Our trip from Norway, via Amsterdam to Quito was smooth and without delays. But after getting up in the middle of the night, travelling for 20 hours and with a 6 hour time difference, we did not have a lot of energy left when we arrived at Minka Hostel in the old town. We had a short walk around the neighbourhood, had a light meal at the hotel and went to bed early.
We had two full days two explore Quito, the capital of Equador. The city is located at 2800 meters at the foot of the Pichincha volcano (4794 m), and is the highest official capital city in the world (or second if counting La Paz). It was very simple to navigate the city with easy recognizable mountains and hills surrounding the city, but walking around was in the beginning a bit tiring, with steep roads and high altitude.
The old town was the first World cultural heritage site declared by UNESCO (together with Krakow) in 1978, and has one of the largest, least-altered and best-preserved historic centers in the Americas. Steep and narrow cobbled streets, colonial buildings, beautiful churches everywhere, statues, parks and plazas. The Fiestas de Quito (a week long festival celebrating the foundation of Quito December 6th 1534) was just starting when we arrived, and there were lots of people in the streets and dancing and music in the plazas and parks.
El Panecillo is a 200 meter high hill located close to the old town, and from the top the 45-meter high “Virgin of Quito” statue is overlooking the city. The statue can be seen from most parts of the city centre, and is a great reference point. It is possible to take a taxi up the steep hill to see the views from there, but it’s not really worth the trip. There are better viewpoints available and the statue is better viewed from the city below.
The heart of Quito’s new town is the La Mariscal area, with lots of restaurants, bars, clubs, souvenir shops and even a few micro breweries, which were our main focus when visiting the area. The beers were not amazing, but definitely a lot better than the standard local pilsners. Skip the stouts though, and try the ambers and pale ales instead.
About 45 minutes by taxi from the city centre is Mitad del Mundo, the middle of the world. This is a very touristic family park built around the equator monument. There are some small museums, playgrounds, expensive cafes and loads of souvenir shops, but mainly people come here to take their photo with one foot on each side of the equator line, even though the equator actually lies about 240 meters north of the marked line.
We also brought some gifts from Gunnhild’s aunt in Norway to family friends (former host family of cousin Janne) in Quito. They did not know we were visiting, so they got very exited when we contacted them. We met Ruth and her son Oscar at their house, a short drive from the city centre. Very welcoming and sweet people. Oscar took us for a sightsseing trip to Itchimbia park while Ruth was preparing lunch. This was a quiet and peaceful park, with amazing views over the old town with the “Virgin of Quito” in the background. Oscar spoke very good English, and told us a lot about the city, the culture and everything we wanted to know. Back at the house we got a traditional Equadorian lunch (rice soup, chicken, corn, potatoes, cheese sauce etc.) and had Norwegian milk chocolate for dessert. Ruth’s son Albaro also joined us, and showed us his painting studio upstairs. They were all very happy that we visited, but a bit disappointed that we couldn’t stay longer. Next time we or any from our family come to Quito, we are invited to stay at their house.
The next morning we had booked a taxi to the airport at 7 am, but just as we were getting up someone knocked at the door to tell us the driver was there, and we should go early because of heavy traffic. We packed our bags and checked out in ten minutes, and drove as fast as possible to the airport. When we got there the flight was delayed, so we had plenty of time for all the extra security checks, forms and fees needed before going to Galapagos.