A Brief Introduction to Quito

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Approach to the airport – Quito is still about 25 kms away.

As our recent visit to the Amazon Basin took us through Quito we decided to take an extended layover and spent two nights in the Ecuadorian capital. It sits at an altitude of 9350 feet on the slope of the active Pichincha Volcano, and on a clear day the views are stunning with mountain peaks and volcanoes visible in all directions.

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We were amazed at the physical extent of the city within the mountains

Many people suffer altitude sickness, but the effects on our bodies were minimal. We had slight muscle pain and were a little lightheaded. Drinking plenty of water and taking ibuprofen helps. An anti-nausea pill can also help until your body adjusts.

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City suburbs on the slopes of the active stratovolcano Pichincha

The historic center is recognized as one of the the most well preserved colonial cities in the Americas and along with Krakow, Poland was declared the first UNESCO World Cultural Heritage Site in 1978. This area was where we chose to stay for our brief visit.

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Plaza Grande or Independence Square

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Some of the fine colonial buildings surrounding Independence Square or Plaza Grande

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The Quito Virgin on El Panecillo through the Calle del Hospital Arch

We arrived at Mariscal Sucre Airport which is located about 30 km from the city center. This airport was opened in 2013, replacing the older airport which due to its location was frequently closed because of nighttime fog and the proximity of tall buildings. A taxi costs about $25 USD but you can take a cheaper shared bus service.

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We chose the Hotel Colonial San Agustin, located in a renovated Spanish colonial building and found it to be very clean and welcoming with plenty of character. Arriving after dark and without having had something to eat, we were disappointed to be told it was too dangerous in the neighborhood to go out at night and that most stores were closed early. The young man on the desk accompanied Tim to find an open store to get a few snacks for our supper! We usually try not to arrive too late in a new destination but our flight was delayed more than an hour.

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Hotel Colonial San Agustin on Calle Juan Jose Flores

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The very welcoming lobby from above

After a very good and very inexpensive breakfast, we spent the early part of the next day wandering the heart of the historic center. The narrow cobblestone streets were full of life and flanked by fine examples of Spanish colonial architecture. There was an abundance of interesting shops, restaurants and services throughout the area with several inviting plazas.

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One of many small plazas off the main streets

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A whole street was dedicated to pinata shops which were common throughout Ecuador

Fabulous churches and cathedrals rise above the streets and plazas and could easily make for several days of visits. We did go inside of the Iglesia San Agustin and were particularly impressed by the colours throughout the nave.

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On the steps of Cathedral Metropolitana

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Entrance to the Iglesia San Agustin

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The pastel colours were beautiful

In the lower portion of another church, the Iglesia San Francisco, is a wonderful craft market and gallery. Spread throughout the winding catacombs of the church are well presented displays of fine examples of traditional arts and crafts. Jewelry, pottery, hats, chocolate, sculptures and paintings depicting the traditions of the pre-colonial period, along with well documented historical references made this feel as much of a museum as a shopping experience.

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We have seen many street venders throughout Ecuador but nowhere to the extent that we did in Quito. Not only were there the usual street food and souvenir venders, but also literally hundreds selling everything from scarves, hats, vegetables, cigarettes, knock off CDs, underwear, plastic boxes, clothes pins and much much more.

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Women sold hundreds of bags of vegetables and fruit in these bags

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Clothes pins anyone? Or on the right you can buy candy.

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Anne bought two scarves from this lovely lady ($5 USD)

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All of the traditional venders and then a row of formal wear stores and some awesome manikins

It seemed that you could get just about everything if you looked hard enough. People carried bags, boxes, knapsacks and plastic bags full of these items. Of course there were many shoeshine boys but also something we hadn’t seen before, and that was men with scales who would tell you your weight. Not sure what they were asking for it but probably a few cents.

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One man was selling your weight and the other we assume sold ladies shoes. We actually saw this several times. We should have asked about the scales!

There was a very large police presence throughout the central area. On every corner, in every plaza and lane were dozens of uniformed police. In fact other than in the train stations of Paris, the most we had seen anywhere. It seemed that their biggest concern was moving the venders along and trying to stop them from harassing people on the street.

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Police were everywhere – on foot, horseback, bicycle, motorcycles and even Segways

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There was one stop that we had to make while we were there and that was to visit El Panecillo and the madonna statue which overlooks the city. The statue was inspired by the famous Quito Virgin and erected in 1976. We took a taxi to the summit of the hill where the statue sits and weren’t disappointed with the views.

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View of the statue from the historic center

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Spanish artist Agustin de la Herran Matorras created this 45 m statue from stone and aluminum

In all directions the city and its suburbs crawl up and down the sides of the mountains with the volcanic peaks serving as a backdrop. This was certainly one of the most jaw dropping scenes we have seen in our travels. There were surprisingly few people there and an hour passed by quickly as we absorbed the spectacular setting.

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A coincidental meeting with Chilean friends from our Amazon trip

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Looking across the historical center to the new part of the city

We only scratched the surface of Quito during our short visit but it certainly is a unique and vibrant city. You could feel the life of the people on her streets, see the history in her colonial architecture and get a sense of native traditions through the arts, crafts and cuisine which were prominent everywhere.

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Who is enjoying this the most – the little girl, the family or the pigeons?

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About timannehall

We sold almost all of our belongings and left our home in Nova Scotia in April 2016 to experience as much of the world as we can. By house sitting and travelling slowly we plan to maintain a nomadic lifestyle for as long as we are able to. We have no particular destination and will make our home wherever we happen to be.
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6 Responses to A Brief Introduction to Quito

  1. So glad we got a chance to read about your wonderful visit to Quito and how funny to run into friends from your Amazon travels. I really am amazed at how small the world can be at times, especially when travelers start comparing places and experiences. Loved the Iglesia San Agustin and have to agree with you guys that the inside is stunning. We passed through Quito airport 4 times during our time in Ecuador (coming and going plus a roundtrip to Lima) and never had a chance to see any of her spectacular sights. The altitude really affected us both and one particular visit had me hanging on to Dick with the-worse-headache-ever. Thanks for showing us the beauty that we missed! Anita

    Liked by 1 person

    • timannehall says:

      Glad that you enjoyed the post. We remember you telling us about the terrible headache that you had there. We actually felt the altitude more in Cuenca. There was plenty more to see in Quito than our brief time allowed but we are really glad we took the time for the stopover. In addition to the Chilean couple another Dutch couple we met in the Amazon were there at the same time and we have kept in touch with both. We may never get back to Ecuador but it certainly created lots of memories for us. Enjoy Spring in Lagos!

      Like

  2. homewithmon says:

    This city looks really fabulous…I had previously gotten the impression that Ecuador was not really a country I needed to visit…but this post has changed my mind.
    So interesting to see the different cultural and economic regions of Ecuador!

    Liked by 1 person

    • timannehall says:

      Thanks as always for stopping by. We too were surprised by the diversity of Ecuador. Apart from the Amazon our favorite spot was probably Cuenca which we will do a post on soon. There is a large expat community there and the historic centre was very nice. Cheers.

      Like

  3. kemkem says:

    Glad you got to spend some time in Quito. It looks like a quaint and lovely place. Glad to see it through your eyes as it is not on my radar. My favorite is the church…so very pretty!

    Liked by 1 person

    • timannehall says:

      Thanks Kemkem. It just wouldn’t have been right not to spend a little time there as we were flying through. We could have spent anther couple of days exploring more, but we were hesitant to book too long in advance as we didn’t know how the altitude would affect us. It was a great experience though.

      Like

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