some of the other locations we’ve been in Quito and we’ve mostly hung around here just to relax, eat, or have a couple of beers in the Foch Plaza.
Equator: We decided to visit the Equator or in Spanish “Mitad del Mundo” through Community Hostel once again because they provided transportation to the Museo Intiñan (which holds the true Equator line) and the monument (which until 16 years ago is where they thought the Equator was – thanks GPS). Honestly, it was really cool to stand on the Equator and go from the end of the world in Punta Arenas, Chile to the Middle of the World. But, the Museo costs $4 a person for a pretty hokey tour. You get to practice walking on the Equator with your eyes closed, balance an egg on a nail, and see water go down a drain the other way. Not sure I really thought it was worth it and would probably say if you only have a short time in Quito to skip it.
A cheesey picture for a hokey tour.
The erroneously placed monument.
Cotopaxi: Really wanting to see the beautiful Cotopaxi, we arranged another day trip through Community Hostel that would take us out there and included breakfast, lunch, a hike, and a bike ride. I was nervous that we wouldn’t be able to see it due to recent activity and restrictions in the park. Right now however, they are letting tourists in but you can’t climb or bike down the volcano like you could before. I was so happy we’d get to see it!
What I was hoping to see:
What we saw:
Such a bummer. I felt really let down because we didn’t even get to see the stupid volcano anyways! To be honest, it wasn’t a total waste however because part of it did peak out for just a second:
And we saw WILD horses!
And we had an exhausting but fun bike ride back to the start of the National Park.
Hopefully I’ve done a good job making a case for Quito.
Not always caring so much about what other people think was a really good lesson for me to revisit. I’m realizing now that each time I make a mistake, I’m not always going to gain something from it. And that’s okay. Some lessons (if they are important enough) will continue to show themselves until you’ve finally gotten it. Hopefully this time it will stick.
The world is a scary place, but only if you let it be.