An Introduction to Quito
The tale of Quito is really one of many different cities squeezed into one narrow valley. Around one corner you will find old colonial buildings and huge churches painted in gold. The next path you might take may lead you to the tall skyscrapers and hotels of the financial district or into the lively district of Mariscal. The city of Quito can be as entertaining as any in South America and has much more to offer than most would come to expect. Spend the day cruising to the top of a nearby mountain on the world’s second highest gondola, exploring the monuments at the equator, or simply grab a seat in the Foch Plaza in the Mariscal and munch on delicious tapas.
A History in Breif
The name Quito bears testament to the original inhabitants of this city, the Quitu people, who are said to have lived here as early as around 700ad. Around 1000ad the Caras people conquered the Quitu and formed a kingdom using the name of their predecessors: Quitu. The Caras held strong on these grounds until 1462 when the Inca finally conquered them and eventually integrated them into Inca popular society. The Spanish, starting in the mid-1530s, held the city of Quito despite several serious indigenous rebellions.
The movement for independence from Spain came as early as 1809 when popular rebellions began to form, only to be quashed by loyal Spanish forces. Eventually, thanks to the efforts of Simon Bolivar’s roaming independence army, Quito was freed in 1822. Simon Bolivar held the hope that all of Latin America would form one strongly united country, and Quito was a part of this plan. Quito along with Colombia, Venezuela and Panama formed the republic of Gran Colombia until it was dissolved, due to regional conflicts, in 1830.
Fun facts about Quito
- Population = 1.5 million
- The elevation of the Main Plaza is about 2,800m (9200 feet)
- The country of Ecuador at one point was called Quito, many Latin Americans still use this title for the country. The official name of Quito is actually San Francisco de Quito
- Quito was the first city to be named a UNESCO World Heritage Site, along with Krakow, Poland
- Quito has the second highest cable car in the world. The Teleferico goes to 4100m above sea level.
Things to do in Quito
- Equator: Quito sits just slightly below the equator so naturally there is a monument here. Actually, there are two separate monuments. There is the statue which is home to a great natural history museum. There is also an area where people have set up tricks to try and prove myths such as the opposite direction of the toilet water spinning in the north and southern hemispheres. To get here you can take the public bus from Mariscal, take a bus that says Mitad del Mundo, but be careful as there is sometimes a transfer. To get a taxi here it will cost about 10-15US$ each way.
- The Old City: In my opinion the old city of Quito is only second to that of Cartagena in beauty. This is a great place to go for a stroll during the day time.
- Teleferico: This is the second highest cable car in the world next to the one in Merida, Venezuela. It makes for a great activity to do midday (be warned that it closes really early on Sundays).
- Mindo Day Trip: Mindo sits in the cloud forest a couple of hours from Quito. You can head here alone, but it’s best visited via tour. Try Happy Gringo Tours who does an awesome adventure day trip here that includes ziplines, tubing, and much more.
- Cotapaxi Daytrip: You can visit Cotapaxi via a tour but what I recommend is trying to time this day with the weekend, since the train runs from Quito on these days. Catch the 8am train to the park, wander around and have a picnic during the day and then return on the 4pm train.
- Otavalo Daytrip: The town of Otavalo sits about 2 hours north of Quito and is known primarily as a market town as people from all over the country descend here to sell their goods. The market is calm and quite most days but on Saturday it erupts with a frenzy of activity.
Where to Eat and Drink in Quito
There area actually a number of great places to eat in the Mariscal area of Quito. One of my favourite places for lunch is call Boca del Lobo which is a very colourful spot with good food. Be warned that this restaurant is expensive for Ecuador (meals about 12-15US$ and cocktails about 7$). For typical Ecuadorian food try a place called Mama Clorindas which is small but has great service and food (meals about 8-10US$). If you’re looking for breakfast look no further than the Magic Bean (also does lunch and dinner and serves as a hostel) which has huge meals (about 6-10US$). If you want a nice place to relax, have a drink and people watch grab a table at the Coffee Tree in Plaza Foch.
The best places to drink are all along Jose Calama although most start their night off in Plaza Foch. The drinking week in Quito usually starts on Wednesday where a place called Bungalow 6 has ladies night (girls drink for free before 10pm and no men allowed, then after 10pm men are allowed to enter). If you’re looking for a more local feel give a place called KY Lounge a shot. Some other places worth checking out include No Bar and the popular gringo hangout is a place called Finn McCool’s.
Where to Stay in Quito
At one point in time the majority of travellers stayed in the city’s old center however this has changed recently as the old city has been seen to be dangerous after dark. Nowadays most people stay in Mariscal, although it is also not the safest place at night and should be travelled via taxi late at night if alone. In my opinion, and that of most travellers to Quito, the best hostel is The Blue House which is on Calle Joaquim Pinto. The Blue house has lightning fast wifi, and an included breakfast (dorms 7$, privates between 12-20$ per person). If you want a cheap hotel with great service the Alston Inn is a favourite among tour groups.
Getting out of Town
Since Quito is the capital you can basically travel to anywhere in the country from here. There are, however, two bus terminals now as the central bus terminal was taken down a couple years ago to reduce traffic congestion. The north terminal services Otavalo and buses heading towards Colombia via Tulcan (4-5 hours). The station to the South services everywhere else. Popular destination include: Tena (4hrs), Banos de Agua Santa (5hrs) and Riobamba (4hrs).
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