Ecuador, So Much More Than The Galapagos! First Stop, Quito
Guest Post and Photos by Amy Perry Basseches
Last month, I left Toronto bound for Quito, Ecuador, to visit my daughter Sophie who is there for a university semester abroad. She is living with an Ecuadorian family, taking intensive Spanish classes (as well as classes on Ecuadorian culture and in creative writing), doing community service, and working on an independent study about Ecuadorian gender roles and early childhood education. I had a terrific week in Quito and the surrounding area. Quito is the capital of Ecuador, with a population nearing three million, and it sits at an elevation of 9,350 feet. Founded by the Spanish in 1534, on the ruins of an Inca city, the historic center (or "Colonial Quito") is one of the largest, best-preserved in the Americas, the reason why it’s now a UNESCO World Cultural Heritage Site. Spread along the slopes of the Pichincha volcano and bordered by the hills of Panecillo and Itchimbia, the vistas on a clear day are impressive!
There is no shortage of interesting things to see and do in this large city. Some highlights:
- Colonial Quito: Here, you shouldn’t miss touring churches, plazas, and small winding streets. I enjoyed the Basilica del Voto Nacional, where we climbed the bell tower; the Plaza Grande (Plaza de la Independencia); and strolling on Calle La Ronda, where shops and cafes line the cobblestones.
- Lunch at the Mercado Central: Definitely go here if you like to try authentic local food. My "hornado, tortillas y mote" with a whole avocado on the side was $3.25 deliciously spent.
- The Mariscal neighborhood includes Plaza Foch, the party place in Quito: The surrounding blocks have many, many restaurants, cafes, bars, and clubs. Also here is the fascinating Mindalae Museum, an ethno-historical craft museum that explores the arts and practices of Ecuador’s indigenous people.
- Parks: There are several oases of green in the city. The one I spent time walking through was Parque Carolina. It has a running track, a skate park, soccer fields, and a botanical garden, reminiscent of NYC’s Central Park.
- The enormous Virgen del Panecillo: This Winged Virgin Mary is 135 feet high, the tallest statue in Ecuador and one of the highest in South America, surpassing even the famous Christ the Redeemer in Rio de Janeiro. Built in the 1970s, you can climb quite far up for wonderful views.
I would heartily recommend adding 3 to 4 days in Quito to any Galapagos itinerary to experience the highlands region of Ecuador. A special thanks to my Quito guide Daniel Muscarel from MuFi Tours. Tomorrow, great activities within an hour of Quito!