Location Quito Ecuador | Dates July 16-19 & 26-27 | Accommodation Selina Quito & Huasi Lodge
We didn’t think we’d like Quito Ecuador going in, based on accounts from other travelers. Needless to say we were pleasantly surprised as we found the city much more beautiful and interesting than expected.
We left Baños in the afternoon, hopping on the bus that left every 20 minutes. They attempted to swindle us again, which happened to us a lot in Ecuador unfortunately. Routine purchases for meals, bus tickets, etc. were suddenly more when we went to pay, regardless of the published or stated price. In this case, they tried to charge us .50 extra per ticket, but we knew the correct price so we reacted and the man feigned he made a mistake: “Ohhh, you’re going to Quito, you’re right it is only $4.25” Onboard the bus, dozens of food vendors entered and tried to sell various types of foods throughout the journey, sometimes offering samples and always offering the lingering smell of sweat and grease as they passed by. A girl also entered and told a sad story about how her family lost it all, and now she had to beg on buses. We remained vigilant with our bags to combat bus bag theft with all the random people coming on/off and tried to stay awake. “I won’t fall asleep,” Sarah said, then immediately fell asleep.
We arrived in Quito after dark, to the wi-fi free Quitumbe bus terminal and a hostel confirmation email that didn’t include an address. We sought help at a bus counter, where a lady looked up the address and directed us to a “secure taxi driver.” Said driver was actually a sketchy man milling around the terminal who had already approached us earlier. He began walking us down a passageway towards a dark garage, away from the huge signs that said “official taxi.” We were preparing to ditch the obviously questionable situation when 3 actual taxi drivers in official vests approached and told us not to go with him. At this time he got annoyed and argued back “I have a yellow car, too.” A bit freaked out (we’d been warned how dangerous Quito is and it was night), we shook them all off, did a lap around the station, then walked ourselves to the official taxi line. A nice man drove us, and we were relieved his car was complete with video camera, radio, and official branding. After about 45 minutes (a few of which I spent in terror) we arrived at our hostel.
Old Town Quito Ecuador
We caught the bus to the old town part of Quito for a mere .25 cents and started our day at Mercado Central, continuing our goal of attending the mercado central in every city we visit. We ate some delicious breads for .15 cents (breakfast) and washed them down with delicious balls of chocolate fudge-like cake for an additional .25 at a bakery behind the market. Value. Good thing, too, as we had no money left. We then circled inside, finding the expected stalls of meat, fruits/veggies, juices and bustling patio de comida.
We continued to Plaza de San Blas for a free walking tour by Wander Quito, the company advertised at our hostel. After waiting at the meeting spot and seeing no one with the telltale FREE WALKING TOUR t-shirt or umbrella, nor anyone milling around that looked vaguely young and foreign, we decided to head out. At this time we were approached by a random man with a dog and long grey ponytail: “You’re not looking for the free walking tour, are you?” Indeed we were. “Sasha is sick and asked me to bring you guys on our free tour instead,” he continued, as if we knew who Sasha was. He then said he was looking for one more person who signed up online, maybe his name is Chris, he forgot. He proceeded to yell names that start with “C” loudly into the square until a guy – Curt – finally looked up.
Joined with the new tour group, the pony-tailed man started with a weird, passionate and lengthy introduction about how travel changes you, saying things like: “Travel opens the world and you as travelers fall through the cracks.” The strange and not-quite-there travel analogies soon changed into commentary on the meaning of life, and reminders that as humans we are insignificant and “no different than a potato in the sack in the market.” He then began borderline preaching, about carpe diem and finding yourself. “You know what I am talking about!” he yelled in an increasingly rapid and manic voice. No one knew what he was talking about.
We debated leaving, but after the intro a different guide came so we stayed. The guide took us on an expected tour downtown – museums, our favorite being Centro Cultural Metropolitano; churches, including the Basilica del Voto Nacional with gargoyles in the shape of animals from the rainforest!; plazas, including the huge and aptly named Plaza Grande; and historical areas. He rushed through many sights, saying one-liners then hurrying us along – “slavery, guys” – he said in front of a monument then, “lets go!” as he continued down the street nearly leaving us behind. Inside a beautiful ornate church he began talking at full volume, so loud people worshiping got up and left. He then encouraged us to take photos, although large signs stated no photos. We saw a lot, but did not learn as much as we might have hoped — I’m going to go ahead and say I do NOT recommend CarpeDM tours or the walking tour led by the Secret Garden hostel (go with the standard Free Walking Tour Ecuador instead). The most notable fact we learned was that native people were prohibited from entering churches and could only enter those with big crosses outside indicating they were open to all. The tour ended back in Mercado Central, where the guide offered a smoothie which the group of 20 people all shared (vile). We gave a small tip and left, spending the rest of our afternoon at the cultural center, the money museum, and wandering around seeing some street performers.
The second day I went for a brisk walk up the main Avenue 6 de de Diciembre as I wanted to visit my favorite store in the Quicentro Shopping mall.
La Mariscal & La Floresta
We stayed in La Mariscal, The more upscale (and safer) area of Quito — although it is still recommended to take a cab anywhere in this area at night. Lined with some restaurants and bars and shops, it was quite walkable and safe by day with easy access to the bus. The second day we also walked to the neighboring La Floresta, another upscale neighborhood described as “hipster” with some trendy and cute spots to be seen and some interesting street art. They also had walking and food tours, but after our old town experience we were terrified to go on another walking tour.
Mitad del Mundo
The “Middle of the World,” or the spot where the equator runs across Ecuador. It’s as touristy as it sounds, but also a must see and boasted as “the most visited tourist attraction in Ecuador.” The complex includes a massive stone monument with a yellow line running through it to indicate where the equator falls and arrows for each direction. Inside a museum detailing facts about the earth’s tilt and gravity, Ecuadorian culture, and a station to balance eggs. There are also and about 90 tourist shops, restaurants and random attractions in the complex, but we declined to visit most of them. We did not decline to take the obligatory obnoxious tourist photos, however (see below). Entry was about as expected at $5.
Eating & Drinking
Random Spots | We ate at a local spot right downtown, a few blocks off mercado central, with the almuerzo (menu) for only $2! It was delicious, with a corn soup, usual rice/beans/meat of choice, popcorn appetizer and juice.
El Bandido Brewing + La Ronda | Probably the best craft beer we’ve had in South America, we headed here for happy hour getting 3$ pints (including a creative honey ginger saison) and free popcorn. After we went out with a friend from our tour, taking an uber (do not walk after dark!) to the Lo Ronda area of Quito. We stopped in a local bar with live music where we had a jarre of the local liquor – cania lazo – with pineapple juice which was warm.
After Qutio we headed to the Carcelen bus station for our journey to the smaller, indigenous town of Otavalo for the amazing Saturday Market.
Budget & Practicalities
Getting There | There are 2 main bus stations in Quito, Quitumbe (the largest one to the south) and Carcelen (the smaller one to the north). Where buses arrive is dependent on their origin or destination, but those coming from far away tend to arrive in Quitumbe. Both bus stations are a ways outside the city, 30-45 minutes apiece and require a taxi ride into town. You can take the local bus downtown, but with all your stuff or after dark it is not recommended.
Dining | In old town we found almuerzos for as low as $2, averaging around $2-$3. Pastries for as low as $.15 each for breakfast.
Taxi & Bus | Taxis were on the expensive side, no less than $10 coming from the stations outside the city. $3 between Carcelen and Ophelia. $10-15 to Mitad del Mundo from downtown. Uber was a lot cheaper; we used this when we could. Local buses are .25 each time you board – great affordable option during the day.