Our period in Ecuador started off in Quito, with the intention to use the few days to acclimatize to the altitude. Quito, the capital city of Ecuador sits at over 2.800 meters above sea level, and is a bustling city, straddling both the traditional and modern worlds. It is the closest capital city to the equator and sits in the midst of several volcanoes. Quito is said to have “four seasons in one day” and we sure experienced at least 3 of them, though we made sure not to let the weather stop us from exploring. The key highlights we visited were Quito Old Town and the Teleferico.
Quito Old Town (Centro Historico)
Quito Old Town is filled with 16th and 17th century buildings dating back to the Spanish-colonial rule, and is made up of several small streets, which are excellent to wander through during the day. It was one of the first places to be listed as a UNESCO World Cultural Heritage Site due to the preservation of several of the buildings, monuments and squares. A few of the places we passed were the Presidential Palace, the Iglesia de la Compañia de Jesus, Conjunto Monumental San Francisco and Plaza Grande with the Catedral Metropolitana de Quito. We popped into the Iglesia de la Compañia de Jesus and instead of paying the admission fee, we just made a quick picture at the entrance.
As we wandered through the Old Town, it was hard to miss the statue of a winged Virgin Mary (La Vírgen del Panecillo) standing atop of a hill (El Panecillo) in the distance. We considered climbing to the top of El Panecillo, but due to the rain, decided instead to find some shelter and some coffee.
We stopped at Caravana, a chicken fast food joint, hoping to get some decent coffee and shortly found out that while the place was teaming with locals at lunch time, it was definitely not a place to visit for coffee! Our mistake!
After downing the coffee, we hit the road and found a great spot for lunch, Hotel Plaza Grande. Despite its posh appearance, the food was reasonably priced, and even cheaper than the room service at our hotel.
- To visit the cathedrals or historical places, a small fee is usually required, thus it is best to have small change.
- While walking around in Quito, it is important to keep an eye on your belonging. as thefts have been rumored to occur
- The best way to get to the Old Town is by Uber ($2.00 pretty much from anywhere).
To get a bird’s eye view of Quito, as well as Cotopaxi volcano, on top of our agenda was to hop on the Teleferico. So, what exactly is the Teleferico? The Teleferico is thought to be the worlds second highest cable car as it takes visitors from a height of 3,000 meters, in just over 15 minutes up to a height of 4,050 meters on the eastern side of the Pinchincha volcano.
Stepping out of the cable car, we noticed immediately that we were at a much higher altitude, as even with the smallest exertion we (or rather I) were breathless! The view at the top was breathtaking, and for a short while we were able to catch a glimpse of Cotopaxi and the other surrounding volcanoes.
- Opening times are at 8 am from Friday to Monday, and 9 am from Tuesday to Thursday. Closing time is at 8 pm.
- As clouds and fog overwhelm the mountains around Quito at different times during the day, the best time to visit is early in the morning.
- From the top cable car station, it is possible to hike to the top of the Pinchincha volcano, but this is only recommended for those that have fully acclimatized.
- It is best to stock up with drinks and snacks if intending to spend a while at the top, as everything is overpriced.
- Price for foreigners is currently $8.50 for the regular ticket. It is important to keep your receipt, as it will be required for the return trip.
Day trips from Quito
In our view, one cannot come to Ecuador, and Quito without venturing out to the equator….after all in English, Ecuador if literally translated means the equator. There have been lots of debates on the accuracy of the two sites, about an hour from Quito, which claim to be the actual location of the equator: Mitad del Mundo and the Intiñan Solar Museum. Despite the controversy, in our opinion they were still worth a visit.
Mitad del Mundo
Mitad del Mundo (Middle of the World) was the first location that was thought to be the actual location of the equator. A large monument was erected to commemorate the discovery, and the whole area was made into a tourist attraction. Not long ago, with the use of GPS technology, it was discovered that this was actually not true, and that the (assumed) true location (at that time) was actually about 200 meters away (the Intiñan Solar Museum).
Intiñan Solar Museum
The Intiñan Solar Museum, which was also once assumed to be the true location of the equator a tour to all visitors where they perform some demonstrations to attempt to validate this assertion. These are rumored to be scams, but are still quite a tourist attraction.
So where is the true accurate location of the equator? We don’t know and will leave that debate to others for now!
- The two sites can be reached quite easily by bus, taxi or car from Quito
- Entrance fee to Mitad del Mundo is $5, while the entrance fee to Intiñan Solar Museum is $4.
- Parking is available at both sites, though at Mitad del Mundo it costs $3, while at Intiñan Solar Museum it is free.
- Best place for taking a picture at Mitad del Mundo is on the rear facing side of the monument, near the Mitad del Mundo sign. Most visitors opt for the front of the monument and join a long queue.
General Quito information:
- Transportation – While Quito has a great network of buses, we relied heavily on Uber.
- Accommodation – We stayed at the Wyndham Garden Quito, which was an excellent hotel, with quite an extensive breakfast and helpful staff.
- Shopping – One cannot come to Quito and not buy a “Panama hat”! A Panama hat in Ecuador? Well, the name “Panama hat” is actually a misnomer as the hats originate from Ecuador and have never been made in Panama, but Panama was the first point of sale internationally. We visited the Homero Ortega workshop and store and I became the proud owner of a true Panama hat!