Nicknamed “Florence of the Americas”, Ecuador’s sprawling metropolis Quito is anything but a quiet and relaxing experience.
And, at an elevation of 2,850 metres, your lungs definitely feel this height in the world’s second-highest capital, after La Paz.
Tip: This article is now available as a mobile app on iTunes and Google Play. Go to GPSmyCity to download the app for GPS-assisted travel directions to the attractions featured in this article.
Situated high in the Andes and dramatically sandwiched between mountain peaks, historic Quito is still a magnet for foreign and local tourists.
Close to 2 active of Ecuador’s 19 volcanos and surrounded by 8 volcanos, Quito is built on top of the remains of an Incan city.
The excitement of busy ancient lanes and streets encrusted with shops and colourful market stalls, including Shaman healers and local hat makers thread together the intricate fibres of Quito.
A little history
Although under Incan control from the mid-15th century to the 16th century, the Spanish arrived in 1534. As a result, so did Spanish colonial red tiles, central patios, and balconies, all of which together with Quito’s indigenous art earned Quito the “Florence of the Americas” nickname.
What to see
Fabulous museums, colonial churches with magnificent art, incredible architectural jewels, charming plazas, colourful cultural festivals, and beautiful park spaces await.
Why not take the Teleferico (cable car) to 4,000 metres to get an expansive view of Quito?
Referred to as the Old Town and if you’re anything like me, can spend hours or even days exploring this elegant part of Quito whilst absorbing the sights.
As the largest UNESCO “World Heritage Site” in Latin America, Quito’s Old Town was one of the first to make this list in 1978.
Plaza de la Independencia
Dating back to the 16th century and also known as La Plaza Grande, this impressive city space is Quito’s central square. A place to unwind and also a meeting place for tourists and locals.
Flanked by four important historical buildings, the square exudes fantastic architecture and beautifully manicured gardens – a delight to stop and people-watch.
Palacio de Carondelet
Office and house of the Presidents of Ecuador, recent decades have seen this building quietly pillaged by unknown persons.
Dating back to the 1740s, and from 1799 until 1803 this seat of government saw major restoration and refurbishment by Spanish architect Antonio Garcia.
Iglesia y Convento de San Francisco
The Church and Monastery of St Francis was built between 1534-1680. Over the years, the complex survived earthquakes and also artistic changes.
Over 3,500 works of colonial art comprising various techniques and artistic styles are housed here, and the opulent interior is nothing short of spectacular.
Catedral Metropolitana de Quito
With limestone foundations constructed in stone using the Minga System (‘local traditional practice of communal hauling, carving, and masonry’), the cathedral was built from 1562-1565.
Painted white, the striking church is pleasant to wander around its external facade as today the church is closed.
Heroes of the Independence statue
Gracing the centre of Plaza de la Independencia and unveiled in 1906, is the commanding statue symbolising independence from Spain resulting from Ecuador’s victory in the war.
Centro Cultural Metropolitano Quito
Although once the Old Jesuit Seminary now converted into a library, it’s a great place to study and relax in quietness or check out the rooftop, which offers commanding vistas of the Central Plaza.
Hotel Plaza Grande
Under renovations and at 5 storeys, this elegant luxury 5-star hotel’s claim to fame is Quito’s first building that was more than 2 storeys when built in 1930.
Just a few shots from the streets of Quito.
A little help from friends…where was this officer when I needed him?
A popular meeting spot for locals.
Quito by night taken with my small Compaq camera. Not a great shot but taken from the restaurant’s window while catching up with travel friends.
Pre-Christmas dinner turns into another session of too many drinks and cheesy smiles but loads of laughs.
Quito’s undulating or should that be steep cobbled streets provide a good workout for the glutes.
Delusional, I believed that things couldn’t get any worse after the major robbery in Peru a month ago. But, wandering the gorgeous streets of Quito on this warm last afternoon in the city, the most horrible experience of all my life’s travelling hits me…
Walking under Quito’s massive 18th-century Arco de la Reina – an archway built to provide shelter to churchgoers (ironic) – I feel something hit my back before a wet and mushy substance drips down to the back of my legs.
