Exploring Quito

by Lu

We just spent 4 days exploring Quito, the first city on our South America trip. At an elevation of 9350 feet and right next to the equator, Quito also happens to be the best preserved colonial town in the Americas.

We flew into Quito close to midnight. Customs was a breeze. We took an Uber to our Airbnb next to Carolina Park. It cost $25. Ecuador uses the dollar and sales tax is 12%. Our 2 bed 2 bath Airbnb cost $300 for the week. It’s in an upscale, clean neighborhood next to the northeast corner of Carolina Park.

On our first full day we went to Megamaxi, the supermarket across the street, and walked around Carolina Park, Quito’s largest park with many ceviche vendors. One stand even had vegetarian ceviche.

The next day we took a free walking tour from Community Adventures Ecuador. The tour was 3 hours and took us through the Central Market and the old town. We learned about a flower tea that helps with altitude sickness and sampled local fruits and artisanal chocolate. We recommend tipping at least $5 per person.

After the tour we went to a 3-course lunch for $3.50 per person. These are common in Quito and you can get them for as low as $2.50. They always come with a soup, main plate, juice, and dessert.

In the afternoon we visited the Basilica of the National Vow, the largest neo-Gothic cathedral in Latin America. It costs $2 to enter the church and $2 to climb the towers. The outside is really interesting because instead of gargoyles, there are native animals like iguanas, armadillos, and tortoises.

Afterwards we went to Bandido Brewing, a craft brew pub, when it opened at 4pm. During happy hour you can get $2 mugs and $3 pints. I really enjoyed their Honey Ginger Saison.

I had a headache that night and all of us (Aaron’s parents were traveling with us) had bloody noses for a couple days before we adjusted to the altitude. It’s important to drink a lot of water and wear a high SPF (50 is recommended). I also wore a hat and a thin long sleeve shirt for sun protection. In the fall it’s warm during the day due to the strong sun, but cold at night.

The next morning we went to the Presidential Palace for a tour at 11am. You need to make a reservation ahead of time and bring your passport. Our tour guide took us to several museum exhibits and explained some presidential history, but because the President was working there that day, we couldn’t see the offices. The current President is the first one in a wheelchair in Ecuador.

For lunch we went to Govinda’s Vegetarian Restaurant for their set lunch (also $3.50), which is actually vegan. It’s also a yoga studio and the food is half Indian style, half Ecuadorian. It was really delicious.

We had been taking Ubers everywhere because it only costs $3-4 for a 30 minute ride, but we decided to walk an hour back to our Airbnb so we could see some other neighborhoods, like Plaza Foch, which is a hub for restaurants, bars, and shops. It’s one of the tourist centers, which is reflected in some ridiculous prices like $10 for a bar of chocolate, but the streets were kind of grimy and dirty.

For breakfast we discovered a bakery called Cyrano, where you can get baked empanadas (on the street it’s always deep fried), including one with vegetables (not just cheese!), croissants, cakes, and fruit tarts. It’s very fancy inside and there’s even a security guard at the door, but the empanadas and pastries are still only about $1 each. It’s a chain with a few other locations.

We did a big grocery shopping trip at the beginning of our stay and have been cooking breakfast and dinner at home. Produce is cheaper than in the US but not by much surprisingly. Broccoli is locally grown so it’s cheap, bananas are the same price even though Ecuador is a major banana producer, and anything imported, like European cheese, is expensive. Yellow dragonfruit, pineapple, and papaya are good here, tomatoes are terrible, and mangoes are so-so. Chocolate bars are about $3-5, a little high but excellent.

On our last day, we went to the National Museum of Ecuador, which is really well done, with many pre-Colombian art exhibits dating back thousands of years. The museum is free but remember to bring your passport.

The book 1491: New Revelations of the Americas Before Columbus is a great educational companion to the museum. I really recommend reading it before a trip to South America.

After the museum, we went to the nearby crafts market where you can buy t-shirts, jewelry, and woven products amongst other things for pretty reasonable prices. You can bargain earrings down to $3, t-shirts down to $5, scarves down to $4, and chocolate bars down to $2. There are a few markets in this neighborhood and they’re all neat, clean, not too crowded, and the sellers aren’t pushy, so you can browse in peace. It’s a good place to get souvenirs.

Next we head to Cotopaxi!

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