It’s been a few weeks or so since our last posting and our departure from Guatemala. From Guatemala we flew directly to Quito, Ecuador and have been very busy since our arrival—too busy to post on the blog. While in Quito we spent a couple of days exploring the city itself and also used it as a hub for exploring other nearby cities and sites. This post will solely describe some of what we saw while touring Quito. A couple other postings will follow describing some of our excursions to nearby places, i.e. Otavalo, Baños, and Cotopaxi National Park.
Let’s first get our bearings. We just left the country of Guatemala, which located in Central America just south of Mexico. Ecuador—where the city of Quito is located—is in the northwest part of the continent of South America, just below Colombia. Quito, the capital city of Ecuador, is 25km (15.5 miles) south of the equator. My basic understanding of Ecuador is that it has three distinct regions: the coastal region west of the Andes Mountains; the central region located in the highlands of the Andes Mountains—where Quito resides; and the Amazonian region on the east side of the Andes Mountains, where the rain forest is located. For such a small country it has a great variety of climates as well as activities.
Being so close to the equator one assumes that Quito would be a very hot place. We’ve been told that the Amazon region to the east can get pretty warm. But Quito is located in the central highlands of the Andes at an elevation of about 2840 meters, or roughly 9300 feet. That elevation makes for a much cooler climate, which is fine by us. During our time there I estimate that the temperatures hovered around the mid 70’s during the day and got a bit chilly in the evenings. The temperatures are similar to early Fall temperatures in New England.
As you can see from the picture above, Quito is a densely populated city at around 1,700,000 people. It definitely had a big city feel but only felt overwhelming when cramming onto the public buses during peak hours. The city sits in a valley flanked by Pinchincha Volcano (4794 m) on its west side. It’s easily walkable and has a great public transportation system, which we used often in the city and for our excursions outside of the city. Public buses within the city cost only $0.25 per ride. We were told by our couchsurfing host, Sebas, that fuel is subsidized in Ecuador, making for pretty cheap transportation all around, i.e. buses, taxis and personal vehicles.
One big reason we had such a great time in and around Quito was because of our couchsurfing host Sebas. He was recommended to us by a fella we hosted at our place in Massachusetts a few times, Dick Schroth. Dick stayed with Sebas in Portsmouth, NH and in Quito. We stayed with Sebas and his mother, Silvia, for almost an entire week and they were excellent hosts. Sebas seemed to make it his personal mission while we were there to ensure that we had plenty to do and were supplied with the best information for how to get from place to place. We’ve yet to be disappointed with our couchsurfing experiences. It’s our opinion that they have provided us with a much richer experience than we would have otherwise had. Thanks so much Sebas! We had a great time!
My favorite part of the city was by far Centro Historico, or Historical Center. Supposedly, it has some of the best preserved colonial architecture in South America. Some of the buildings were built as early as the 1550s. That’s pretty old for new world architecture.
Another cool spot, but requiring a more difficult walk, was the Itchimbia viewpoint atop a pretty big hill. The walk up was difficult due to the steep terrain and thinner air at the high elevation of Quito, but well worth it. At the top was what looked like a giant green house, but instead of being filled with plants it was filled with giant paintings in preparation for a showing later that evening. We checked out the paintings inside and the awesome view of the city outside while enjoying a small snack of cheese filled bread. So far tasty breads sometimes filled with cheese or other deliciousness have been a popular food in both Guatemala and Ecuador.
During one of the activity filled days in Quito we spent a few hours checking out the artifact and art exhibits in the Casa de la Cultura located in the La Mariscal section of the city. The best exhibit in my opinion consisted of a great collection of prehistoric artifacts belonging to the Inca and other indigenous cultures within the region. Some of the sculpture artwork was amazing. We also got to see a couple of human skulls altered by clamping them with rope and wood.
All in all Quito was a very tourist friendly city and we definitely enjoyed our time there. Much credit for our great experience belongs to Sebas, our couchsurfing host. We’d highly recommend paying Quito a visit if you happen to be in Ecuador.