Quito: La Vida Colorida in the Middle of the World
Quito. A city that’s the center of life in a country with unparalleled biodiversity & natural beauty, owing to its geographical location (literally) at the center of the Earth. A city that offers easy access to other regions of Ecuador that are so distinct it’s hard to believe they’re all part of the same small country. A city that sprawls across valleys & where stark juxtapositions are part of everyday life. A city with a palpable history & where cultures come together & are celebrated in a colorful way.
In the Centro Histórico (historical center) of Quito, Old-World charm overwhelms — impressive, historic cathedrals loom above cobblestone streets lined with ornate colonial houses. Some areas of the Centro Histórico still reflect an aniquated grandeur, while others are dilapidated & impoverished. In contrast, the "new" portion of Quito is demarcated by modern high rises & could seemingly be part of almost any U.S. city. Well-kept parks dot the city & lend the opportunity to take respite from Quito’s busy-ness.
For lodging, Quito offers plenty of options depending on the experience you're looking for. Community Hostel is wonderful & offers cultural excursions, inexpensive lodging (approximately $10/night for a shared dorm or $30/night for a private room) & fantastic meals from the historical center. From there, you’ll have easy access to the Plaza de la Independencia, the hub of important national events & demonstrations; I’ve witnessed several massive & heavily-policed protests, as well as the extravagant changing of the guard, here.
The Mercado Central (a market offering fresh fruits, vegetables & typical Ecuadorian dishes), la Ronda (a quaint neighborhood boasting boutiques, restaurants & bars), the Basílica & Quito’s famed ‘Virgin’ (both offering ridiculous views of Quito) are all within a stone’s throw from Community. Of course, you can’t miss the hostel’s daily walking tour or its Friday night food tour, both of which give great insight into Ecuadorian life.
In any case, no visit to Quito would be complete without spending at least half a day walking the city’s historical center (take extra care of your belongings when doing so) & visiting its many museums. Also be sure not to miss la Compañía, a church constructed over 160 years that’s ornately decorated in gold & famous in its own right.
That being said, one of the most impactful experiences of my entire stay in South America came during a visit to the museum of Ecuadorian master painter Guayasamín. Guayasamín was famous for documenting the human suffering & inequality he observed in life; his works relay his perspective in a powerful & (frankly) agonizing way that, for me, led to deep introspection. If you're up for it, add a visit to the museum & the accompanying Capilla del Hombre (Chapel of Man) to your list.
A stay near Parque la Carolina offers access to a completely different, more modern Quito. From here, you can easily enjoy everything from high-end shopping at Quicentro to an emotion-filled national soccer game at Quito’s Olympic stadium. A Sunday walk at la Carolina & exploration of its botanical gardens is a relaxing way to get a better feel for life in Ecuador. From doing this, you’ll quickly notice how family-centric Ecuadorian culture is. If you’d like to stay near la Carolina, I'd recommend either Hostelito (a laid-back hostel offering private pod-style accommodation) or Hotel Reina Isabel (a beautiful hotel offering the utmost in South American luxury).
Most hostels in Quito also offer package tours that take you to places like volcano Cotopaxi, Mitad del Mundo (the ‘Center of the Earth’ a.k.a Equator museum), the rainforest, the village of Otavalo (known for its artisanal markets) & the Laguna de Quilotoa (an almost-magical lagoon formed from a cratered volcano that you can hike). Tours are either day-long or multi-day excursions. If your time in Ecuador is limited, you can’t go wrong doing any one of them.
Finally, don’t miss the opportunity to take the teleférico (cable car) up to the moor of Quito’s urban volcano, Pichincha, for phenomenal city views. Once you’ve exited the cable car, you can choose to just take in the views or to hike the volcano area a few more hours. Be advised that the teleférico takes you to a very high altitude & you should pay attention to any shortness of breath or dizziness you feel (they can be symptoms of altitude sickness). From personal experience with a friend’s altitude sickness & the ensuing drama (a story for another time…), I can tell you it’s not something to take lightly. The weather is also much cooler at the summit & can change quickly; unless you’re an experienced hiker, I’d definitely do any longer treks in the company of a friend. The best of Pichincha can be experienced in the early morning on a cloudless day so keep this in mind when you’re heading out!
All in all, Quito is a beautiful city distinct from any other I’ve visited in South America. It’s a wonderful launchpad for expeditions to other parts of Ecuador, something I didn’t realize when I first arrived in the country. You’ll certainly be amazed by everything from the rugged nature of the surrounding area to the strong influence of various traditions on everyday life in the capital of Ecuador.
For more footage of Quito, check our video here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FvCvaj9lwfs&t=10s