I didn’t know what to expect of Quito on my trip to the Galapagos. I would be there only 1.5 days, so I knew I physically couldn’t see everything.
The Ecuadorean capital is massive, spanning 30 kilometres along a valley in the Andes mountains in South America. At 2,850 metres above sea level, it is the highest capital city on the equator and the second highest capital city in the world.
Tips for travelling to Quito
Quito’s weather is directly affected by the surrounding mountain range. In the morning, it can be clear blue skies, and by noon the clouds roll over the mountain tops. It’s a beautiful sight.
No matter your age or your health, the altitude can affect people in different ways. There’s no way to prepare for it, but you can defend against it by drinking lots of water and not exerting yourself.
Quito is a Spanish speaking city. Learning a few phrases like “hola” (hello), “gracias” (thank you) and “que cuesta esto” (how much is this) can go a long way. Don’t be afraid to use them. Sure you might sound a little rough, but at least you are trying, and people appreciate the effort. My go-to phrase was “No hablo español”, and it resulted in hand gestures and translation through pointing. It worked.
Like in any big city, there is crime. I made the mistake of reading all about the crime that people experienced right before setting on my trip south. Needless to say, it made me nervous. I ended my self-guided walking tour quits about halfway through because I was starting to get anxious. There was no danger … but I’m from a small town, and this was my first solo trip to a foreign country. Feeling uneasy, I just couldn’t do it. I trusted my gut and got into a (legit) taxi back to the hotel. It ended up working out because I met up with some people and we went to the middle of the world (see below).
There are fake taxis and they’re sneaky at trying to look like real ones. Here’s how to tell: registered taxis have orange licence plates on the front and back and have registration numbers on both the windshield and the side of the car. Be extra sure that you are getting into a legit taxi because I have read some truly awful stories about fake taxis. Even better, get your hotel to call you a taxi. If you feel uncomfortable at all, get out.
Just a heads up, almost everything is closed on a Sunday. I wandered for a solid 30 minutes before finding food to eat in the evening. Every restaurant was either closed or in the process of closing.
If you’re a morning person (like me) then you’ll be happy to know that the sunrise and sunset times are predictable in Quito. Sunrise is 6am and sunset is 6pm. It varies about 30 minutes throughout the year, unlike Canada where it ranges 5 hours or more throughout the year.
Things to do in Quito
I highly suggest Lonely Planet’s walking tour guide of old town Quito. It hits every “must see” place in Quito like:
Basilica del Voto Nacional
This gothic style church is the largest neo-Gothic basilica in the Americas. The views from the top of this church are incredible. You get a sense of the size of Quito while standing in the tower.
To get up there climb about 10+ flights of stairs to the third floor. There you can walk over a wooden plank bridge that crosses the top of the church. Climb three steel ladders into the tower and you can see everything.
Old Town Quito
Speaking of Old Town, it’s the place to go for amazing old building and impressive architecture. Actually, the Old Town is one of the best-preserved historic city centres in the new world. And UNESCO declared it a world heritage site in the 70s. If visiting UNESCO world heritage site are important to you like it is to me, then you’ll enjoy this historic centre. Quito’s Old Town has a lot to offer like Plaza Grande, Plaza and Church of Santo Domingo, Plaza San Blas and the Quito Observatory.
Pose with the Quito signs
If you want everyone to know exactly where you were, then pose by the giant Quito signs that are scattered throughout the city. One can be found at the picturesque Parque Itchimbia another can be found at the airport, as soon as you step out of the arrivals doors.
Stand on the middle of the world
Quito (and Ecuador) is famously known to be on the equator. But where exactly is the equator? Well, it’s in two places. You can visit the actual GPS Latitude 0’ 00” which is within Intiñan Solar Museum, a neat museum about 300m north of Ciudad Mitad del Mundo. At the Mitad you can pose on the “equatorial line” that was calculated before the invention of GPS. The line was determined all the way back in 1736. To only be 240m off from the actual equator is pretty impressive. My advice: do both as they are not far from each other.
Quito is a wonderful city with many new and exciting places to discover.
Q: Have you been to Quito? If so, what was your favourite building?