Suddenly from nowhere a couple of locals appear with boxes of Kleenex tissues, wanting to help clean me up by holding my day pack. See where this is going?
Luckily, just read about the scam a couple of weeks ago while still in Peru and savvy to this disgusting sham, which goes something like this…
Robbers painstakingly collect human runny excrement in a container to throw on unsuspecting tourists, while they wander under an arch or down an alleyway.
Empathetic robbers (usually working in pairs or more) appear from nowhere and point to the sky, pretending that it is bird poo while they feign sincerity.
Offering to hold your bag while the robber helps clean the mess – another robber grabs your bag and takes off. Disgusting isn’t it? On every level.
With human faeces trickling all over my back and down my legs – luckily I’m wearing jeans – we yell and swear at the robbers while crossing the road to get away. After all, you don’t know if one will pull a knife or gun.
Searching for the Tourist Police, of course, none are around in this super busy main square. So, finding a public toilet, I clean most of the foul horrible mush from my hair, clothes, shoes, and day pack – revolting.
Back to the hostel
The most humiliating and embarrassing part is that we can’t possibly get into a taxi or bus because not only do I look disgusting, I stink. Instead, we walk 20 minutes back to the hostel with remnants of poo all over me and smelling like an overflowing toilet gone wrong. I still cannot believe that locals stoop so low just to rob tourists – this is what affects me quite badly.
The hostel’s manager’s face reveals that she’s seen this all before but is extremely apologetic and helpful, trying to comfort me. I shower and throw all my clothes in the washer. Trying to dry my clothes quickly before tomorrow’s flight, I end up shrinking everything. Splashing half a bottle of Chanel perfume on my day pack (yes, I travel with this luxury) does nothing for the stench as the poo permeated the waterproof rubber zippers.
After over 9 months in South America, I’ve had enough and am ready to return home. Luckily, this is already the plan. This incident is such a shame as there is still so much of this wonderful continent to explore, but, I need a break.
If you’re travelling from the adventure town of Baños in the south, your rustic bus journey to Quito takes around 3.5 hours.
Leaving picturesque Baños and back on the highway, the disturbing sight of the Tungurahua volcano billowing dark ominous smoke high into the air is never far from sight.
Luckily, the volcano remained in this billowing state for the duration of our visit to Baños but decided to unleash its angry wrath a few days following our visit.
Arriving at Quito’s bustling bus station, watch your bags because many locals mill around eager to help – so too are the many eager taxi drivers, just waiting.
We trusted one such driver and even went so far as to give his phone number, but never responded to our calls on realising we left a bag in his taxi. Even the hostel owner tried to phone without luck but the driver kept our bag.
Filled with rum, chocolates, and souvenirs for our trip back to Australia, this was worth more to him than a fare to the airport in the following days.
Where to sleep
If you want to splash out, then you’re spoilt for choice with fancy Heritage hotels in Quito.
The very kind Ornelia looks after all her guests in the historic town’s Colonial House Inn. Ornelia provides safe private airport transfer, which is better and cheaper than trying to bargain with dodgy taxi drivers.
The clean and comfortable room includes a private bathroom and an excellent breakfast. The Inn boasts 2 guest kitchens and is in an excellent location within walking distance of many sights, restaurants, supermarkets, and cafes.
So long Ecuador
A bitter-sweet two weeks in Ecuador, although I would still like to return one day.
Sadly, the South American adventure is over and it’s time to return to Australia.
The long flight leaves from Quito’s Mariscal Sucre Airport arrives at JFK Airport late, stops for a couple of hours in Reykjavik, Iceland, and then take the last plane to the UK. A few days later it’s back on a long-haul flight from Heathrow to Australia.
Need to find a job for a while to save money to travel long term again…