I was so looking forward to heading back to Ecuador for another adventure! In 2007 I backpacked through South America for several months and enjoyed a quick stint in Ecuador’s southern tropical zone: Guayaquil, Salinas and Montanita. This time around I flew into Quito from Panama City and would be visiting the G Adventuers Quito office to discuss Planeterra initiatives as well as tour around the city and outlying townships in the Andes.
Located 2850m above sea level, the Ecuadorian capital of Quito enjoys a wonderful spring-like climate, despite the fact that it is only 22 km south of the Equator. Nestled in a valley flanked by mountains, on a clear day several snow-capped volcanoes are visible from the city centre. Add to its beautiful location a rich history and well-preserved colonial district, and you begin to understand Quito’s appeal to thousands of tourists every year. In 1978 UNESCO declared Quito a World Heritage site, and any new development in Quito’s old town is now strictly controlled. Life in Quito tends to be peaceful, though the drivers are fond of using their car horns! There are approximately 2,000,000 inhabitants in the metropolitan area, but the pace is relaxed and the residents hospitable.
Quito is separated into two basic sections, the old and the new cities. I would be staying in the New Town where the G Adventures office is located and home to Plaza Foch, a bustling restaurant square. On my first morning in Quito I met my boss Paula at The Magic Bean for breakfast. We both enjoyed a few cups of coffee and I ordered a plate of Huevos Rancheros. After breakfast we met with the G Adventures Quito staff in their office and then enjoyed lunch with them at Restaurant Q.
In the evening Paula and I headed to the Old Town which is full of historical buildings and churches. One of the more noteworthy is the Catedral de Quito, located on the Plaza de la Independencia. Built between 1550 and 1562, it was one of the first neoclassical works in Quito. La Compañía de Jésus Church is considered one of the most beautiful in the Americas. The decorations in the Compañía contain approximately one and one-half tons of gold, and construction of the church took 170 years (1605-1775). After a bit of wandering we found Vista Hermosa Cafe, a beautiful restaurant located on the roof of a building in the centre of the Old City which provides live music and 360 degree view of the city aglow at night. Paula and I enjoyed a few glasses of Chardonnay as the sun set over the city. I ordered a cheese empanada (which was ridiculously indulgent) and a local dish of crispy fired pork served with boiled corn, avocado and onion rich salsa.
I had to switch hotels the following morning as there had been confusion with my booking. I was ever so pleased to spend the next two nights at the Five Star Le Parc Hotel. My move made plenty of sense as Paula was staying there with her husband Jon and we would be able to coordinate our day trip to Otavalo and flights to Galapagos much easier. The hotel was a luxurious cherry on my sundae. Every bathroom was covered in rose petals and each hotel room had a fresh cut red rose placed by its door each morning. I arrived to my suite with a rainfall shower, luxurious L‘Occitane French soaps (which I hoarded) and truffles on my pillow.
That evening Paula and her husband Jon met me in the lobby where we grabbed a taxi to Plaza Foch for dinner. We made a quick stop to Q Restaurant to dabble in their half priced cocktails. We each enjoyed a Mojito and Long Island Iced Tea while a local film festival drew crowds as they projected short films onto large screens in the square. Once finished our drinks we walked over to the cities famous restaurant (with the most incredible interior design) La Boca del Lobo. I was thrilled to be spending the evening at a hip well designed restaurant with a menu that read like a comic book.
yuca croquettes with garlic shrimps, ricotta cheese and red pepper filling covered in parmesan cheese and served with a fennel yogurt sauce.
Lupo Caprese Salad
Baked Apple with Camembert: honey nuts and baguette
salmon steak cooked with Ishpingo (cinnamon from the Amazon) dressed with white wine cream and frites
tempura eggplant slices, pomodoro and mozzarella au gratin, served with ruccula and fresh mushroom salad
I woke up early in the morning, opened my blinds and was so pleased to see blue skies. I immediately ran down to the lobby and grabbed a taxi to the cities funicular. So many local people had told me “if you ever have a blue sky day enjoy the views from the funicular as in Quito clear sky days are hard to come by.” I wanted to get there before the clouds covered themselves over the city. While in my cab I jotted down a few notes for my days itinerary. This was my one day to really tour about the city and I wanted to see as much as possible! The funicular ride was a bit daunting. I’ve been on a few funiculars and don’t tend to have a fear of heights. I mean I’ve bungee jumped and skydived before…but wow I got a bit queasy as the trip is about a 45 minute dangle in the wind over the Andes. Once at the top of the mountain I walked around to a few viewpoints with stunning views of the city below and snow capped mountains. I took a trail (read: arduous hike) to a higher viewpoint which had me panting so much I had to stop every few minutes to breath. The air was seriously thin!
Once back down I grabbed another cab to The Old Town. I was so pleased it was a Sunday as the entire historic quarter is shut down to vehicles. Thousands of locals and tourists were busy shopping, visiting cathedrals and slurping on gelato on the streets. I spent the next few hours visiting 11 cathedrals, a monestary and the cities famous basilica (which also tested my new found height phobia as I was forced to climb incredibly precarious and steep steps to reach the pinnacle). On Sunday’s live musical, folk and dramatic performances are showcased in the various squares. What a lively city Quito can be!
I took a break at Heladeria San Agustin where the Alvarez Andino family has been making helados de paila (ice cream handmade in big copper bowls) since 1858, making this Quito’s oldest ice-cream parlor and an absolute must for ice-cream fans. Made with real fruit juices, they’re more akin to sorbets. I enjoyed chocolate and coconut and had the opportunity to watch the masters in the back room prepare their raspberry flavour. Once finished my Old Town tour I grabbed a cab back to my hotel where I stopped on the way at a Shwarma and Hooka street side restaurant that I had been eying the last few days. I enjoyed two chicken shwarmas and a large Pilsner while relaxing in the shade. Back at my hotel I packed up and headed for bed early. I had to set my alarm (with great hesitation) for 5am for my early morning transfer to the airport: Galapagos bound!