Post written by Laura
Date visited: late November 2022
Quito is the capital city of Ecuador and up in the Andes at 2850 metres is the second highest in the world after Bolivia’s La Paz. This was my first visit to Ecuador having bypassed this fascinating and diverse country when Chris and I spent 2.5 months in South America in 2016.
The currency in Ecuador and the Galapagos islands is the $US which is good news for Americans but not so good for UK visitors due to the current poor exchange rate of around 1.18 $US to the GBP.
The next few posts will cover the most amazing 2 week’ adventure to Ecuador and the Galagagos that I was fortunate to have taken. Fortunate I have a generous annual leave allowance, fortunate that covid and other barriers have gone and fortunate to have been able to save for this once-in-a-lifetime holiday. This was my first big trip in 3 years and I am grateful for that!
Unusual for me as I’m more of a planner than a spontaneous wing it kind of person but I had booked just 4 weeks before the trip started and the logistics will be covered in a future post.
The trip began in a place called Tumbaco a suburb of Quito and here I met the local guide Leo and my 7 fellow travel explorers for the first time.
- Cotopaxi National Park
- Galapagos: Santa Cruz
- Galagagos: Isabela
Following a late arrival to Quito’s Mariscal Sucre International airport I had spent my first night in Ecuador at the airport Holiday Inn hotel. After a relaxing morning in my spacious room sorting my cameras and kit and having a delicious breakfast in the hotel restaurant I took a taxi to Tumbaco.
There isn’t too much to say on Tumbaco as I had one afternoon there before the trip officially started at breakfast the following day. However I ended up with an unplanned mini excursion of the local area in another taxi! I had enquired at the hotel reception whether there was anything of local interest that I could walk to. They suggested they call me a taxi to an eco park which was 5 minutes away. The taxi couldn’t find the park anywhere and ended up taking me all over the local area trying to find it… after 40 minutes the taxi driver and I gave up and he took me back to the hotel! Lessons learned for next time:
- Don’t assume the hotel staff had given the taxi the destination
- Don’t assume the taxi driver know’s where he’s going
- Check for myself using Trip Advisor and navigate myself using Google Maps
- Book the taxi myself using Uber
Having had my short drive around Tumbaco I decided instead to walk around the block and had lunch in a place called Garden House which was an interesting collection of different restaurants set in a tropical garden which had a wedding taking place!
Start of the trip
Immediately after breakfast and introductions on day 1 our small group boarded a comfortable mini bus and headed north towards the Ecuator and the colourful town of Otavalo.
From Otavalo we spent a couple of fun-packed days in the cloud forest area of Mindo before returning to Quito where this post resumes…
On day 5, having driven in the minibus from Mindo it was late afternoon when we arrived at the Hotel San Francisco in Quito. Located in the heart of the Old Town this was a hidden historical oasis and worthy of a few pictures!
Above is an image of the Panecillo Hill which means ‘little bread roll’ with its statue on the top. This is so-called as it is a small rounded hill resembling a bread roll!
The hotel was built in 1698 in colonial style and the original adobe walls are 1 metre wide. Over the years additions had been built on and the highest part of the hotel was about 5 stories up and culminated in a small roof terrace with excellent views of the city.
The hotel contained many historical artifacts and was like a mini museum! It was originally a small building used for milking cows and contained a small chapel. It also had tunnels which led to prisons to house inquisition prisoners!
Once we had settled in, Leo our guide took us on a short orientation tour of the old historic centre of Quito. By now it was just after 6 pm and dark. Being close to the equator, there is not much of a difference throughout the year i.e. at 6 am Quito got light each morning and at 6 pm it got dark.
Above is the Sebastian de Benalcazar road which was parallel to our hotel.
We continued along the Sebastian de Benalcazar for about 5 minutes until we arrived at the Plaza Grande (aka Independence Square), the main square in the heart of the city. One of the key buildings of the square is the cathedral and it was open for a visit!
We were amazed to enter the cathedral and find an enormous nativity scene! This is apparently one of the largest in the world and we wandered around the various scenes complete with working models and sound affects.
From the cathedral Leo explained some of the sights around the Plaza Grande and showed us some restaurants. That evening he went back to his home in Quito and the 8 of us found a restaurant serving local Ecuadorian food.
The following morning we had our more extensive sightseeing Quito tour. Leo recommended sightseeing around Quito in the morning as it is often sunny whereas at this time of the year, afternoons in Quito can be rainy. My guidebook also recommended this.
First on the agenda was La Basilica del Voto Nacional which was constructed in 1892. We began with a look in the main part of the building however we were keen to explore the towers!
There is a lift however Aimee, Richard and I took the stairs. From the main stairs we had to climb up a series of narrow metal staircases until we reached the top.
Visiting the La Basilica del Voto was a real highlight of the day… literally! Aimee, Richard and I climbed to the top of one of the twin towers where we had amazing views of the city.
This is a better view of the Little Bread Roll hill which was taken from the top of one of the twin towers of the cathedral. While the views from the top are said to be spectacular it was recommended not to visit or climb the bread roll hill at night time as this turns into a dangerous place full of robbers, muggers and kidnappers!
From the inside of the tower once we neared the top we climbed several floors to the top of the tower up staircases such as these.
Leo then took us into the Hotel Patio Andaluz and as we gathered around the above picture he described the fascinating story of Simon Bolivar and Manuela Sáenz. Born in Quito, Manuela was an Ecuadorian ‘revolutionary heroine’ who, during her 8 year relationship with Bolivar, was able to prevent an assassination against him and has subsequently been regarded as an early feminist. Bolivar had led the independence of South American countries including Ecuador, Bolivia and Colombia until his death from tuberculosis in Santa Marta, Colombia in 1830.
Next Leo stopped at a market stall full of local treats and brought some for us to try. These included local nuts and the blue sweets above which have a delicate shell and kind of explode in your mouth filling it with a strong local spirit!
Back to the Plaza Grande by day!
Then onto La Compania which is a hugely extravagant church filled with gold! Unfortunately we were not allowed to take photos of its spectacular interior however we wandered around admiring the intricate gold detail.
Leo announced he would be taking us to another church… But this one has quite a wow factor… The Iglesia San Francisco is the oldest colonial building in the city and the largest religious complex in South America. Its construction began soon after the city was founded in 1534.
We climbed to the roof of the church and had more amazing views over the city and of the surrounding Andes mountains.
After all of this busy sightseeing it was time for lunch in the quaint restaurant Negra Mala which is located down the above picturesque La Ronda street in the Old Town. We were greeted with a hug by the super friendly owner and shown to our tables where the place mats were old records! We had another delicious and memorable meal 🙂
Safety in Quito. As South American cities go, Quito felt reasonably safe. However there were a lot of police officers. My guide book says Quito’s Metropolitan police are very friendly and at one point, one came over and chatted asking our names while also suggesting I carry my backpack on my front! The book suggests to avoid certain areas and to be aware of pickpockets and bag slashers.
To finish off our second night in Quito after dinner Steve, Aimee, Fiona, Richard and myself enjoyed cocktails in the Vista Hermosa Sky bar from which we could see more lovely views of the city (as shown above).
The following morning we were about to leave Quito for our drive to Cotopaxi however this was not the end of the colour and culture of the city! Outside our hotel a parade was taking place. It was a treat to spend a bonus half an hour watching students representing each of the 250 high schools of Quito celebrate the foundation of the city back in 1534.